What to read?

So how do you figure out what to read?  This is a challenge that I suspect all of the book nerds out in Booknerdland will identify with.  No matter how avid a reader you are, there is only so much time you can read, and you want to make sure that you are enjoying everything you read.

This is not easy.  There are SO many books published every year, and so many of them are quality, especially when you consider the arduous process of getting published in the first place.  In fact, they could never publish another book again, and you could spend the rest of your life reading great stuff that has already been published.

So, with all of these book options, how does a discerning reading find things to read?

My method, which I have been using for a number of years, is to wait until December and review two book lists:  the New York Times Notable 100 books and The Economist books of the year.

The theory here is that these books have been vetted by people who have high standards. A book might end up not being to your taste, but at least they won’t be “bad.”  And they are likely to be significant–representing the highest levels of literary achievement for the year.

Also, this method is good because it gives access to high-level fiction and non-fiction books, which is important to me.

From there, I print the lists out and then sit and circle the ones that seem interesting to me.  Pro tip:  some of the books on these lists are pedantic in the extreme.  If you search for words like “engaging” and “readable” and “compelling” you will find the more accessible options.

Then, those books get transferred to my wishlist and then after that when I need something to read, I scan the list and pick one out.  They can stay on the list forever, which is good because sometimes you are at a used bookstore and you see one of the books from the back end of your wishlist, and let’s be serious, a notable bio of Rutherford B. Hayes is every bit as notable in 2017 and it was in 2011.

This is how I get 90% of my reading choices.  The other ones are gifts and…once in a while…I will go to the bookstore and walk up to the staff picks shelf and just pick one that I never heard of before.

too-many-booksI know what the big objection is:  FOMO.  Fear of missing out.  Am I restricting myself to the establishment, mainstream choices available from the New York Times and The Economist?  Are there great books they will never expose me to?

The answer is yes.  No matter how you do it, there will be great books you do not read in any given year or lifetime.  That’s just how it goes.  You have only so much capacity, and it is dwarfed by the supply.

Once you accept that, then you have to make selections.  I’m sure there are other notable book lists that could be used as well.  By the way, the NYT 2017 notable books are out, if you decide to take a look.

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