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Now Read This! So Many Books, So Few Decoder Rings

mail packages

As the recipient of some 50 books a week, I'm on a first-name-basis with my UPS man. Some days he drops off just one or two packages ("Thanks, Jerry!"). More often he must lug 10 to 12 heavy padded envelopes from his truck to my door ("Thanks a lot, Jerry!").

I then wave my secret decoder ring over the bundles to decide which books to review.

Kidding! I possess no such ring - though I dearly wish I did. Instead I have several ways of divining which titles will be the Big Books of the Season:

1) Print runs and promotion plans. Like any industry, publishing runs on marketing campaigns. Unlike most other execs, however, publishers must declare their promotion plans for a product months in advance. An "announced" print run of 100,000 is likely to be an "actual" print run of 65,000 - still, it's an unmistakable sign of publisher confidence.

2) Cries and whispers. I listen carefully to other voices. That means reading the "forecast" reviews in places like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and trolling social media to find out which books are being read by bloggers, critics, journalists and booksellers - and what they think of each one. This is a crucial but largely invisible step for a reviewer. Sometimes five people I respect are reading the same book I am, and we all adore it. At other times someone will mention a book that has flown beneath my radar, but I wind up picking it as my favorite of the month.

3) Pages, pages, and more pages. My third step is, of course, reading. If I talk up a book in this space, it means I've read it from copyright page to colophon. When I feel relief on reaching the last page, Step 3 seems tedious and tiresome. But when I feel bereaved and aggrieved to reach that last page, Step 3 is undeniably delicious.

Steps 1 through 3 tell me these books will soon be standouts:

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead, April): What happens when our awkward friends of adolescence grow up and surpass our wildest expectations? This smart novel is an easy joy to read.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, April): A new Sedaris book screams "Bestseller!" when you crack its spine, but this one a) returns to the author's strength of short essays and b) displays a new strain of poignancy.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani (Riverhead, June): There's a high nostalgia factor in this Depression-era picaresque, which features a feisty heroine and a fresh voice. Expect to see mothers and daughters passing it back and forth across their Adirondack chairs this summer.

But enough about me - which titles do you anticipate pressing on friends this season?

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