Books are like candy to me. Or like beer to people who frequent bars (although I'm sure there are poeple who frequent bars for other reasons--friends, etc.--than the alcohol, just as there are lots and lots of people who attend libraries for the sake of the internet and the soft arm chairs). In general, choosing a book is almost an instinctual process for me. I am a sucker for well-designed covers, but a well-designed cover, or blurb, isn't enough to move the book onto my pile.
With non-fiction, I will often read the first paragraph or skip to the middle and read a passage. With non-fiction, the author's style is paramount. I have read great non-fiction books on subjects that don't especially interest me simply because the style was attractive. And I've put back books about subjects that interest me because *yawn* *yawn* the style put me to sleep on my feet.
With fiction, slightly different approaches ensue. I am, I admit, a tad careful over new authors. I almost always glance at (even if I don't check out) the sci-fi, fantasy and mystery books. Every now and again I get lucky and start up a new author. I discovered Sarah Monette this way. And Holmes on the Range. With fiction, however, the emotional commitment is far higher than with non-fiction. The book, if I like it, will take over my world for a day or three days or a week (however long it takes to finish), and I want to be prepared. And yes, I am the sort of person who reads the end in order to see if I really want to put myself through the rest (see the movie Alex & Emma).
All other selections fall into the categories "Tried and True" or "New Book/Known Author." Agatha Christie is tried and true. As are Georgette Heyer, Ngaoi Marsh, Catherine Aird, J.R.R. Tolkien, Connie Willis. I love rereading books although some, like the Narnia books, I have to put off rereading for long stretches. There isn't much point in rereading when you can practically recite the stuff by heart.
"New Book/Known Author" is more of a crap shoot. There are authors like C.J. Cherryh of whom I will read anything she writes (although currently, I'm sticking with the Foreigner series for time management purposes). I trust her utterly. Connie Willis is the same. The same is true of Alexander McCall Smith. Others, like Charlaine Harris and the truly creative Kerry Greenwood and even Patricia McKillip, I respect but am more leery towards. Some of their books are really good. Some aren't and in some cases, as with Harris' vampire series, the series starts to fade on me.
And some authors I read once and never touch again. It isn't that I get bored with the series or that I think one book is less rewritten than another. Often, it is simply that the one book interested me and nothing else does. Douglas Coupland's Microserfs is an example of this. I loved Microserfs, yet I've never wanted to read anything else by Coupland. The other books might actually be better. But with so many books and so little comparative time, one must be (a little) choosy.
And then, of course, there are the books, like Da Vinci Code and Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that I get out and don't read and get out and don't read and get out and . . . why don't I just give up already!
Books I've checked out recently:
I'm in the middle of Agincourt by Juliet Barker--great style, not finished.
The Aeneid by Virgil--pretty stellar, almost done; never read it before!
Revolutionary Characters by Wood--good beginning, seems interesting but due tomorrow
Virtu by Monette--sequel to Melusine; I'm rereading Melusine first
Three-Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie--one of her least known mysteries
Collected Plays of Agatha Christie--I own it but it's in a box somewhere, and I don't want to bother to fish it out
Holmes for the Holidays--tried and true; great collection of Sherlock Holmes stories
New Alexander McCall Smith book--Dream Angus
Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity--finished; quick read; okay, not great
Blenheim--will probably never get to
Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer--tried and true
A bunch of books on film criticism for my Comp class
A bunch of books on science/general knowledge--for referencing
A book on writing; I always get these out, don't read them and take them back unopened.
Jane Eyre--read it before; might be time to read it again
Evolution-Creation Struggle by Ruse--pretty interesting but a bit slow in parts; 1/3 of the way through