What Book to Read Next?

Woman Reading

There are so many books out there… But your reading time is limited. You can’t read them all even if you want to. So, how do you choose what you read?

I have a few bookshelfs and a Kindle full of unread books, and I won’t say anything about all those fascinating Wikipedia pages and delightful blogs and websites that I would like to read all at once if possible.

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” ― Gustave Flaubert

But I only have a few hours for reading every day, and that usually means no more than one or two books a week, and some blog posts and Wikipedia pages squeezed in between them. On some weeks I have a bit more time for reading, and it’s those weeks that I fear the most.

Because I have a hard time making up my mind about what to read next. I’m trying to become a writer you see, and I think that bad writing is contagious, and so I try to read the good books first. A reader who’s not interested in becoming a writer is free to read anything she pleases. I don’t have that freedom. If I read bad books I fear I won’t become a good writer fast enough.

My personal taste usually makes me prefer books whose author is dead. I tend to shun books on whose cover the name of the author is bigger than the title. Also, for me, references to contemporary events and technology takes the charm out of reading, which is why I don’t read that many contemporary books.

I have to admit though that I often learn more about writing from contemporary novels than from old ones. Contemporary books are more compact and distilled than the classics, a feature which often makes them better writing manuals than the latter.

“Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read.” ― Mark Twain

So I’m a bit of a snob and I stick to the classics. That probably reduces the list of books on my reading list by say 25%. I still have hundreds of possibilities. Bleak House? Uncle Tom’s Cabin? As I Lay Dying? Titus Andronicus? The Miserables? Bloody hell! I waste half an hour scratching my head, not knowing which to pick.

All reading is good reading, I know that. As a writer, when you read a good book, you learn by good example; when you read a bad book, you learn by bad example – you identify the errors and the weak parts, and this will help you later to avoid making similar mistakes in your own work. Still, I cannot help but feel that some books will make me a better writer faster than others.

At length I pick a book and sink in an armchair and read. After a few pages I forget my indecision. The joy of reading takes over me. Half an hour later I’m hooked, and I remain like that until I turn the last page. I’ve never abandoned a book after I’ve started reading it. All reading is good reading.

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” ― Voltaire

How do you choose what book to read next?

23 thoughts on “What Book to Read Next?

  1. I too have shelves full of unread books. And I can’t stop acquiring more.

    I like to force variety upon myself. I’ll read a nonfiction (I adore memoirs), then some fantasy, followed by a book for work.

    If I’m feeling especially indecisive, I simply go to the my book shelf and select the first unread book my eyes touch. Like you, once I’m started there’s no turning back!

      1. It fluctuates. Now that I’ve started a blog, that consumes the lunch hour I used to use for reading. And I find myself often reading other people’s blogs on part of my commute (another time I used to peg for book reading).

        I would say I get through at least 2-3 books/month depending on the size and my level of interest. I’ll make time to read a really great book that I just can’t put down.

          1. Too late now. I’m hooked. I never realized how much I missed writing. I don’t know what my exact goals are for this thing, but I know it feels great to write again!

            Do you read memoirs?

              1. Well should the interest strike you, my two favorites are:
                “The Tender Bar” by J. R. Moehringer
                “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls

                Both are about family, though very different versions of family. They are heartbreaking, witty, funny, and purely entertaining. Both were books I was sad to see end.

  2. Les miserables is an amazing journey..i recomand it , i think everybody should read it. For me was a life lesson. But read what u want, whatever pleases you. After all, we are what we read.

  3. I love to read, but a problem that I find is that it is easy to substitute reading for writing. Much easier to read than to write, however the act of writing and creation can provide more satisfaction. On the other hand, there is so much great writing out there to read … why spend the time adding more pedestrian content … Hmm ,,,

  4. I love what you said about disliking references to contemporary events or technology. I find it kind of taboo to even mention the use of cell phones or texting or emailing in fiction pieces – for some reason it always seems to ruin the magic of the imagined world of the story.

    That being said, I don’t always read the best literature out there. I often use reading as an escape for my mind when the world becomes too much to handle, and for that reason I find myself turning to mind-candy books that don’t provide much enrichment. Though it does help to show me how NOT to write in the future, I think your claim that better books will improve your writing faster is accurate. Any advice on how to (easily) transition from mind-candy reading to equally riveting, advanced literature?

  5. How do I choose which book to read next? Why, I pick one recommended by you, of course.

    I too prefer books whose author is dead. Most contemporary literature is, pardon my french, crap. There are a few exceptions, of course, and I too feel I can learn more about my craft by reading some newer works than, say, Shakespeare, or even authors like Dickens. One of my favorite books on writing is “On Writing Well,” by Zinsser.

    I also must mention: I loved your comment about shunning books on whose cover the name of the author is bigger than the title. Yes.

  6. I’ve had the same problem as you before. What to read next? And you’re right: bad reading is contagious. I mimic write all the time, so a badly written book is disastrous. Plus I’ve found I need something that helps me want to write what I need to write. So I’ve developed a system where I pick books that touch on the topic or genre I’m writing in, combining business with pleasure. Yes, yes… that does make my reading purposeful, but I think I prefer it that way. I spend hours reading books, so those hours are at least helping me move in a good direction.

  7. I read what strikes my fancy at the time. I sometimes feel guilty for reading copious amounts of fantasy in this manner, but I don’t see point of forcing myself to read what I do not feel like reading at that moment. I like reading the classics, when I like to read them (The Portrait of Lady at the Moment), they’re too good to force yourself to read them. And I’m a slow reader, so I’ve made peace with the fact that my to-read list will grow more quickly than I can take books off.

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