Some lessons I’ve learned on how to pick what to read next and being asked what I’m reading these days

Ever since I started blogging about what I’ve been reading people have been asking me how I pick what to read next.

To be honest, I just picked at random from my reading list initially, I prioritised on finishing reading the books I had already bought a physical copy of ( I’m a bit of a book hoarder )

Once I ran out of my first set of physical books, I started picking books a little differently, a process I wasn’t aware of until I investigated it quite recently.

One advice that seems to be common across all cultures and all times is to go back to the source. The idea is that the fundamental idea for everything is at the source and the rest of the content on a particular topic is built on top of the source.

For example, if I have to start reading about Evolution, it is imperative that I read the Origin of Species, otherwise I’m reading someone’s interpretation and extension of the theory and not Darwin’s ideas itself ( which may have ‘evolved’ over time )

Inadvertently, my process is a little bit like going back to the source, but, with enough leeway to read what you want anyway.

Breadth vs Depth

One of the things I try to do when I read is to read about as many topics as I can, until I find something I like and then dive deep into it until I get bored of it.

In CS, tree traversals are common operations to perform on data.

This is a bit like doing a Breadth First Search until you find a node at Depth 0 with the value you want, and then doing a Depth First Traversal on that Node until you get bored of it.

It is however important to me to have atleast 3 different concepts that I am exploring at a time.

One of them is always a Fictional book, which is validated by my data from my reading list, which shows that 1/3rd of the books I’ve read since I started tracking this have been fictional books.

In Non-Fiction, I have 2 concepts that I read in parallel, ideally these concepts do not conflict.

The part people find confusing is how to pick the next Breadth book and the next Depth book.

I don’t use any App/Web book discovery tools, I’m a little old-school when it comes to this stuff.

edit : This has changed, I now have a goodreads.

I tried figuring out my process and I’ve explained it to the best of my abilities below.

Process

The process is a little loosely defined, which makes life easier for people who like loosely defined stuff ( read, me )

Continuous work — Building your reading list

I tend to note down the name of every book I hear using whatever medium of recording available to me at that time (piece of paper, notebook, phone, laptop), I maintain my reading list on a google sheet, but, it goes into the sheet later ( we’ll get to that in a bit )

The idea is to not edit your reading list at first, just build it.

To find a needle in a haystack, you first need a haystack. To those who think having a haystack is a bad idea in the first place, you may be right, but, I don’t sacrifice the good for the best. The best solution may be out there, I don’t have it and this works for me ( I think so, anyway )

Once in a while — Single Source of Truth

Everybody needs a single source of truth for their data, this includes your reading list.

Some people prefer goodreads, others prefer their notes app, I honestly think preaching what to use is overrated. I think its great if you’re using something and that works for you, just make sure that its the one place you can always go to to find your needle in a haystack

For me, having worked in a venture capital firm for a while, a shift from databases to excel/google sheets has happened ( they’re quite powerful ) and I have that going for me as a single source of truth

Figure out a comfortable schedule for yourself where you take all your scraps of paper and put all those book names into that SSOT

Breadth Picking

Pick a topic you like/want to know more about.

  • Stop reading all news articles on the topic
  • Stop consuming short-form content on the topic
  • Start reading a book on the topic Step 3 is the hard part, because its actually 2 parts.
  1. Picking a book
  2. Reading the book Part 1 is the easy part, but, has the most adverse effects purely because people pick a bad book and they drop the topic completely.

Here’s what I do instead, I drop the book and pick the next one, it makes Part 1 easier because there’s less pressure/impact on/from it.

Which makes picking the book the easy part, because you can now drop it.

Get to reading, which is the important part.

Depth picking

As I mentioned earlier, I think every book is either, ( this applies to non-fiction only )

  • a critique of a concept laid out in an older book
  • built on top of a concept laid out in an older book
  • is original and the source for the concept Pick a book, read it, find what category it falls under and whether you find yourself agreeing with it in principle or not, either way, go read the older book which not doubt is mentioned in some way in the book you’re reading ( unless its the original )

The above process does not apply to fictional books, which to me are more for leisure, less for rigor.

I took a shot at explaining my process, its likely that I will refine this as I discover faults in this, it seems to be working for me so far.

Thank you for reading

Do leave your comments below, would love to hear your thoughts.

Sainath