An MR reader emails me:
Reading: what is your decision model for choosing fiction?
Here is a description, these are not necessarily recommendations for you:
1. If a woman as smart (or smarter) as I am tells me to read a particular work of fiction, it is likely I do so. If a smarter man tells me to read a particular work of fiction, odds are I will ignore it.
2. I am least likely to read American fiction. The 1850s, Faulkner, and Pynchon aside, American fiction seems more superficial to me than say European or Latin American fiction. American fiction is also very popular in…America, which leads to an excessively loose selection mechanism for those residing in this country and reading its media. Whereas if a novel from El Salvador (Castellanos Moya) makes its way in front of your eyes, it may be quite good.
3. In genre fiction, I am most likely to read American fiction. Superficiality is less of a problem, and vitality is more likely to be relevant.
4. I track fiction reviews in the NYT, Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, Financial Times, the WSJ and WaPo, BookForum, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and on-line, and I buy what seems interesting to me. I read the blog Literary Saloon which covers fiction in translation. I will randomly sample other sources as well, sometimes the Guardian too or the London Times. I will click on “best of” lists relating to fiction.
5. If I am in a German- or Spanish-speaking country, I’ll buy a few titles from the front tables and also ask an intelligent-seeming clerk what I ought to be reading. I don’t always get around to actually reading those, noting that the final equilibrium has not yet arrived.
6. I used to scan the “New Arrivals” section of the local public libraries for fiction titles, but in recent years I have cut back on my fiction consumption and this practice has fallen by the wayside. It was not leading to a high hit rate in any case (too many second- or third-tier books by writers I already like but who are past their peak years).
7. I will periodically reread old classics, on a more or less random basis, mostly correlated with how long ago I last read them.