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More than watching a television show, or even going to a movie, reading a book is a commitment. It can take days or weeks instead of minutes or hours to finish it. And often books carry a hefty price tag in retail stores. So how can you be sure you'll like that literary investment? After all, you can't judge a book by its cover.

But there are relatively certain ways of judging whether or not you'll like a book.

The most sure fire way is when you've liked a book by the same author before. While plots and themes change, most authors usually keep something of their style intact from novel to novel. But often, we've already read everything by favorite authors or we're in the mood for something different.

The best place to go in these situations is to the library. Librarians are wells of information on books and authors, and chances are you can find a librarian that is familiar with books you've loved in the past. Knowing your taste, they can suggest other authors that are likely to strike your fancy. The same can be said for employees of some bookstores, though some bookstore employees are relatively unknowledgeable about books, surprising as that may be.

Friends are another good resource for choosing books. But don't choose books that your friends liked so much as books that your friends have read and think you would like. They may not be as knowledgeable as a librarian about literary merit or similarity to other authors, but they are likely to be more familiar with your personality and tastes.

If friends and librarians fail you, the next place to turn is book reviews. Most major newspapers and magazines have them. While book reviewers won't always share your taste, reading their criticisms will give you a better basis to judge a book than by reading its jacket. And if you are lucky, you will find a reviewer whose taste turns out to be similar to your own. Thereafter, you can rely on their book picks to help you with your own.

For the particularly motivated book hunter, try writing one of your favorite authors and asking them their favorite books and influences. Authors love fan mail, and most will be all to happy to write back.

Finally, a last resort for readers are the recent 100 Best Book lists that have been distributed by Random House Publishing. They are available on the Random House web site, and include the top 100 titles of fiction and the top 100 titles of non-fiction. While their criteria of literary merit might not square with your taste, you are at least sure to read a famous and well respected work, and you'll have something else to tell the librarian when he or she is trying to gauge your taste.