How to pick the right book to read

During my adolescent years, I stayed in a hostel in the city, away from home. A mere 5 minutes away was the Hornbill Lending Library, which while nothing but a hole in the wall, managed to hold an assortment of magical delights for me to sink into.

Picking the right book to read did not seem like much of problem at the time. I would pick a book at random, quickly riffle through the first few pages, and check it out at the counter if I liked it. When I found an author I liked, I would seek out more of their books and read them all. When I got done with the author, I would find another one and repeat the process.

At times, I would find a book that I could not get into, even when my hostel-mates relished the said book. Sidney Sheldon and Jeffrey Archer were two such authors that my friends enjoyed and I did not. I was more into John Grisham, Michael Chrichton, Robin Cook, Stephen King, Agatha Christie (Poirot), and other random thrillers that I cannot recall now. I also read an obscene amount of Mills & Boons, like a palate cleanser between books.

I read purely for pleasure then. If I liked the book, I read it. If I didn’t, I dropped it and moved on to another one. No guilt, nothing to prove.

Nowadays, when I struggle to finish a book I don’t like (but has rave reviews), I feel a pang of failure. What went wrong?

With carefully curated lives scrolling on news feeds, reading has unfortunately become a way to signify that you are nerdy, and in case you didn’t already know, it’s now cool to be a nerd. Reading has become a status marker. How much do you read? What do you read? It’s a competition.

A few years ago I got caught in a judgmental nerd clique that measured your worth based on books and quizzes. A horrifying way to live your life — trading genuine sources of happiness for the fake gold of inclusion.

More than a million books are published every year. You cannot read them all. Heck, you should not read them all.

Reading is not a competitive sport. You read to sink into the delicious heft of a story or ideas that bring you joy. That’s all there is to it.

I am relearning this now.

The way to pick a book to read is simply this:

  • Avoid reviews if you can
  • Pick a book 
    • In the same genre as your favorite author
    • Completely different if you want to try something new
  • Read the blurb (the story or the ideas, not what others said about it), read the first 2-3 pages. Like it? If yes, you have shortlisted a book.
  • Give the shortlisted book a fair chance. 
    • If you cannot get into it even after 20% of it, drop it.
    • Still interesting? Go for it.
  • Rinse and repeat

Read for pleasure, not for a vanity metric that means nothing. 

Read to understand the world, not to casually display your bookshelf on a zoom call.

The way to pick the right book to read is to pick it for the right reasons.

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