How to decide what to read next is a somewhat popular topic among book bloggers and bookish folks in general. I not only think a lot about the next book that I plan to read, I also think a lot about my long term reading plans. To start, I want to mention that however intricate and well laid out these plans are, I always “reserve the right” to, and often do, deviate from them.
The most basic part of my long term planning is the fiction/non-fiction split. I roughly plan to read equal numbers of fiction and non-fiction books. This is, I believe, a more or less permanent or lifetime aspect of my plan. However, the percentages do vary just a bit from time to time. These day, I am probably reading approximately 60% fiction.
Before I discuss how I decide which specific books to read, I need touch upon an often mentioned theme of mine. That is, the scarcity of reading time. There are literally thousands of books that I want to read. I have limited time in any given day, week, month or year. I will never get to read every book that I want to read. Thus, I must be selective and stick to one of the thousands of works that, for me, seems offer the prospect of having value. I hunger for aesthetic greatness as well as interesting and important ideas. I also strive to understand the Universe at large. There are so many books that meet these criteria. There is no time to waste on books that do not meet some basic standards.
So what fiction do I choose? What books meet my standards? I look to the great and influential or at least works that seem interesting. This includes a lot of revered classics as well as some lesser-known works. Because I include influential and interesting within my parameters, I add to the mix what are undoubtedly books of lesser value, but that still present aesthetic or intellectual merit. I should also note that, although they are not fiction, I do include philosophical works in the fiction category.
There are no shortage of fiction and philosophical tomes that meet the above criteria. Of course, I am constantly hearing and reading about books that get added to my list. I have also been know to browse reading lists of important books, including Howard Bloom’s “Western Cannon” and Clifton Fadiman’s “Lifetime Reading Plan.” I try to read a mix of old, new, famous and not so famous works. Sometimes, I read along themes. For instance, currently and temporarily, approximately forty percent of my fiction reading consists of works written by nineteenth century English novelists.
For my non-fiction reading pleasure, there is also planning. I have a lifetime interest in the American Revolutionary period. Roughly half of my non-fiction reading is devoted to that subject. The remainder is usually divided between books on other topics of history, science, social-issues, among other subjects. I often choose a project to concentrate on. For a time, I was particularly interested in human consciousness. I exclusively stuck to this subject within my non-fiction reading, aside from the American Revolutionary war stuff. Currently, I am exploring the topic of feminism. Thus, for the next several months, my non-fiction reading, when not focused in books about the American Revolutionary period, will mostly consist of books relating to the concept of feminism and gender equality.
In order to stick to the plan, I usually have my book choices mapped out five or six tomes into the future. This is another aspect to the plan that, while seemingly very structured, involves enormous variation in actuality.
Despite these well laid out plans, I often do not actually read the next book in the queue. I also sometimes go completely off track and do not follow the plan at all. Despite these variations, my schemes invariably take me in general directions that I want to go, allowing me to read an eclectic group of books while also allowing me flexibility.
Why have such a plan? There are several reasons. First, it allows me to be organized and reach goals. Second, it is more or less what I would be doing anyway. In this respect, one can look at this as more of a pattern as opposed to a plan. Third, if I am absolutely stumped as to what to read next, I can usually fall back to the plan for my selection. Finally, I find that having such a plan is a lot of fun! It allows me to think about books in parts of the day that I am not able to read.
This plan has been, more or less, something that I have stuck to for the past ten years or so. When I think about it, however, I pretty much followed similar patterns prior to that. Like many things in life, the plan will likely be modified over time. I predict that I will be following, as well as ignoring, my reading plans for years to come.