I’ve grappled with this question for years. For the past three of these years, the answer has been What My Tutor Tells Me To. But now, graduated and reading list-less, I am faced with finding an actual answer. So,
I asked the owner of the Albion Beatnik bookshop how he chooses what to read next.
He said he just reads what he wants. I guess when he practically lives in a bookshop that can be life. And I guess it is that simple – read what you want. But eh, no way am I chill enough for that to satisfy me.
I asked Andrew Sean Greer.
[author of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, and other stuff. He was at Palo Alto Lit Quake.]. He said “I normally go to City Lights Books and Daniel Handler throws books at me.”
I asked Danier Handler.
[aka Lemony Snicket, who was also at Lit Quake]. He said, “The problem with choosing what to read next is that I haven’t read it yet.” He didn’t really answer my question, but…It Isn’t Just Me. That’s nice to know.
Then I read an interview with Brix Smith-Start.
She’s the owner of Start London, “where the cool girls go to shop” [according to the book in which she’s interviewed – London Style Guide by Saska Graville. Love!]. She said that on most weekends she and her husband go to Daunt Books and each buy a book for the week. This struck me as utterly lovely. What a luxury, to pick out a new book every week! I wish I could do that!
Then I realised… I can do that. Right now I feel overwhelmed by my cluttered mental “to read” list. Everything’s shoved in there, from my friends’ “you HAVE to read this!” books to the Orange prizewinners to the rest of Virgina Woolf to maybe I should read Harry Potter again.
Finally, a wander through Trident Booksellers gave me an idea.
Perrine and I scanned the shelves, with our usual “have you read this?”…”I’ve been meaning to read this”…”Oh my professor wrote that” [always hers, not mine]. We browsed the self-help section and I attempted to distinguish the kind of self help I liked from the kind I didn’t like. “Actually,” I realised, “I don’t see anything I wouldn’t want to read.” Perrine explained, “It’s not that you wouldn’t read them. But you would read other books first”.
I would read other books first.
The aim is not to read the entire library [unless you’re Matilda, or Klaus Baudelaire]. It’s to find the perfect book for you in the perfect moment. Go to Daunt and find a book you want to read right now.
So here’s what I’m kind of doing.
I like schedules and order and systems, so I’ve implemented one for my reading too [structured fun time!]. I’ve decided to read one book each week, and to choose that book based on my life that week – do I have lots of free time, will I be traveling, do I feel like reading about wizards [named Harry]. I have a “To read” file on my Notes app organised by who recommended what, as well as titles taken down from bookstore browsing and magazine features. I use iCal [for this and nothing else] to schedule when I’ll read what.
Now, so far I’ve stuck to the iCal schedule two out of five times. One book I had to put down, so I hastily read another before my Sunday deadline. I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t made the Book-a-Week rule. A few times I finished way early, so picked up a new book or started ahead on the next week.
I’m handling my freedom. It’s exciting but scary too, so this is my strategy for focusing on the exciting part more.
Now I must ask…
How do you choose what to read next?