How to Create a Reading List

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One of the questions I most-often receive regarding this reading project is related to my process for choosing my yearly 52-book reading lists.

Here’s my answer. Here’s how I create my yearly reading list. I’m always looking for new ideas, so I’d love to hear how you create your reading lists in the comments section below:

I. Seeking

Beginning on January 1st of any given year, I am obsessively seeking out book recommendations for the next year. Here are a few of my go-to places:

  • Podcasts (I probably get one book suggestion a day from the podcasts I consume)
  • Visiting bookstores
  • Book-related email newsletters
  • Friends
  • Influencers (this project started by gathering book suggestions from interviewees on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast)

II. Compiling

Just like Santa, I keep a list. In the past, I used spreadsheets because spreadsheets are close to godliness. But lately, I’ve been compiling my list in my ever-present notebook. I have a page dedicated to “Potential 2020 Books” and any time I come across an interesting book, it gets added to my list. I also add books to my Amazon wish list if I’m in a place where I have my phone but not my notebook. It doesn’t matter whether the book ideas are collected digitally or analogally (I made that word up), but the system is important.

III. Categorizing

Each year, I know that I want to have at least one book related to Norway (my family heritage), one about running (my passion), and a book by C.S. Lewis (the author that started my reading journey). I set certain slots in each year’s list for specific types of books.

IV. Narrowing

Now comes the fun part. I take the chopping block to my list. Over the span of a year, I’ll collect hundreds of book ideas. I get to then choose the 52 gems out of that list. The ones corresponding to my categories (see step 3) get chosen first. Then, any books left unfinished from the previous year get added to the list. From there, it’s a process of choice based upon different criteria. For example, I give preference to books that seem to pop up in multiple and varied places. If I’ve heard about a book on a podcast, from a friend, in a newsletter, and then I go to a bookstore and see it in person, there is a good chance that it is going to make my list. Now, this can be hacked and some books receive more hype than the content deserves (see Principles and Zero to One), but on the whole, the more exposure a book has from a variety of places, the more likely it is to make my list.

V. Randomizing

This is my favorite step. Once I’ve chosen the 52 books, I don’t want to choose the order in which I read them. If I choose the order, I’ll stack the ones I really want to read at the beginning. There’s something freeing about randomizing the order. I copy and paste the 52 books into this randomizing website and what comes out is my reading list in the order to be read.

VI. Sharing

The final stage is to share my reading list. I share the entire list and I share what book I’m reading every morning, even if I’m reading the same book for 40 days in a row. It keeps me motivated and connects me to people around the world who are also reading those books.

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