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How To Choose a Book

Mr.  Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

There are two possible reasons that you don't like to read: either the books you choose are too hard or they're too boring.

Both of these problems can be solved.  If the book you have is too hard, choose an easier book; if your book bores you, choose one that interests you.  Remember: reading a book is not a death sentence; it's supposed to be enjoyable.

Before you begin


You need to have some idea of whether or not you even understand the books you read.  This isn't as crazy as it sounds.  Believe it or not, a lot of people choose books that are too hard and don't even realize that they don't understand a lot of what they're reading.  They just think, "Well, this is what reading's like.  How can anybody enjoy this?" No wonder they don't like it.

Remember: reading is supposed to make sense.  For that to happen, you need to build a skill that teachers call "self monitoring." You need to understand when you don't understand, and then be ready to do something about it.


You need to know what you like to read.  Think back.  Have you ever had a good reading experience?  If so, what was the topic of that book?  Who was the author?  Get a list in your head of things that you like to do--sports, video games, riding ponies, whatever.

How to do it


You need to learn to choose books that are at your reading level.  You can't enjoy SSR if you can't understand your book.

Be honest with yourself.  Do you find yourself stumped more than once on practically every page you read?  Then your book is too hard.  One quick way of determining this is by applying what teachers call the "five finger test." Here's how it works:

  1. Open your current book to a page that has a lot of writing on it.  We're talking about a novel here--not a picture book.

  2. Read a page to yourself and keep track of "stopper" words that are totally confusing.  Be truthful!

  3. Raise one finger for each stopper word you encounter.

  4. Once you hit five, move on.  This book is too tough.  Five words per page that you have to really think about are far more than somebody should encounter in a book that he or she is reading for enjoyment.  Choose a book for SSR where you don't have to lift any fingers.

  5. Now flip the book over.  Look on the back cover, down at the bottom.  There might be stuff written there in tiny type that looks something like "RL7." That would mean that the book is written at a seventh-grade reading level.  In the future, you might to try books that are labeled "RL6" or even "RL5." Remember: there's no shame in reading a book that is below your reading level.  I personally read "RL5" and "RL4" books all the time, and I hold my head up proudly.  If you're in a seventh grade class, nobody is going to know about those little tiny letters on the back of the book unless you tell them.


Choose interesting books.

No, seriously, it's that easy.  Here's how:

  • Choose a book by an author you have liked in the past.  I know that nearly any book I pick up by Gordon Korman, Sid Fleischman, or Roald Dahl is going to be--at the very least--okay.  There's a good chance that they'll even be really good.  These guys have a good track record of writing books that I enjoy.  It's possible that I won't like every book of theirs that I grab, but choosing a book by a tried-and-true author is a great place to start.

  • Look for a subject that you are interested in.  If you hate math, a novel called The Mathlete Mysteries, Book One: The Mathening will probably leave you cold.  Why on earth would you pick it up?  Leave that one for the fans of mathlete mysteries.  You would not believe the wide array of books that you can find in any bookstore or library.  There are entire book series out there about puppies, either talking or not talking; sports; kids who can turn into animals and fight crime; girls who ride ponies; kids who have creepy misadventures; kids who go climb mountains; kids who go dirt-biking; kids who solve mysteries; and kids who play video games--and that's only a partial list.  No matter what you're interested in, there is probably a book out there that will link in to what you like and who you are.  The chances are pretty good that you'll enjoy that kind of book.

  • Now read the back cover.  There are usually a couple of paragraphs there that are designed to give you an idea of what the book is about.  It won't tell you the whole story--that would be a waste of time, because why would you then bother to read the book?--but it will let you know what the story is going to be about, and it will give you a feeling for the tone of the book (that is, whether the book is serious, scary, goofy, or whatever).  NOTE: in the Olden Days, when people read hardcover books, there were things called "dust covers" that were folded around the book in order to protect it.  In these cases, the "about the book" information could be found on the part of the flap that folded around to the inside front cover.  (Information about the author was usually found on the inside back flap.)

Give books a chance, but choose intelligently!  If you do, you might find that reading can actually be enjoyable.