Sunday Salon: not browsing but searching

sundaysalonI’ve been blogging for almost a year now. I’ve explored new authors thanks to recommendations by other book bloggers and through my self-imposed challenge of reading through the entire list of Booker prize winners or the 50 books on my Classics Club list. I’ve bought more books this year than I can ever remember and I’ve read more than I have in previous years.  Not every book I’ve read in consequence has turned out to be a worthwhile experience but my horizons have definitely been broadened as I’ve deviated from my tried and tested list of authors.

And yet…. For the last few months I’ve had this niggling sensation that something is missing from this experience. It wasn’t until I read a post today at Sophisticated Dorkiness that I realised the nature of that missing element.

For decades I bought books or borrowed them from libraries after browsing through the shelves. Browsing was how in my mid teens I began to be a more serious reader, ditching my normal diet of Dennis Wheatley and Jean Plaidy in favour of rather more testing fare in the shape of Tolstoy, Herman Hesse, and even Jean Paul Sartre. I knew little of them but I discovered them simply by randomly picking books off the shelves. Our local library was a rather small affair but the librarians made the best use possible of their limited shelf space and I will be eternally grateful to those who decided residents in our town needed more than Agatha Christie to sustain them.

As the years advanced and I no longer had to rely on pocket money, I progressed to buying books. My browsing habits adapted.  No longer able to just return free of charge, books I didn’t like, I had to be more discerning. So I skimmed a few pages first – but I was still browsing. It’s how I encountered Wilkie Collins (reading every one of his books in a few years); George Eliot and then, in more recent years, Sharon Penman (and fell in love with her trilogy of the Welsh princes); and even more recently Thomas Keneally and Emile Zola.

But now, when I go to a bookshop or a library, as Kim says in her post, I go with a list. Yesterday was fairly typical – I went looking for Dissolution (C J Sansom) because it’s our book club read for January. Within ten minutes I was back outside, new book in hand.  In other words I’ve swapped browsing for searching.  The only times I actually seem to browse now are when I’m hanging around an airport waiting for a flight – since I don’t tend to have my wishlist with me, I might pick up something I’ve not heard of before but sounds intriguing.

I want my earlier experience back. But I also enjoy the recommendations from others and ideas gathered from monitoring multiple blogs. Can I have both?  Actually yes I think I can if I just decide once every couple of months to go to the library, leaving the wish list at home, and just  randomly walk along the shelves, picking whatever takes my fancy. I might have to be disciplined not to cheat and take something that I know I’ve been wanting to read for months!. It might be hard to resist that temptation but I’m going to give it a go.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on December 2, 2012, in Classics Club and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Thanks. You may call me, Jinj. Ha! I must say I love my various scraps of paper more than my spreadsheet and it kinda kills me to toss them after I’ve entered them into Excel. I’m thinking I might make a scrapbook page out of the next batch, just to have that visual memory.

  2. I miss browsing too!!! I remember going to the library with my Mom when I was little. She would let me browse the shelves for as long as I wanted because she was browsing too. I would walk up and down every aisle of the children’s section, choosing a book by the title or picture on the cover. Now I’ve got my 500+ item Excel spreadsheet or my handwritten list of books I jotted down from Tweets or blog posts. Let’s bring browsing back!

    • Dear Intrepid Angeleno (what an impressive name you have!)
      As someone who has scraps of paper everywhere with scribblings of book names the thought that someone is so organised as to have an Excel spreadsheet is a bit daunting…….

  3. I really like the idea of every month or two doing some forced browsing — that’s a super smart plan to balance browsing with the great recommendations you can find online. It may not always be successful, but I think it’s worth the effort. My other thought to replicate browsing was to make sure each month I pick up one book randomly from my shelves or pick one on a recommendation from a friend.

    • I like your idea too of getting someone else to do the random selection for me. But first I would have to put the shelves in some sort of order….

  4. I miss browsing too…I’ve always made it into a family experience, but I’ve been living alone for so long now that I’v forgotten what it’s like to browse. 🙁

    My Sunday Salon

    • Oh Rachel, that’s sad to hear. Now if I lived anywhere near to you I’d say we could try and meet up but it’s somewhat difficult since we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic. I wonder if there is a way of doing a virtual group browse??
      PS,just sneaked a look at your blog and was v impressed with the Paradise Lost challenge….

  5. Maybe good browsing depends on if you have a good indie bookstore nearby or library. I admit my browsing has changed too — I usually know what I’m looking for before I go which used to be not the case. I guess I should open up the process again. thx.

    • That’s an interesting thought swright9 – we have one which is about 15 mins drive away and yet I never go there.Shame on me really. But I am just about to join their monthly book club so that might get me more in the habit of browsing also

  6. I must admit I’ve been intrigued to read several people’s posts about this topic as it’s not something I suffer from, I still browse as much as I search. It’s been really interesting to realise that it’s different for other bloggers!

  7. I love to browse the shelves in case I spot something, but I also have a list or access to my Amazon wish list!

    • I’ve never got into the Amazon wishlist thing Julie. I’m just a bit worried that I’ll get inundated with emails from Amazon promoting the titles that are on my wishlist. They have a very sophisticated e commerce system which remembers what you browse on their site but sometimes it goes a bit astray and recommends a book I just bought

  8. I always have a ‘wish list’ for books that I actively search for in libraries or bookshops. When that list starts to get a bit shorter, I browse more aimlessly and then end up adding more things to my TBR list… it’s a never-ending cycle!

  9. That’s quite sad. I mean, I can spend hours and hours inside a book store without buying anything (it just happened today), and I still feel good. How is that possible? Whenever the urge to buy arises, I always tell myself that I am not going to be able to read the book I’m holding soon, and if I buy it just because I want to, the pages will be too yellowed when I actually decide to pick it up. Does that make sense?

    Exception: when books are marked down for super sales. 😀

    • I have a feeling Angus that some of mine are already getting to the yellow stage. I have some from many years ago that are now falling apart at the seams but I did at least read these.

  10. Here’s how I look for books now: I add interesting books to my wish list at Amazon. The ones that sound very, very interesting I then search for at my public library. I buy fewer books these days. I only buy the books I want to read again.

    • I wish I could get more from library but unfortunately they seem to spend more of their budget on computer equipment. So they only ordered one of the Booker longlisted titles and they don’t have any of the Orange prize shortlisted titles either. I know budgets are tight but that seems crazy.

  11. I like your post. It reminded me of my earlier reading experiences, when I relished the feel of browsing for books. Now that I have a “list” when I go in, or even a notice that a requested book has arrived, I’ve been taking the time to also browse a bit. And I usually find something delightful.

    I also have a stack of books at home that I’ve bought or have been sent by publishers/authors; but I am saying “no” more and enjoying my return to browsing occasionally at the library.


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