The disappearing art of browsing

I judge books by their covers. Who doesn’t? (It’s okay, you can admit it here. You’re in a safe place.)

I also judge books by randomly chosen pages. In a bookstore, I often pick a title off the shelf, flip through it, absorbing its book-ish-ness, and then start reading randomly, somewhere in the middle. In less than a page, I know whether or not I’m going to like the book.

How do I know?


I just know. A line of funny dialogue, a pithy description, a unique voice — these are all things that make me want to keep reading. But dense paragraphs of description or dark humour aren’t my style.

This makes the whole buying-from-Amazon thing a little tricky. I don’t want to read the title page, the copyright page, and the first two pages. Obviously. To find out if it’s the kind of book I like, I want to read page 142, paragraph three.


All of which means the recommendations of friends and family, and even the recommendations of people I know only through Twitter or Goodreads, much more powerful. That librarian who LOVED the same middle grade series that I did? If she recommends a new favourite read, I think I pay more attention now than I might have a year or two ago. And I’ve taken to scribbling down recommendations from friends.

Basically, I’ve started choosing books the way I choose restaurants. Which is mostly good, I think. But every once in a while, wandering down a new street or skimming through the spines in the bookstore, you happen upon an undiscovered gem.

That’s the thing Amazon has yet to equal.