It's always been a mystery to me. When Diana and Chestnut were tiny, they would trundle through the picture book section of the library, or the bombed out aisles of the Barnes and Noble kids section, and they'd see two books, and they'd go for one and not the other. Why? Who knew. Chestnut, in particular, had a real knack for finding books I'd never seen or heard of—that were almost always awesome.
But what drew them? And how did they know it? They still can't exactly say. Diana likes to read the backs of books, and sometimes the first few pages "to see how it seems." Chestnut is more drawn to cover illustration, read the back, "I read the first page, if I like it I keep reading."
It's not like I know how to decide. I mean, I read more reviews than they do, that's for sure. But lately I've been cast adrift, our local library in year two (!) of its renovation, with only the bookmobile to keep us company on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, if we can remember. I came home from there with an odd collection: Colm Toibin, Robert B. Parker, Richard Bachman (yeah, yeah—Stephen King), Zoe Heller, and Ann Patchett. When it's the bookmobile you take what you can get, and sometimes it surprises you. But once I finished the Ann Patchett (Run), I was stuck: what next? And so my very nice husband came to the rescue with a little-known formula: "Read page 101."
"A guy I used to know was quoting someone else and they said that the way to know if a book is good is to turn to page 101. If that's good, the book's good."
I tried it. It was actually a lot easier to judge the differences among with the books from page 101, I can tell you that. I'm telling Chestnut and Diana. We'll see.