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Tapas for Readers: Developing Your Taste For Books

Did you know that there is a correlation between food tastes and reading preferences? There is and today I’ll tell you more about it so you can discover what appeals to you about literature.

This is a follow-up post to the training I attended at the 2012 Library Skills Winter Institute in Columbia, MO.

Katie Stover, of the Kansas City Public Library, recently cited Betty Rosenberg’s Genreflecting: A Guide To Reading Interests In Genre Fiction as a good RA resource that targets recommended reads by genre group and by mood.  Kaite explained:

“We’re mood readers like we’re mood eaters”.

Mulling over the concept when I returned home, it occurred to me that browsing for a good read is comparable to selecting from a menu at a restaurant.  So many choices, so little space to digest! Maybe you’re like me and have difficulties selecting from a complicated menu.  I tend to cheat — once I find something I like, I rarely deviate from the menu til last forkfuls we part.

Sound familiar?

That’s why I love tapas night with the girls. It’s an opportunity to try out several small portions (and dirt cheap) and if I don’t like something, I’ll dig into whatever my girlfriends’ have ordered and try a new dish.  And hey, if I find something I like, you’d better stay away from my Anjou pear with brie.

Reading’s a lot like that.  Most people have their favorite types of cuisine (author, book series, genre) and specifically, have an idea of the tastes that they enjoy (descriptors of the writing style) that they may not be able to communicate.  These tastes have definable words and compile together to form what librarians call a “book’s appeal”.

Learning how to develop your taste for books requires the same principles for going to tapas night: a) be open to trying new things and b) go out sampling!

Be Bold. Go someplace new.

The sweet, salty, savory, tangy, bitter palate of… books. Every book has a mood, a theme, a flavor of the author’s voice.  You may not be able to pin down what that “something” is that makes that book fantastic, but you know it when you’ve read it.  The hitch is, your favorite writers can only write so fast and there are only so many books in print…

Reach out. Grab a bite and try an author you’ve never read before. Break out into a new genre.  You’ve heard of gender-bending before? Try genre-bending for a change! I know it’s scary but you can do it.

If you like Jane Austen’s writings, try a Jane Austen-influenced chick lit or fan fiction (I have and it’s fun). Stuck for recommendations, check out my Book Reviews page. I’m an addict.

Classic lit reader in public, closet fantasy lover? Try one of these new publications by Quirk Books:

  • The Meowmorphosis by Coleridge Cook
  • Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Are you not quite sure what you want to read? Always impressed (or like me, intimidated) by the HUGE stack of books people in the library world are currently “reading” this week?  Learn how to read like the pros do!

The following methods are adapted from a handout by Jane Hirsch and Lisa Sampley.*

Tapas on the Go: How To Sample A New Book In 15 Minutes

It all starts with a single book … or maybe, a handful of them.  How do you weed out the good from the bad? Sort from what you’ll likely enjoy?  Sample a few.

Here are some points to consider:

  1. Cover: What type of fiction does the artwork show? Does the title sound like it might belong to a series (ex. One For The Money)? Sometimes the cover can show a lot about the type of market the book is meant to appeal to — such as, a “beach read” may feature a seashore at a resort; a thriller usually has a LARGE, bold color title; a fantasy or science-fiction novel will have elements heavily emphasizing technology or magic; and let us not forget, anybody can recognize a “trashy romance” by the buff, oiled, open-shirted or shirtless male with luscious locks, and a maiden (just asking for it…) in a bodice-ripper gown.
  2. Jacket Blurb: What does the left-hand jacket synopsis tell you about the plot? What type of genre do you think this is?  What does the bio say about the author? Does he or she have experience in the topic matter of the book? What makes them an authority on the subject or qualified to write about it?
  3. Typeface: Is it regular print or large print?
  4. Heft: How large is the book? Is it a paperback or hardcover? Bedside reading material or scholarly work?

Once you have these basics accomplished, what you’re going to do next is do a “tasting” of the book. The way it was explained to me was, you read a portion of the beginning, middle and end of the book to get a feel for the character progression, the pacing of the book and whether the plot seems to follow what you read on the jacket cover.

This cross-section of a writer’s novel is comparable (in my opinion) to the sample chapters a writer provides as part of a book proposal.  It’s enough to give a flavor of the book, have a sense of the writer’s best writing (hopefully) and their voice, and in a better world, make you want to read more.

From my experience, this last step of reading is the most time-consuming element of the process.  I tested this system on a fantasy and found it difficult to follow the plot progression. There are probably some genres that would be easier to do by this method than others.  If you have selected a book that doesn’t follow a traditional progression of events, this may not work well for you.  Here’s how a fantasy might work out with a current book I’m reading:

The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1970 book club ed.)

  1. Cover: Okay, the first thing that stands out is the hero, who is wielding a giant sword in the foreground with the massive red planet behind him.  Nestled close to him is a nearly nude heroine that puts slave Princess Leia to shame and some green lizard dog beasts on a rock. This is definitely a fantasy and based on the original publication date (1912), a pulp fiction read. The title has a groovy 1970’s font style in a lime green for the classic green men that we think of as Martians.
  2. Jacket blurb: The first thing we read is a one paragraph description of the slave-looking beauty from the cover.  Yeah, I’m starting to get the idea this book was written for a male audience!  Then we get the promotional paragraph written for this edition which heralds Burroughs’ richly detailed world.  In the last four paragraphs, we get the plot and learn the identities of the hero and heroine on the cover: John Carter, a former Civil War officer from Virginia, and Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium (a Martian city).
  3. Typeface: Regular print with a 1-inch border on the sides, a 1-1/2 inch bottom border.
  4. Heft: This is a hardcover edition and is 179 pages long. This is a library copy and is supposed to have inside illustrations done by Frank Frazetta which have “disappeared” before my checkout. They must’ve been really good!!

Initial impressions:

  • The first chapter immediately captures my interest. The next few chapters find John Carter landing by an incubator for green Martians.  Eighty-two pages later… he’s back at the incubator again but he’s met the exquisite beauty, Dejah Thoris.
  • Helium is a completely stupid name for a city.
  • Mid-way through the book — I’d be completely lost now if I hadn’t of seen the film first “John Carter”.
  • Near to the ending — man gets woman, man loses woman, author sets up book for a sequel.  I am told by my husband that there are several books in the Barsoom series (around 10-11 in all). I’ve read enough by this point to decide that this probably isn’t a book for me.

Okay, so like I said, fantasy and sci-fi are not the easiest genres to diagnose by this method.  If you have better luck with these genres, let me know what you’ve found works for you.

I hope that my review of Kaite’s class and the handouts we discussed have helped you learn how to quickly read new (or new-to-you) material.  Join me next week to learn the method librarians use to help readers find their favorite books and my D-I-Y method that you can try at home.

Questions on anything we discussed? Drop me a line at or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

*Source Material:

The original guidelines for this method are by Jane Hirsch, Adult Services Coordinator for the Montgomery County Dept. of Public Libraries.  Additions made by Lisa Sampley, Manager of the Republic Branch of Springfield-Greene County Library.  “How To Read A Novel In Fifteen Minutes” (handout) reprint information granted by Kaite Mediatore Stover, Readers’ Services Manager for the Kansas City Public Library.  Thank you for allowing me to share with my readers!

This entry was posted in: Lifestyle


Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Lauren Miller | Author of Historical and Spec Fiction | The Readers’ Advisory Interview

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