Cultivating a reading list

One of the things that I am most proud of is that for the last three years I have read 40-60 books per year.

I’m not a fast reader. I don’t skim read. I’m not reading short-fiction.

One of the main factors is that I have a focused reading list. This means that I read multiple books on a single subject, and as soon as I finish a book, I know exactly which book I’m going to start next.

Why you should craft a reading list

When I started reading the classics, I was working my way through lists of classic fiction books that I knew I wanted to read from researching the web. I became accustomed to having a “to read” list that I churned my way through.

After moving out of strictly reading classic fiction, and into a wide variety of genres, I’ve kept up the habit of having a list of books that I want to get through.

I think this is useful because it enables:

  • Deeper learning from focused reading around a topic.
  • You read more books, since you always know exactly which book is next.
  • You increase your chance of reading life-changing books.
  • When you measure it, you can improve it.

How to structure your reading list

Here are a few things that I think are important when crafting a reading list.

Your reading list is a commitment, not a wishlist – The most important thing is to treat this list of books as a commitment that you are going to make to yourself for this year. If you just add books that sound good to this list, you’ll end up with a list of all great books. These are books that you’ve already mentally committed the time to reading.

Segregate by genre/idea/topic – I separate my list into several categories (Happiness, Success, Philosophy, Consciousness, Fiction, Spirituality). Each category has a handful of books that I want to read to understand that thing better. If any category gets too large I split it up or trim it down.

Start your list with a handful of books – If you’re not a regular reader, start your list with 10 books to read over the year. That might just be two or three categories. Regardless, spend a few hours deciding on topics that you want to learn about and find a few good books on each. Don’t know where to start out? Ask friends for the book that most impacted their life.

Vet any book that goes on the list – I can’t say enough how much this is a commitment, not a wishlist. Don’t just add any book that Dick, Jane, or Vladimir recommends (see that gender/cultural inclusion right there 😎). I personally use GoodReads to vet any book I add to my list. I read a description, look at the rating, but most importantly read a handful of comments to get a sense of what people did or didn’t like, what they learnt, what they didn’t learn, etc, before reading the book.

A bad GoodReads rating doesn’t mean I won’t read it, it means I’ll read more reviews to find out why and then decide.

Curate over time – As life goes on, curate this list as if it was a reflection of your self-worth. I’m kidding. But seriously, whenever you come across a new book that falls into one of your categories, vet it and add it to the list. Trim the list regularly based on what you’ve read and where your interests might have changed. My process is a mix of structure and organic evolution.

Share it with “well read” friends – Keep your list somewhere online like Google Drive, Notion, Dropbox. Anywhere that you can easily share a link with your friends. Ask close friends/family to check it out and recommend you a book that will fit into one of your categories.

Here’s my reading list

To help spark some ideas here is my reading list for this year. Check it out and if you think there is an epic book that I’m missing, let me know below.

sebastiankade

Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

2 Comments

  1. Great post Sebastian!
    I usually read around 30-40 books per year and did so without a ‘Reading List’. I however created what Nassim Taleb calls an ‘anti-library’. So I’d find good books (based on recommendations, reviews etc) and purchase them in advance so I would have a large pile of books (often a years worth in advance) sitting on my bookshelf. This has created lots of impetus for momentum for me to read and read alot.

    In saying this, I did recently (inspired by you) create a reading list for 2018 and I liked the intentionality of it. It was much more structured around thinking about what I actually wanted to learn about. In the past, my reading each year has been much more organic based on conversations, recommendations and things I found interesting that year.

    I still think however that you need room for this. So my reading list isn’t complete. I’ve identified intentionally a set of books I want to read (around 25 or so), and then I’ve left room for another 15 to be more organic during the year based on what is inspiring, interesting, or challenging me at the time!

    Out of curiosity, why Good Reads to vet? I’ve always used Amazon to vet books I’m looking at buying. Have you found Good Reads better?

    • Thanks Ro 🙂

      I do like the idea of the anti-library, plus it sounds like some cool idea from a sci-fi novel.

      Re: organic growth of reading list: I agree, I tend to start the year with a full list then as I find books from people I constantly add/remove things from the list so that I don’t miss out on that great recommendations.

      Re: GoodReads: I find the reviews on GoodReads to be really good. The ones I’ve read on Amazon before seemed less “useful”. Can’t nail exactly what it is. The other thing I like is that I follow a couple of prolific readers on GoodReads so I always see their reviews first (which I trust more). I guess GoodReads feels more like a community to me where people put the effort to explain why the book was good or bad. Amazon just feels like normal product reviews.

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