In 1985, I was flying home from Monterey, CA to Tulsa on leave from the Army. Sitting in my seat, I pulled out my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo and began reading. The beautiful young lady sitting across from me asked me what I was reading. When I told her, she said “Wow, you must be smart.” I simply replied that it was the most interesting book that I found in the bookstore and went about my reading.

This is not a story about how I had still not developed enough “game” by the age of 19 to strike up a decent conversation with this very cute girl. It is not about how I completely missed her signals and opening moves. Nor is this about how I still kick myself in the mental keester every time I think about it. That sad story is reserved for my therapist. This is the story of how I choose the books I read.

The first, and probably most important factor that draws me to a book is the hook. For me a good hook is an interesting concept that drives the book. A book with an exceptional hook that I read recently is Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. The hook in that book was that it was set in a world where everyone was color blind and primarily saw in shades of grey. However, some people did have the ability to see a particular color. One person might see red, another blue, someone else may have a strong sense of yellow, and another person might be able to faintly see green. Fforde really works with this concept in that one’s social class is determined by what colors they can see and how well they can see them. Fforde’s website even has photos showing what such a world might look like. A great hook like that is just begging to be read.

The second thing that draws me to books is price. I love a good bargain. My favorite part of the bookstore is the bargain bin. There is something caveman about hunting for books in the bargain bin: looking for the book that demonstrates the weakest price yet containing the maximum literary meat to cull from the herd. My greatest kill was buying an autographed copy of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman for about five dollars. The only drawback is that my trophy room/library is now crammed with the remains of books that I have yet to gut for their sweet sweet word meat.

The final factor in deciding on a book is my vanity. Sometimes I read a book because I think it will be cool to say that I read it or that I know something about that particular topic. That was probably part of the reason I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo back in 1985. I know it is a big part of the reason why I am now trying to read all of Shakespeare’s plays. I just think it would be cool to say, “yeah man, I’ve read all of the Bard, haven’t you?” I will have a license to pretension when I complete that mission. However, this is not just limited to treasured classics from days gone by. A couple of years back I delved into Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series with Dead Until Dark. I felt a need to know something about the current urban fantasy trend that seems quite popular today. From Bill Shakespeare to Bill the Vampire, what can I say?

While I never did make a connection with that beauty on the plane, I just have to console myself with the fact that she got off in Dallas while I went on to Tulsa, so it probably would never have worked out anyway. At least, that is what I tell myself. Then I lie back in bed, pick up a book, and look over at my mega-hot wife who doesn’t mind my having the light on to read while she is trying to sleep. And then I realize, it was all for the best.