How to Choose What to Read

Tips for helping you find the right book

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Define Your Goal

Before you even pick out a book, you need to define what goal you are trying to achieve. What is your next book trying to solve? Perhaps it’s one of the following:

  • Helping you develop an important skillset.
  • Expanding your worldview.
  • Gaining knowledge so you can impress your peers.
  • Giving you a brief escape from reality.

Choosing A Book

Choosing what book to read out of the near-infinite options can be a daunting task. Streamline the selection process by using the following methods: scan the reading list of experts, read books that have aged well, and consider reading for depth.

Scan the Reading Lists of Experts

One benefit of the Internet is it has never been easier to share content with others. Fortunately, this has led to many thought leaders and experts openly sharing their reading lists on their blogs or email lists for you to scan. You can also follow a lot of authors and experts on Goodreads to see what they are currently reading or browse their book reviews.

Read Older Books

It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying the latest book after hearing it be pitched on your favorite podcast or seeing reviews plastered everywhere online. However, the risk of buying the newest book is you don’t know the quality of the content. Most books that are popular right now will be completely forgotten about within the next five years.

Syntopical Reading (Reading for Depth)

If I read about a topic that interests me, then I will sometimes choose another book on the same topic. Reading multiple books on the same subject allows you to compare and contrast the ideas, vocabulary, and arguments of the authors. Reading for depth will help you strengthen your understanding of the underlying concepts so you can learn to think for yourself.

Reading A Book

I tend to read one to three books at a time across multiple platforms: print copy, Kindle, and audiobook. Each platform has its pros and cons with regards to accessibility, note-taking, and reviewing. Pairing a book to its optimal platform has helped me get the most out of my reading time.

Highlighting

I always keep a highlighter handy when reading (the Kindle has a built-in highlighter feature). When I come across a compelling argument or thought-provoking quote, I highlight the passage. Once I have finished the book, I go back through my highlights and take notes on what I still find to be useful information. For Kindle, I use Readwise to automatically sync all of my highlights to their web app and Evernote for easy access. Readwise also lets you add tags and notes to your highlights to help you organize how you best see fit.

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Some of my highlights from The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker.

Skimming and Skipping

I used to be a strict reader who believed you had to finish the book cover-to-cover to count it as “being read.” Over time, I’ve become more flexible with my approach to reading. I will now skim over certain passages or chapters that don’t apply to me and will even put books down I no longer enjoy. There are too many good books out there to get bogged down by books you no longer find interesting.

Re-Reading

There are a select few books that have been life-changing or provide so much depth that I will read them again. Just like listening to your favorite music album or enjoying your favorite meal, you should find yourself returning to your favorite books to tease out all of the nuances that make it a masterpiece. Better to spend your time rereading the ten best books than to read the most books.

Processing A Book

I used to read books for the sake of “checking them off” my list to impress others. But spending countless hours just for the satisfaction of stroking your ego is a poor investment of time. Now I find reading to be the most valuable when I can remember the ideas presented and apply them to my life. My reading process no longer ends when I finish the book; it ends when I have a solid understanding of the ideas.

Index Cards

A few weeks after reading a book, I will go back through it and review the highlights taken. If the book has important principles I wish to implement, then I will sometimes make notecards of the most important highlights. The process of writing down ideas is usually enough to get them to stick. If you want to learn more about my notecard system, I copied the system Ryan Holiday uses for his reading.

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An example of one of my notecards. The top left corner is the book name, the top right is for the theme/idea, and the bottom right corner is the page number of the highlight.

Book Notes

For books that have a more significant impact on my thinking, I will write a summary and share it on my book notes page. This forces me to grasp the key concepts so I can distill it down to what I find most important. I will refer to all of my highlights and any notecards taken to help with the summary process. It is a laborious process but has been beneficial for improving my comprehension, note-taking, and writing skills. You can access all of my book notes here.

Building Your System

Filtering and processing information to consume is a skill you can develop. But first, you must establish a reading habit. Only through the process of reading a lot of material will you begin to understand what is useful for your goals and what isn’t.

Engineer & Writer | Writing about the best books, tools for thought, and systems for maximizing creativity at lawsonblake.com

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