I read a lot. I read because I am hungry for knowledge, and I read for pleasure. I read for inspiration, and I read in order to develop greater expertise in the things I am most interested in. I read to broaden my perspectives, and I read to learn from the lives of others. I also read just because it is good for the old brain.
Earlier this year, I wrote Reading Faster. Since that time, I have been consciously trying to increase my reading speed, practicing much of what I learned in the research for that post—namely, using my finger as a “pacer” while I read—and I can attest that I have, indeed, become much faster. To date, I have read over 20 books this year, a feat I don’t believe I would have been able to complete if I had not practiced the principles learned in that post.
A friend recently asked me how I chose what to read. We are, after all, living in the information age. There truly is SO MUCH TO READ. How does one go about narrowing down the options?
Obviously, before you can start choosing books to read, you have to know what you’re going after in your reading. Otherwise, you could just read the books with the prettiest covers or the catchiest titles. For me, as I stated in the opening paragraph, my main driver is for knowledge. I want to know more about lots of things. Also, I want to be able to share that knowledge through this blog. Consequently, my reading list consists mostly of non-fiction. However, I do belong to a book club which usually reads fiction, but the book club is purposeful, too—to become more global in our perspectives—and thus, our “light reading” about other countries or people from other countries also is educational.
That being said, my reading list may look a lot different than yours. Hopefully, though, we both—you and I—share the standard to read only those things that add value to our lives and don’t diminish our spirits, our minds, or our values in any way. Philippians 4:8 is a good measuring stick: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (New Living Translation).
So, with that foundation, how do I choose what to read?
Keep a “Recommended Reading” List
I can’t believe that I only started practicing this idea in the past year or so. I can only imagine all the good reads that I have missed because I didn’t keep a list of titles to look into when I had the opportunity. However, in all fairness to myself, it hasn’t always been as easy to keep such a list as it is now. All you need is a smart phone—which most people now have!
I highly recommend the app, Wunderlist, for any kind of list-keeping. I won’t spend this post singing the wonders of Wunderlist (Ha! Did you see the play on words?), I’ll just mention it and you can check it out for yourself. It is an app for maintaining (and even sharing) any kind of list you might need to keep (and it syncs with my phone, iPad, and computer, so I always have access to it). I use it for lots of lists (Honey Do’s, Blog Ideas, Shopping, etc.), but my reading list is probably the one I refer to the most often.
From My Reading
One of the main sources for my reading list comes from my reading (reading begets more reading)! For instance, I recently read a post in one of the many blogs that I follow about the benefits of nature and being outdoors. That has become a subject that I have grown quite passionate about, so I stopped reading momentarily, opened the Wunderlist app, and added the book that was referenced in the article, The Last Child in the Woods, to my list (even the title intrigued me). In Wunderlist, you can attach a note to any item on a list, and I wrote something like, “Recommended in an article on the benefits of nature.” I learned the hard way that these reminder notes are a must. Without them, you’ll most likely forget the context and why you were drawn to the book in the first place, and so you’ll probably never read it. Learn from my experience, and make a practice of adding a note to explain to yourself why the book appealed to you.
From Friends and Acquaintances
Another more common source of my recommended reads is from friends and acquaintances. I was visiting with a client recently when the subject of Arkansas’s history came up. He mentioned a “youth historical novel” that he had read in which he learned much about a particular portion of our state’s history. While still visiting with him, I immediately pulled up Wunderlist, typed in the title of the book and added a note something like this: “Recommended by John Doe; about the Little Rock Nine; youth historical novel; quick, easy read.” Actually, the book really wasn’t about the Little Rock Nine, but I knew that notation would give me a context for what the book was about. Also, the fact that it was a “quick, easy read” could be a tipping point for me some time in the future, so that, too, was a helpful note to myself.
Getting the Most of the Library
I am fortunate that I live near good libraries. Even in my little home town of about 2,000 people, our library is excellent. The one about 10 miles further away is superb—one of the best-rated in the country.
The beauty of our technological age is that the process of finding a book you are interested in is greatly simplified. Most libraries are online, and you can place a “hold” on a book and simply run in and pick it up at your convenience. My library actually has an app in which I can check to see if they have the book I want. If they do (surprisingly, they almost always do), I can see if it is checked out, when it is due back in, and I can “put a hold on it,” meaning they will set it back for me, place it in a special section of the library with my name on it, and I can simply run in, check my books out (in my library, that process is also automated; I don’t have to stand in line) and run out. When I do this, I can be in and out of the library in less than five minutes!
If this kind of feature sounds helpful to you, I suggest you check to see if your library has a similar app. If it doesn’t, I am certain that it is probably online. So even though you may not be able to check out and renew books with an app, you probably can do so on the web. With all this simplification, it makes using the library a piece of cake!
Enlarging Your Genre
Realizing that I was reading the same kinds of books over and over (and frankly, they were saying the same things), I made a decision to enlarge my genre, to purposefully start reading in new arenas, to read more biographies, to read how-to books about subjects I had not launched into yet (photography?), etc.
A couple of things appealed to me about the book I mentioned that my client recommended. First of all, the client—someone I liked and respected—said it was an easy, but educational, read. Secondly, it was a completely different type of book than I would normally read: a youth historical novel (I actually had to go into the kid’s section to locate it). Thirdly, it was historical. I enjoy history, and at the time the book came recommended, I was particularly interested in that specific era. And finally, I knew it would be an easy read, and I was due an easy read. 🙂
Before this year, I would have never have followed through on his recommendation. But the ease of getting books and my intentional plan to broaden my reading genre combined for the perfect opportunity.
It was indeed an easy, delightful, and eye-opening read (Historical novels are usually well-researched, and though not “true,” the facts around which they are built are often very accurate. Thus, reading these kinds of novels—even children’s novels—can be quite educational). I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
At the end of the book, there was the usual acknowledgments and a list of recommended reads. Guess what I did? I added three of those recommendations to Wunderlist, checked my library to see if they were there, and promptly put a hold on one or two of them.
Within the the month, I had read one of them, and I now have a solid grasp of a portion of Arkansas’s history that I was totally ignorant of before.
Keep a List of Books Read
One last suggestion regarding lists and books: Keep a list of books that you have read (I also include audio books that I listen to on this list). I start a new list each year.
- It’s the only way you’ll remember all the titles.
- The list will serve as an incentive to you to keep reading, to keep adding books to the list. It has the same effect on me as recording my mileage when I run or walk. “I can do more!”
- The list serves as a measurement of sorts of how you are “exercising” your brain. If there are few books on your yearly list, you probably need to pick up the pace—lest you fall behind in the “mental” department. The same principle applies to the brain as to the body: use it or lose it!
Do you keep a reading list? What are you reading right now? Leave a comment!