How do you discover new non-fiction books? No prizes for guessing…

‘Non-fiction’ includes books on virtually any subject, any skill, idea or person in history. With your credit crunched bank balance, your limited precious time and the finite number of bookcases in your abode, you want to make sure you are only purchasing and reading quality. Unless you are already well read in a particular field, how on earth do you go about discovering new non-fiction books to read?

The way I purchase books tends to be quite haphazard and often comes down to what I am feeling or thinking at the time. Here are the ways in which I discover new non-fiction books to read:

  • Book prizes. There are several book prizes out there which seem to always have top quality reads. The BBC Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The Royal Society Winton prize for science books. The newly launched Guardian Book Award (which includes a sub-category of non-fiction). Annual book prizes tend to include only the best books in the category and I don’t think I’ve ever been let down by purchasing from book prize shortlists.
  • Author publicity. Authors often promote themselves by doing opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines or television. I’ve discovered many books this way, having enjoyed reading an article and then seen at the bottom that Joe Bloggs is the author of Some Non-fiction Book. “Go on then” I think to myself. “If I enjoyed the article, surely I’ll enjoy the book too”.
  • Amazon recommendations. I buy quite a lot of my books from Amazon
    (which is another discussion for another time). Amazon is creepily excellent at using its customer purchasing trends data to push products onto you. Every single product page has a ‘customers who bought this item also bought’ section and I can honestly spend hours clicking on these links, trawling my way through different genres, reading customer reviews and wikipediaing the authors.
  • Word of mouth. Obvious but couldn’t leave it out of the list. When someone enthuses about a book it can be incredibly infectious. Thanks to the joy of smartphones and internet shopping it’s possible to order a book 30 seconds after hearing a recommendation.

Conspicuous in its absense from this list is book reviews. Personally I rarely read book reviews in printed or online media. I also don’t buy from the book charts, or from promotional plinths at bookshops, which many people must do. Feel free to recommend some book review sites or other methods in the below comments.  And of course, if you’re looking for a new book you could always have a read through this blog.


1 Comment

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One response to “How do you discover new non-fiction books? No prizes for guessing…

  1. A.N. Wilson in The Penguin Book of Journalism writes about the decline of the book review. He talks about how the book review was just a vehicle for great writing about a subject – often with scarce reference to the book. I want to get back to that. I’m not interested in being a critic, I’m more interested in talking about the ideas in the books.

    One day soon I’ll review A.N. Wilson’s piece. A review of a review of reviews.

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