The Power of Reading Lists

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With more than 1 million new books being published worldwide each year, how do you choose which books to read? I’m reminded of Kevin Kelly’s quote in The Inevitable:

Life is short, and there are too many books to read. Someone, or something, has to choose, or whisper in our ear to help us decide.

-Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable

I’ve followed two main book choice paths in my life. I refer to these as the Recommendation Trail and the Reading List:

Recommendation Trail

The recommendation trail always starts with a nudge towards a certain book. This can come from a newspaper article, a suggestion from a friend, a podcast, or browsing a book store. One books seems to stick out from the pack. Once I pick up that book, it almost always leads to more books. These additional books can come from recommendations by the author, a desire to remedy a lack of knowledge about a topic in the book, or the bibliography. I can usually look at my bookshelf and trace the steps back to the path that led to that particular book.

Reading Lists

The second way I’ve come across books to read is through reading lists. These curated lists have come from a variety of places. The top three for me are:

  1. The Atlanta Journal Constitution once posted a list of all books that were required reading for each high school in the Atlanta area. I cut that out and checked off the books as I read them. I’m including two images on this blog that show those recommended books.
  2. Top 10 lists – I love reading the articles that highlight the top 10 favorite books of different people. I have often used these list to influence the books I read.
  3. Tools of Titans – my favorite part of Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans was the list of recommended and most-gifted books by each person Tim wrote about. That list was gold and led me to undertake this Books of Titans project.

As Kevin Kelly pointed out in The Inevitable, filtration and curation will continue to increase in importance as we are continually presented with more books, movies, songs, articles, podcasts, etc. The question is, who will you trust to curate for you? Amazon tries to do this by “people who read this also liked this.” Google tries to do this by personalizing your search results. Facebook does this by algorithmically adjusting your feed based on what you’ve liked, looked at, and passed by in the past. Reading lists usually get outside of these technological filtering mechanisms by pointing to books that have stood the test of time.

In this age of choice abundance, how do you determine the books you read?

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