A few weeks ago, I made one of those Instagram Stories questions where I encouraged people to send me questions related to reading, book clubs, etc. One of the questions I received from my friend Allison was such a great one, but it would have required way more 15-second videos than anyone has time for. Instead, I told her I’d turn her question into a blog post!
Her question was this:
To be completely honest, I started writing about my own selection process but it was getting too complicated. I have a seriously intricate process when it comes to choosing what I’m going to read next. I have at least seven different TBR lists that I refer to when I’m making my monthly reading list, and it’s very hard to explain how I go about choosing what I’m going to read. But it’s a system that works for me! It’s probably not a system that will work for most people, though.
So, instead of discussing my exact process for selecting books, I thought I could give some tips on how you can figure out your own system for choosing what you are going to read. I think it will be much more helpful in the long run. Let’s get started!
Keep a running list of the books you want to read.
And I don’t mean marking every book you see as “want to read” on Goodreads. I mean making a thoughtful list of the books you really want to read. The ones that have come highly recommended from your most trusted sources or the ones that make you feel something in your gut when you read their synopses. This list should be curated with consideration, and only the books that you really want to read should be put on it.
I have a list that I call my “immediate TBR.” Before making this list, I just marked everything that sounded interesting as “want to read” on Goodreads and suddenly, I had a list of 900+ books! I grew concerned that the books I really, really wanted to read would get lost in the shuffle, so I set about making this list. I keep it in the Notes app on my phone. I only add a book to the list if it’s one I could see myself buying because I’m that interested in reading it. (Your reasoning may be different, of course, especially if you’re not much of a book buyer.)
Once you’ve curated your reading list (remember – be strict about what you add to this list! Only the best of the best can make the cut!), you can use this to choose your next book. Go from top to bottom, use a random number generator to select what book you’re going to read next from the list… whatever works and gets you excited about reading!
Here’s what my “immediate TBR” list looks like right now:
Make a monthly reading list.
I live by my monthly reading list, as I am a person who loves structure. I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants reader, not by a long shot. So, towards the end of every month, I sit down and compile a list of 5-6 books that I want to read next month. Typically, it entails:
- Two books from my “immediate TBR” list (I just choose the next two books in line)
- Book club books (I belong to a local book club and my work book club)
- Books from my Goodreads “want to read” list (I alternate between a nonfiction book, a fiction book, and a book from an author’s backlist*)
Once I’ve compiled my monthly reading list, I’ll open up my library’s website to request those books so they’ll be ready and waiting for me to start reading when the new month begins.
I really, really love my monthly reading list and the way it keeps me focused on what I’m reading next. I know exactly what I’ll be reading once I finish my current book, and there’s no scrambling to find a book on Overdrive or feeling lost about what I should read next.
Obviously, there are some cons to being so structured with my reading list, especially when I start a book that I’m just not in the mood for. This rarely happens for me because I’m pretty good at curating my reading list to my moods. For example, when I moved apartments, I knew I needed to keep my reading list full of easy, light-hearted books. No nonfiction, no WWII stories, nothing heavy. I also make sure to keep a good balance between light reads and heavy reads. If one of the books on my reading list is a long, heavy read, everything else is brain candy. This is when it is so helpful to understand your reading style. Some people can handle multiple heavy books in a row and some can’t.
Anyway, I highly recommend making a monthly reading list, especially if you’re someone who struggles with decision fatigue and has a hard time knowing what to pick up next after finishing a book. And I think the reading list is even helpful if you’re not reading at the crazy pace I do – even if you’re a 1-2 books per month type of reader, making a list of what you’re going to read that month can be helpful for your reading life and make sure you don’t feel lost in your Goodreads “want to read” list after finishing a book.
*Author’s backlist = I love reading through an author’s entire book list so a few years ago, I made a goal of reading through some of them. I’ve gone through Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin’s lists, and I’m currently working on Colleen Hoover and Louise Penny.
Make a reading syllabus.
This is a fun idea that I’ve been hearing about, and it could be the perfect way to get more out of your reading life. Have a topic you’re interested about? Maybe dating or parenting or race relations or women-led thrillers. If so, make a syllabus that has a list of books about that topic with dates of when you want to read certain books. I can only imagine how fun it might be to research about all the different books you can find on different topics, both fiction and nonfiction alike!
Let’s say you want to read more about race relations. You could add Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop, Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give, Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, and Nic Stone’s Dear Martin. And maybe you give yourself a task of reading two of these books per month – wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, you have an easy-to-reference reading list that will not only lessen your book selection fatigue, but also get you closer to your goal of understanding the topic on your mind more clearly.
Plus, since you’ll be reading books on a topic that you are interested in, you’ll be more excited about reading because your reading life will have a purpose. You’re not just reading whatever is #1 on the New York Times best-seller list, but books that mean something to you. And that’s what reading is all about, in my opinion.
Become a serial abandoner.
Okay, so this isn’t really a tip on how to choose what you want to read next, but I still want to include it because this may be the #1 hill I’m willing to die on: abandon, abandon, abandon. There is no reason to keep reading a book that isn’t holding your interest. Reading is supposed to be fun, informative, and engaging. If you’re reading a book, but slogging through it slowly because you can only read a few pages before you get bored, abandon it. If you’re reading a book that everyone else seems to love but the main character annoys the ever-living fuck out of you, abandon it. If you’re reading a book and it’s triggering you, abandon it. There is no shame in abandoning a book. I feel like a lot of people who don’t find enjoyment from reading just aren’t reading the right things. Don’t follow the best-seller list – follow your own heart.
Heck, there have been times in my life where the only books I read were romance novels. It’s what made me happy, so it’s what I read. No shame!
The general rule of thumb is subtract your age from 100, and that’s how many pages you should give a book. For me, since I’m 30, that’s 70 pages. So, I try to give every book 70 full pages to grab my attention, but if I’m at page 70, and I really don’t care what happens to the characters, I know it’s a sign to give it up.
And with that – I think I have written enough words about this topic. I mean, I could probably write another 1,500 words, but at that point, I might as well turn this into a novella. 😉 I really hope this helps anyone who struggles with choosing books to read! I truly believe anyone can have a fulfilling reading life, no matter if you read a few books a year or 100, but sometimes, it takes a little work and experimenting to find what works for you.
How do you choose what books to read?