It’s never been easier to amass a collection of books. Depending on where you live, you might have access to cheap physical books or even free if there’s a library around. There’s also the Kindle store that offers thousands of digital books for pretty cheap. Speaking for myself, I have hundreds of books on my TBR that I intend to get to at some point. So if like me, you often ask yourself “what should I read next?”, here’s the strategy I’ve been using. My framework’s pretty simple and it only involves three steps: capturing, organizing, and reading.
Step One: Capturing
When it comes to books, I’m open to all kinds of recommendations. Recommendations come from Amazon, the New York Times Best Sellers list, people I know, YouTube, or podcasts. If I’m interested in a book, I get it as soon as possible. The return on investment you can get from a book is infinite. When you think that a book took years for someone to write and that you can learn those lessons in a matter of hours, you realize that few things in life are more valuable than books. Personally, I prefer using my Kindle for the reasons I explained here. To sum up my ideas from that article: the Kindle is easy to take anywhere, it removes the friction of reading, it can hold hundreds of books, the e-ink screen looks fantastic, and the battery can hold a charge for weeks.
Once I download a book, I add it to a note on the Google Keep app. After trying several note-taking apps such as Todoist, Evernote, and Notion, I settled on Google Keep. I like the app’s minimalist design, as well as the fact that each line turns into a block you can move around. So whenever I finish a book, I go to Google Keep and find my next read at the top. Although I could use a Notion database for my books, I prefer Google Keep for several reasons. One, I don’t need a lot of information other than the name of the book and the number of pages it has. Two, Google Keep works offline, so I have access to my list even if I’m not connected to the internet. And three, it’s really simple to add books and move them around.
Step Two: Organizing
I keep a very loose structure for my TBR. For every couple of books I summarize, I also try to read at least one book for pleasure. I love writing and posting summaries, but I also like to get lost in a book without the pressure of using a pen and a notebook to write my thoughts.
Now, what determines which books go straight to the top and which ones don’t? I usually evaluate the source of the recommendation, as well as what they said about the book. Was it a transformative experience for the person who recommended it in the first place? How convinced did they sound when they brought it up? Does the book discuss a topic I know little about and want to explore further? Apart from the source, I usually look at the Amazon page to see how many people have reviewed it. I usually read a few reviews to get the gist of the book, as well as to get a sense of people’s opinions.
Something to bear in mind is that nothing is set in stone when it comes to my TBR. I actually change the order of the list constantly. Sometimes a new book comes out and it’ll go straight to the top of the list. Sometimes I‘ll choose a shorter book because I’m not in the mood for a long read. And sometimes I want to read about a specific topic because that’s what I’m into at the moment. As I mentioned before, each entry you add to Google Keep is its own block which you can move around and place in the order you want. This makes it easy to make changes on the fly depending on how I feel about certain books.
Step Three: Reading
Once my next read is clear, I start reading right away. It’s worth mentioning that once I’m reading a book, I don’t force myself to finish it unless I feel like it. Books are cheap, easy to get, and ubiquitous. More importantly, life’s short to read books you don’t like. So if I’m reading a book and I notice that my attention wanders or that I dislike the book, I’ll move on to the next entry on my TBR.
Also, while I have some goals around reading, I try not to obsess about the number of books I read. Ultimately, that number doesn’t mean anything. You can read dozens of books and learn nothing, and read one book and learn some transformative lessons. Reading a lot of books can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to nonfiction books. For nonfiction books, the more time you have to absorb their lessons, the better since you need to think about the best ways to implement them.
There are several apps and websites that randomize books for you or try to recommend books depending on certain variables, but those sites always fall short. Others prefer the much more detailed approach of using spreadsheets or databases, but maintaining them is time-consuming. This simple three-step framework was born out of necessity and the reason I’m sharing it is so that others can benefit from it too.
Before using Google Keep, I’d look at the books in my collection one by one. Then, I’d write a list with the books I wanted to read the most and add more books to that list as I’d discover them. This was extremely difficult to organize over time. After checking out a couple of notetaking apps, I settled for Google Keep. It does everything I want it to do even if it lacks the bells and whistles other similar apps have.
In the end, bear in mind that the framework you use to decide which book you should read next isn’t that important. The important part is that you have fun reading.