We all know the feeling of having a seemingly infinite amount of books we want to read.
How the heck do we choose which one to read next?
Three years ago, I experienced this problem all the time. I wanted to read more books, but opening my to-be-read list brought so much anxiety I sometimes didn’t read altogether. But now I have learned techniques for finding great books.
In this article, I’m going to teach you those techniques, starting with the Inverted Reading Pyramid.
You will never have the problem of finding great books again.
📐The Inverted Reading Pyramid
Every book exists on a spectrum I call the Inverted Reading Pyramid:
At the bottom are your beginner books like popular science, self-improvement, YA fantasy, etc.
These are great entry points into a topic because they are generally easy to understand and actionable. The problem, however, is books on the bottom layer are at best, simplifications, and at worst, outright false.
As you go up the layers, the books become increasingly smarter and more nuanced, but paradoxically, less helpful.
The authors argue more over minute definitions–ex: What does “good” really mean? And the books are less actionable.
You want a yes-or-no answer, but instead, they spend hundreds of pages to say, “maybe?”
I suggest you choose books by traveling up the pyramid.
Say you’re delving into a new topic. A good progression would be:
- Popular beginner books
- Specialist books written for mass audiences
- Specialist books written for specialists
- And finally primary research, journal articles, and expert commentary
Does this pyramid work for fiction, novels, sci-fi, and fantasy?
Absolutely! The exact progression won’t be the same, but your philosophy while choosing should be. For example, if you are first delving into novels I don’t recommend you start with something like James Joyce’s Ulysses. Unless you love being confused. Many novels often require a deep background of other works to understand.
So start with books you know don’t require having read many other texts to understand.
At a broad level, this is how I choose what books to read.
Now let’s get more specific by going through seven guidelines (in no particular order) I use for narrowing down on books inside the pyramid.
🔎General Principles For Finding Great Books To Read
🧠Mindset Shift: Realize You Will Never Read All The Books You Want To
Thomas Hobbes once said that “If [he] read as many books as most men do, [he] would be as dull-witted as they are.”
The simple truth is you will never finish all the books you want to read. And you shouldn’t try to. Like Hobbe’s, I believe that reading 100 books a year is one of the biggest time wasters you can do.
That’s because you won’t engage with any books you read.
You won’t have time to connect them to other books, communicate them to others, or apply them.
I would rather you read 25 books deeply over a year then 100 books shallowly. That’s why finding which books to read isn’t always a case of FINDING new books. But rather choosing from the books you already have which one to read.
You will never get through all your books.
🤿Engage in a Deep Learning Project
One of the best ways to find what books to read is to choose one’s relevant to a learning project.
If you want to read more effectively, don’t start reading.
- ⚒️#1. Outline A Learning Project
- 🎣#2. Read Books Relevant To That Project
- 📸#3. Showcase Your Progress Publicly
The biggest mistake you can make before reading anything is consuming without a project.
Defining a learning project BEFORE starting to read, creates a medium for you to apply your learnings to. Why is this good? 2 reasons:
- It shortens the period between consumption and action, leading to more effective learning.
- It literally changes how you attend to information throughout your day. Your goals shape the information that sticks out as relevant in your environment. Creating a learning project filters out irrelevant information in the books you read.
This isn’t to say you always need a project to apply your readings to.
Sometimes you want to read some Twilight (I don’t read Twilight I just wanted to make a joke lol). But, having a learning project makes it much easier to create a list of the best books for that learning endeavor.
Then comes the 3rd step…
Publically learn in some way.
Teaching your learnings to others is one of the most time-tested ways to know whether you have learned it. You only truly know something if you can explain it to a five-year-old with no knowledge of that thing.
So, showcase your progress publicly.
If you’re just starting, this can be your learning project: finding a way to publically learn.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Twitter, YouTube, a newsletter, or conversation.
🔨Define Your Twelve Favorite Questions
One of the best exercises to find great books and prioritize what to read is to create your twelve favorite questions.
Your twelve favorite questions are the twelve questions you filter everything you come across in life. They help you filter the noise from the signal.
What are your 12 questions?
There is nothing special about the number 12. 10 seems too little, 14 too much. 12 hits the sweet spot.
I recommend you start by looking at your current information diet. Get out a notebook and answer these questions:
- What do you consume you feel is a deep part of you?
- What subjects are you interested in?
- What are your five core values (ex: honesty, gratefulness, humility, timeliness, discipline; here is a longer list if you need inspiration).
- What do you talk about with friends?
- What gets you up in the morning?
Here are my twelve questions for inspiration when writing yours. Don’t feel bad if you take a few of mine.
- How can I dominate the world (I’m just kidding, it’s really this lol): How can I instill the most effective and sustainable reading habit into my and others’ lives?
- How can I find and foster long-term relationships in my life?
- What does the Theory of Constraints have to teach us about our information diets, especially towards reading?
- How can I improve the skill of Happiness?
- How can I make my personal projects fun, helpful, and profitable at the same time?
- How can I build a second brain that works for me instead of against me?
- How do I create long-term intellectual property that is insightful and valuable years in the future?
- How do I balance short-term fun and long-term pain?
- How can I design the perfect lifestyle for me?
- How can I convey ideas in the most concise, useful, and interesting way possible?
- What can we do to make the internet work for us instead of against us?
- How can I balance time management with living in the present?
Formulate your twelve questions.
Don’t be a perfectionist. Write anything coming to mind. Remember, you can always come back and tweak your questions as your life changes.
My questions change all the time.
But the best questions are never answered.
In fact, you don’t want to answer them. They are what drive you. They are what give you purpose.
Whenever I’m stuck on what book I should read next, I often ask myself, “what of my 12 favorite questions am I most inspired to dive into next?”
📃Use Your TBR List and Recommendations
I regularly ask friends, family, podcast guests, and more one critical question: what three books have resonated with you most?
I write these down in a To Be Read List (TBR List) along with a brief description of what it’s about and who recommended it so I can thank them in the future. I often refer to this list when looking for new books to read. But I always remember books are subjective.
Just because someone else liked a book doesn’t mean I will.
Summaries are like restaurant menus.
Menus indicate what you can get and often allude to the restaurant’s quality before you eat. Similarly, summaries indicate the main points of a book. They also prime you for understanding if you read it more in depth in the future.
I often use the book summary app Shortform which I have an affiliate link for right here.
Shortform is great because it’s way more than just book summaries.
Shortform has the world’s best guides to 1000+ nonfiction books. Learn key points and gain insights you won’t find anywhere else. Understand the world’s best ideas. My favorite part about the summaries is they connect its ideas to other relevant books (Maybe they should be making this course 🤣).
I also love reading book summaries from independent bloggers.
They often sprinkle much more of their opinions than corporations, making for a more interesting read.
Sometimes I will use audible and podcasts to scout out books as well. I can listen to things much faster than I read, often at 2x to 2.5x speed, significantly shortening the time cost of reading a bad book. If I want to read more in-depth, I will buy it physically or on an e-reader for a more analytical read.
Through these three summary methods, I can scout out a book to see if I want to read it.
📖Reread Old Books
“You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.” - Seneca
Sometimes the matter is not choosing new books but re-reading old ones.
The best books can be read many times over. This is because you are a different person every time you pick them up. I read Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series once a year. I read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations every year as well. I read 50 Shades of Gra–ignore that last part.
I’m always astounded at how differently they resonate with me each time.
🥣Blend a Bizzare Bowl
“The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.” - Arthur Schopenhauer
Insights come from the weird juxtaposition of ideas.
I once read a book on Stoicism while reading about how to create an effective business. These two topics have seemingly nothing to do with each other. But when they mixed, they spawned interesting insights and ideas.
I call this act, blending a bizarre bowl.
It’s creating a weird combination of books (and other information) nobody else has read.
By blending a bizzare bowl and connecting books together, you can have insights nobody else has ever had. Your conversations will become so much more interesting.
Your insights will be unique.
P.S. If you liked this newsletter, sign up for the waitlist for the new course I’m building: The Art Of Linked Reading.
The video course will help people who struggle to find, actively consume, remember, communicate, and apply insights from books, learn to do so with linked notetaking apps like Obsidian, Tana, Logseq, and more.
Join the waitlist here: https://www.aidanhelfant.com/learn-the-art-of-linked-reading-in-3-weeks/
Here’s what I would like to share this week.
📸News From The Channel!
📺Latest On De YouTube - Boring To Hilarious: A Student’s Guide To Humor: How can I make this funny? This is the ONE question you have to ask everywhere in college to go from boring to hilarious. But what should you say that’s funny? Learn the principles of humor to answer this question through my video!
🎙️Latest On De Podcast - E30: Ilya Shabanov Navigating Personal Knowledge Management In Academia:
llya Shabanov is an Obsidian Notetaker and Academic. Spending 12 years in industry he daringly decided to get his Ph.D. in Biology at 36 managing to get his first paper published in just 6 months. He hosts the Effortless Academic newsletter which helps people learn to leverage modern information tools and systems to excel as a researcher or student. He teaches in-depth long format tutorials on how to do things better in academia: note-taking, reference management, writing, publishing, and visual thinking.
In this podcast, you will learn:
- Best mindsets for navigating PKM in Academia
- How PKM relates to spirituality
- Biggest traps to avoid doing PKM in Academia
💡My Best Insights:
P.S. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links.
📖Book - How To Read A Book: Re-reading this for the third time. Absolutely gamebreaking book. Teaches you how everything you thought you knew about reading is false. Beforehand, I didn’t know there were multiple types of reading. I simply, well, read. And didn’t think anything else of it. But now I know how to do the four levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and synoptical reading. A must read for any lifelong learner.
📰Blog Post - How I Produce a Podcast: This post is relevant even to people that don’t have a podcast. Because David teaches us how to learn more about someone online and ask fascinating questions in person. You can do this with friends, family, and anyone really!
🎙️Podcast - The Lucas Brothers’ History Of Western Philosophy: An interview with two twin brothers on how they produce their stand up and create their unique style of comedy based. I have been doing stand up for about a year now and would like to get more serious about it. Listening to this podcast has been invaluable in developing my humor skills.
✨Quote Of The Week - “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” - Dr. Seuss