5 tips for better book browsing

Being at conventions and watching thousands of people flip through books trying to determine if they need them or not has its ups and downs. Sometimes people just look at the title and *know* they need that book. They’re often right and are shortly proud owners of useful and enjoyable reads. On the other hand, I’ve seen people spend five seconds glancing at something that they *should* buy and put it back on the shelf without a second thought. Sometimes their friends will talk them out of a good purchase and into a mistake. It’s hard for us vendors, knowing what is in our books and having heard about your life and homeschool — we don’t want to be pushy, but we also don’t want you to miss out on something wonderful.

I have come to the conclusion that the single least effective way to determine if you should buy a book is also the most common. Please, please, please do not do this simple thing – it does not help you. I have caught myself doing it lately and was ashamed.

PLEASE DO NOT hold the book in your dominant hand THUMBING BACKWARDS through the book in hope that something will FLY OFF THE PAGES screaming “YES! I’M THE BOOK YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” You inevitably miss the most important features of the book and wind up judging it based on the amount of white space and the quality of the illustrations.

Instead, I’d like to share with you 5 tips for better book browsing.

1) What’s on the front and back cover?

        Does it sound like it addresses your question or meets your need? The back cover description may be more helpful then the title. Blue Like Jazz is not about color theory or music, but you wouldn’t know that without reading the back, or at least the subtitle. Try not to be put off by bad cover art – sometimes the best books just aren’t pretty.

2) What’s in the Table of Contents (TOC)?

        The TOC should tell you exactly what topics are addressed, as well as which ones are given priority and which ones are glossed over. If the book is on a topic that interests you, or one that you’ve read much about elsewhere, the TOC will tell you if what you’re holding is new material or old hat. Obviously, a work of fiction’s TOC will be less telling then non-fiction, but otherwise you should be able to get a good outline of the material in a few pages.

3) Who wrote it?

        Check the author’s credentials. Lots of letters after a name is good, but look for practical experience and wisdom in their subject area. I tend not to trust parenting books by people who’s eldest is not yet 12. (Come back and write to me when you have several well-adjusted grown-ups under your belt.) However “twenty-five years on the missions field,” “professor of (subject) at (respectable institution),” “mother of 7,” etc. mean a lot.

4) Who recommends it?

        Check to see if there are reviews, praise, or a forward from anyone you know. Sometimes, just knowing that someone you trust likes the book is enough. Sometimes, knowing that someone I mistrust likes the book tells me everything I need to know.

5) What does chapter 3 look like?

        Often I like to pick a single chapter and quickly scan it to see if the writing style, lesson set-up, or even (and I know this is silly) the font is appealing. If there’s a “Letter to the teacher,” “Introduction,” or “How to use this book” always read that first, then pick a random chapter to peruse. The “flavor” of the book makes a big difference.

We all judge books by their covers, but we’ll make better judgement if we ask better questions while we browse.

Have you ever *almost* missed out on a great book because of its cover?

        

Tyler Hogan is the head of curriculum development at Bright Ideas Press. He lives in Dover, Delaware, with his wife, Helen, and their adorable daughters, Kaylee, Avalon, and Sierra. He and Helen are both homeschool graduates and now homeschooling parents. Tyler has spoken, performed, and taught classes around the world on homeschooling, geography, the arts, and worldview . He also works as the operations manager for Grace for Dover, a nonprofit Christian community development organization. In his “spare time,” he teaches homeschool co-op classes, reads good books, drinks tea, overanalyzes movies, and writes about himself in the third person. He has a BA in theatre from Belhaven University and always enjoys the adventure of lifelong learning.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Great list. I was told something similar when I started homeschooling. It helped me wade through all those booths.

    See you in a couple of weeks at Beech

    • All those booths can be intimidating. I always feel bad for the first timer convention attendees with that deer-in-the-headlights look. I just want to walk up to them and say “It’s OK! Really.”

      Looking forward to Beech!