Or perhaps more precisely, what do a I choose to read? I had a long think about this the other day, after my boyfriend apparently told one of his colleagues who asked what I read "a lot of different things, but there's a lot of chick lit in there". I was a bit upset, as although I admit that I do read chick-lit (primarily in bed before I put the light out, as I don't like anything more intellectually stimulating at that stage), and I'm not ashamed of it (there is good chick lit, and there is bad chick lit, just like any other books, and I enjoy both actually), I didn't really want to be identified as a chick lit reader.* He's now been trained to say "she reads a lot of things, but is particularly interested in women's literature from the first half of the twentieth century". I think that sums things up quite nicely for people unacquainted with the niceties of Virago and Persephone.
I choose books in lots of ways. Firstly, there is the obvious reading the rest of an author that one likes. At the moment, I'm reading my way through Jane Gardam and Margaret Drabble and Hilary Mantel (and less avidly, Anita Brookner, Penelope Fitzgerald, Nina Bawden...), as well as postponing reading the last 2 Barbara Pym's that I've not yet read, and the last Monica Dickens. And this was responsible for my Sarah Waters disappointment.
Then, there's the method new to me this year, of pursuing particular publishing houses. Obviously I'm thinking of Persephone (and my ambition to own the majority of their books - I have to say I'm not so fussed about the cooking and gardening ones), but also of Virago. Particularly the green covered ones. (I fell down recently with a new Virago - Miles from Nowhere by Naomi Mun - I reserved it at the library simply because it was a new Virago, but didn't really connect with it at all). I've chosen several books which await me on this basis - Cosmo Cosmolinos (picked up back in January), and The dud avocado (which I wrote about the other day). I'm not sure if there are any other publishing houses that fit my interest, though I'm looking forward to the Bloomsbury publication of the so called "Bloomsbury group" titles in August - things like the Brontes came to Woolworths, and Miss Hargreaves. Can't wait!
Some books also have the blurbs of other books in the back. For example, the Play Room which I'm reading now has that of The doves of Venus (which I've read and enjoyed), The wind changes (another Olivia Manning), A particular place by Mary Hocking ("Mary Hocking is confirmed as the successor to Elisabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym") (ok, so that's a must read then! And is available on Amazon....), and A tortoise by candlelight by Nina Bawden. I guess my point is that if you've enjoyed the book in hand you might enjoy the other suggestions, but often in older books it can draw your attention to other things you might not have come across.
I'm also a big fan of Amazon's "Customer's who bought this also bought..." and Borders' "Spookily accurate book suggestor".
Finally, there's just browsing and serendipity. The look of covers and the blurb on the back. I love to pop to the library in my lunchbreak, and particularly to look at the recent returns shelves - I'm always fascinated to see what other people have been reading. And on that note, recently since I discovered the blog world, that has given me a number of ideas too.
* Mind you, after today's lunchtime escapade in my boyfriends office, where he unpacked the M and S parcel of clothes and things we'd ordered to take advantage of various special offers, and apparently first pulled out my new underwear, I have can't do much about what his colleague's think of me.