Three Ways to Choose Your Next Book
Choosing your next book to read is a much bigger commitment than flipping through shows on Netflix. You may be committing to some thirty hours of work, spread over the course of months. It makes sense to have a strategy in order to make a good choice.
Browsing for a book can be ineffective. The selection is often too big, too small, or too narrow. Bookstores, especially the big ones, are notorious for only promoting certain books. Do you want the marketing team at a big book store deciding what books will shape you, or would you like to make that decision yourself?
Similarly, browsing through a library can be tedious. Small libraries seem to carry books that were donated, which is why you will find a wide array of cookbooks and get-rich-quick guides, but not a huge selection of classics. On the other hand, you may wind up lost in a big library, curled up in the fetal position in the government publications section, and wondering if you will ever see daylight again. I find bookstores and libraries the most useful when I know exactly what I’m looking for.
I usually don’t take book recommendations from friends or family, either. Likewise, I do not recommend books lightly. Although we have the best intentions in making these recommendations, they often lead to frustration. Our preferences and goals in reading can be so different from one another.
Here are three strategies that I use to pick the next book I will read.
1. Two or three time referrals: If I hear a book mentioned from two or three different sources, then I consider reading it. For instance, I recently heard Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America mentioned, first in a podcast with Tim Ferriss interviewing Edward Norton, and then from my pastor while going through the book of Malachi. Neither Edward Norton or my pastor recommended reading it, or said that it was an amazing book, but the fact that these two different people found the book worth quoting, interests me. Looking further, I realized that it is in the recommended reading list at the end of Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's How to Read a Book. That makes three unrelated referrals, so Democaracy in America has shot way up towards the top of my reading list.
2. Recommended reading lists: While on the subject of recommended reading lists, they can be found at the end of certain books or on the web. In the past I have browsed the Modern Library's 100 best books list. More recently, I search the web for a certain person’s reading list. I have been interested in Charlie Munger or Derek Siver's reading lists. If the people I respect consider a book indispensable, then I take that seriously.
3. Chain reading: Chain reading, similar to chain smoking, is when one book leads right into another. The author of one book refers to another book. I order and read that other book. That other book refers to still another book, and so on. People who write books are almost always readers themselves, and can't resist referring to other books. Anyone who has followed links between internet articles, has already experienced chain reading.
Sometimes I use these strategies in combination. There are no rules. Simply find a book that will feed your mind. I hope these strategies help.