Critical Mass

Guest Post by Joe Peschel: How Do You Decide What to Read Next?

By Jane Ciabattari

From NBCC member Joe Peschel, another response to the third question in our Next Decade in Book Culture series.

What I'm going to read next depends on which books I'd like to review. For me, those books will usually be literary fiction (although, currently, I've been assigned a memoir to review.) So, that means scanning Publisher's Weekly, the Library Journal, and publisher's catalogues, looking for interesting novels or short story collections that I'd like to share, and it means taking notes. Every now and then, a writer on Facebook will suggest books that I should review, too.

Sometimes, the books I pick are by first-time novelists I might have found mentioned in a literary magazine, for instance, Benjamin Percy (“Refresh, Refresh” in The Paris Review), whose first novel, “The Wilding,” comes out this September. Sometimes, I find young promising authors like Allison Amend and Patrick Somerville; other first-time novelists are not so young like Oscar Casares and Richard Lange, who wrote, respectively, “Amigoland” and “This Wicked World” last year. Other times, the authors I read are old pros–Paul Auster, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and Charlie Baxter, each of whom have books coming out in the next few months. I also read quite a few short stories in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Missouri Review, The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, The Atlantic's fiction issue, and Tin House. Although I do get behind reading those magazines, I enjoy finding stories that I especially liked collected in “Best American Short Stories,” which I try to review every year. Once I've selected a few books, I'll pitch them to various editors, who'll pretty much dictate my actual reading list (and my note-taking) for the next few months, since I'll need to do background reading for each book I review.

As far as reviewers that I read (and take notes on)–there's James Wood at The New Yorker, Ron Charles at the Washington Post; Ted Gioia on his websites: Great Books Guide, The New Canon, and Conceptual Fiction; and reviews by Art Winslow, David Ulin, and other younger NBCC members like Michele Filgate and Mark Athitakis. I read the Barnes & Noble Review, and the online reviews of the New York Times, Boston Globe, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and a few other newspapers. I sometimes listen to reviews on NPR. I, of course, enjoy re-reading Updike's old reviews.

I'd like to get around to reading “Gatsby” again-I try to read that wonderful novel every year. I'm ashamed to admit that I still haven't read McCann's Let the Great World Spin; I'll try to get to it before year's end. But I'm not taking notes on either of them.