Prioritising the Search for Good Books

A favourite hobby of mine is research. Structured or unstructured, informal or scholarly. Deep diving on a topic, old or new, is my jam.

For that reason, I spend a lot of time reading about the thing, rather than actually doing the thing. The meta-activities.

There are clear negatives to this approach (limited impulsivity, slower decisions), but also significant upsides (conscious information consumption, higher quality decisions).

This approach also applies to my reading habits, which is why I tend to only read books that I end up rating highly and why I connected with this comment from Paul Graham about a lesson he taught his twelve year old:

There’s a second component of reading that many people don’t realize exists: searching for the good books. There are a huge number of books and only a small percentage of them are really good, so reading means searching.

Someone who tries to read but doesn’t understand about the need to search will end up reading bad books, and will wonder why people who read a lot like to do something so boring.

You’d think that figuring out which books are the best would be a solved problem by now, but it isn’t. I’m almost 60 and have been reading a lot my whole life, and I’m still constantly searching for the good books.

Algorithmic recommendations, ‘best book’ awards, and ‘book of the year’ lists abound, but are not a replacement for the hard research. My favourite approach is shortlisting finalists from awards I respect, finding voracious readers who share detailed reviews, and actively talking with friends about books they read, before reading lots of 3- or 4-star reviews to help me make an informed decision.