Lucia asked: "How do you find new books to read? How do you choose what to read next? And how do you select the books worthy-of-your-time?"
I have developed quite a method, Lucia, for finding new books and choosing them and reading them in the order that suits me. There are several parts to it, and they keep fluctuating and mutating according to what I learn as I read every day and begin to understand what books are worth my time and what books aren't. I'm fooling myself, of course, and fooling you, by telling you all this. The best books I read have come out of nowhere and I frankly don't remember how I stumbled on them and they defy all my methods. Nonetheless, since we're playing this game of knowing, let me list for you my sources and the decisions I go through before picking up and reading a new book.
1. My childhood.
The year I started writing full-time was the year when I looked back and was suddenly possessed with desire to reread the books I cherished as a kid and as a teen, the books that made an impression on me, like Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and Lolita by Nabokov and all the Moomin books by Tove Jansson and on and on and on. The Badlings was born of that desire to traverse 30+ books of my childhood and it somewhat failed as I had to cut 20 of them out due to potential copyright infringement, but that's another story. So part of my reading list comes from my memory. I have never read The Lord of the Rings in English and was thrilled to be able to do so, same with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Dracula and Brothers' Grimm's fairy tales and more.
2. The authors' influences.
When you read lots of classics, or perceived classics, or books that have been published a while ago and have been recognized as masterpieces, you inevitably end up with books that have long introductions or long afterwords or author interviews in which other books and authors are mentioned and which I always look up and often, if I like the current book I'm reading, like a Stephen King book, and find out that he was influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, I look up Lovecraft's books on Goodreads to read the descriptions and pick one that seems to be read the most and then on Amazon I look inside the book and see if I like the first page. If I do, I add it to my reading list.
3. The books themselves.
Often in the body of a novel a character mentions some book or some author and so I go and look up those, particularly if I happen to like the book I'm reading. Often I find some real gems that way.
4. Friends' recommendations.
I post selfies of me reading books almost every other day as I read about 2-3 books a week and one of you guys will usually recommend something similar, some book I might like, so I look it up according to the process described above, and if I like the beginning, I add it to my list. I do the same if I happen to meet someone and talk about books and they end up recommending me something new, something they think I might enjoy or something I think I might enjoy because I like their taste.
5. Articles, blog reviews, online mentions.
This is not my main source of books but I do scour the Internet every day in search of something new. There are a few sites where I read short snippets by emerging writers (I have outlined them in this blog post), and this is how I have found Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children.
I don't watch much TV and mostly what I watch is movies that have passed my persnickety judgement after looking at the trailer and reading reviews and asking friends about it, friends whose taste I trust. Sometimes movies lead me to books, which is rare as I don't like watching a movie BEFORE I read a book as few movies do books justice. Such was Trainspotting and that is how I fell in love with Irvine Welsh. Also, Interview with the Vampire which I'm reading now, and Solaris, and James and the Giant Peach, and Monty Python's Flying Circus (I'm reading a book where every episode has been written down and annotated), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and so on.
7. Writer friends' books.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I rarely finish those books that I get from my fellow writers, and I'm sure they hardly ever finish mine, if they ever start them. I try, but the truth is, if I'm not into the writing or the story, I have learned that making myself do it will make me feel awful and will not help my writing. I'm always eager for exceptions, and there are two that shines above all, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. I loved them. I read them both in PDF form before they were published. Read them. And please keep sending me and giving me your books. I will keep trying, and if I have ever given you one of mine and you couldn't get into it, please toss it. Life is too short to read stuff that doesn't get your heart going.
8. Books for research.
For every book I write I always read a bunch of books that help me sharpen my knowledge on a particular subject matter. Right now it's all about trains and ballet and horror, and so I'm reading a lot of horror fiction and I sample novels about ballet and trains, and non-fiction books that deal with the history of trains or ballet. These I find at the library or look up Best Lists (like Best Novels About Ballet) and try to make sound judgements before diving in.
9. Books that won prizes.
These simply make me curious. If they have won a Pulitzer or some other prize, surely there is something fantastic about them, some untapped treasure that I might enjoy, so I try reading them and, once again, if I like the voice from the start, if it grabs me, binds me, propels me forward, I read it.
10. Short story collections.
I read mostly novels as I want to learn how to write novels well, but occasionally I venture into the short story world and pick up a collection that's been approved or edited by someone whose books I love, like Neil Gaiman, for example. Often if I like the short story, I will try a book by that author and maybe two or three.
To close the loop and come back to point number one, when I read a Russian book and love what the translator did to it, I look up more books by the same translator. This is how I found Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin after reading and loving The Slynx by Tatayana Tolstaya.
That's it. This is my magical method. And regarding the books that don't fit in it, there is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I have found out about when I saw Bret Easton Ellis (love his American Psycho) tweet about it as something magnificent. And it was magnificent. Read it.
As to your other question, how I choose what to read next, I go by feeling. If I have heard about a book enough times and it starts bouncing in my head with the annoying buzz of a mosquito, I bump it up on my list to scratch my itch, like The Read Dragon and the other two Hannibal books. I'm reading them next. I've seen the movie a long time ago (The Silence of the Lambs) and I sampled the books and they made my teeth vibrate in their sockets. So I'm reading them. Expecting to be thoroughly scared.
These are the books that are worthy of my time, to answer your last question, the books that make me feel intense emotion: terror, misery, love, anger, disgust; books that make me feel weird shit like the picture you see above (love Mark Ryden's art, so much like my stories); books that make me weep with laughter and melt with tears and books that make me want to puke and chill me to the bones, books that make me forget time, forget me, forget everything and simply be in the story. Otherwise, why read? Books are there to live a million other lives. Henry David Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” And I agree.