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.
Having variety is important to me in my reading plan. As well as some of the criteria you mention, I tend to alternate or complement heavier reads with lighter ones, and new books with rereads. I haven't been keeping track of statistics (e.g. percentage of nonfiction/fiction) but it could be interesting. I know I would be at about 90% fiction! That's something I would like to change.
Hi Lori - New reads verses rereads is something that I should have touched upon. I need to do more reading. I tend to do it in streaks.
The percentage thing just seems to work out that way as I just usually alternate between books based ion the p[patterns that I mentioned,
Fascinated by your reading plan criteria, that you are organised enough to have your choices mapped out ahead like this. I tend not to have one other than that my decisions are usually informed by what I have received for review, what I fancy whether that be historical/crime or paranormal or failing that the first thing that comes to hand.
I enjoyed reading about your reading plans. The best plans are guides, like yours. Happy reading, Brian Joseph!
No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to stick to a reading plan. I aspire to become more organized, but I'm not sure when that will happen. I try not to worry about it too much, but I do become anxious about many things, including am I reading enough classics/women/people of colour/non-fiction. Sometimes what I decide to read is determined by what library holds come in or if I have a deadline for an ARC. Since there are an overwhelming number of books I would like to read, I don't hesitate now to DNF a book if I'm not making a connection so I can move onto something more interesting.
Hi Tracy - I do have it mapped out, but I often do not follow the map!
Hi Suko - The word guide is probably better then the word plan for me.
Happy reading to you too!
Hi CJ - Making the plan and sticking to it are two entirely different matters.
You raise a point that I have been thinking about, I need to read more works by people of color, women and by authors from other cultures myself.
There is definitely a bit of randomness to my schedule also, based upon library availability.
Oh man, Brian. Have you struck a chord with me. Like you I like a good mix of fiction and nonfiction. In fact I have my bookshelves organized according to topic in alphabetical order. I've got my poetry, anthologies, philosophy, religious, sociology and of course my beloved literature.
I read around five or six books simultaneously. Which is fine with non fiction, then I save a good fiction for bedtime reading.
I also have an active reading library. That's the book case with the books in my TBR que. Then I have my books that I've read and a final library with children's literature in the study.
Well, I hope I didn't bore you. I practically wrote my own post on reading.
Thanks for sharing your own strategy. Have a great week!
I admire your fiction/nonfiction split and your overall organization/planning, Brian. I wish I were more like you in that regard, but I'm a bit more haphazard these days. I also read WAY more fiction in comparison to nonfiction than I did pre-blogging for some reason. It's not all that important (especially to others!), but I have yet to figure out the reason for the change. Interesting post.
You have an interesting and challenging approach to your plan for reading. I admire your attempt to enforce a certain discipline on your reading. My own experience is a bit more anarchic and I am always looking for "new" authors (to me).
Very interesting post, Brian, especially your criteria for choosing books and your aim for an equal balance between fiction and non-fiction. I don't tend to read much in the way of non-fiction these days, but I'd like to add some nature writing to my mix in the future.
I've just started another round of #TBR20 (with the aim of reading twenty books before buying any others). Even though I have a 'draft' pile of books that I'd like to read in the next 3-4 months, I'm sure I'll end up tinkering with it every now and again. My reading tends to be driven by whim and mood even when I have a loose plan!
Hi Richard - Your comment and those of others is making me think about something. Over the last few months, despite my plans and previous track record, I also have been reading more fiction then non fiction. This had not been true for many years. I am not certain if this will continue or not. I am now trying to read a bit more non fiction.
Interesting how many of us seem to gravitate towards the fiction.
Hi Sharon - You did not bore me at all! This seems such a favorite topic with book bloggers.
everal folks have told me that they read five or six books at a time. I have never managed to do that but I usually read two simultaneously.
My wife has our books organized in a somewhat similar fashion as you have yours.
Hi James - I hope that I did not make my plan sound too draconian :) In the end I read what I want to. In a way my plan is just really a reflection of what i am likely to want to read. It is also a great way to break "ties".
HI Jacui - I have almost given up on my traditional TBR as I did not want past interests to dictate what I am reading. I have mostly stopped acquiring books that I am not ready to read right away. Instead if I do not pick from my TBR. I try to acquire books right before I am ready to read them. Ebooks help in this endeavor.
Excellent post... and a topic that is close to my heart! I read haphazardly for years before over-reacting with a very structured list that ended up feeling too much like an assignment. My challenge now is to find that happy medium where I feel that I am reading somewhat toward a goal, yet with flexibility to pick up whatever strikes my fancy.
To that end, I make an overall plan at the beginning of the year (I enjoy just thinking about that and am already contemplating 2016) and then readjust quarterly with a seasonal list. The Barsetshire Chronicles and a Trollope biography are my main goals this year, but I'm enjoying the diversion of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels this summer.
I may have to write a post like this myself :)
I used to read without a plan, but I do like having things mapped out...to a degree. I tend to read along themes--American history, Civil War, Italy, etc.--and then there are the classics. I used to have a friend who literally used the Fadiman Lifetime Reading Plan as a way to start reading more satisfying books, and it worked great for him.
Sometimes it frustrates/depresses me that I won't have time to read everything I want to read, but then I compound the problem by regularly rereading favorites.
Great post--always fun to read about how other readers approach their reading.
I have to laugh at what JaquieWine said about reading 20 books before buying others. That's a rule I've made up for myself (as well as buying only x amount before the month is over.) I've never been able to submit to my own rules.
Hi Sharon - I do not know how many unread books that I have bought sitting around. I am guess about forty. Thus a couple of such a projects for me would clear out my TBR :)
Thanks JoAnne. One thing about my plan is that I never force myself to read anything and if I want to read something I do so right away,
I am looking forward to your thoughts on the Barsetshire novels. I can really tell how much you like Ferrante's books.
I do use lists and the Fadiman Lifetime Reading Plan actually got me started with a lot of great authors. Perusing it also serves as a reminder to me as to authors that I have not gotten to yet. I also really like Hoarold Bloom's Western Cannon as it is more comprehensive then Fadiman's list.
I agree about not having enough time left in life to read everything I want to. I find it terribly frustrating.
I remember asking you this question a while ago. I love your plan. This spring the only things I managed to read were my book club books. Crazy, but true. I guess that shows the importance of a plan. If you don't have a goal, you can't reach it.
Hi Heidi - I remember talking to you about this. I think that your question may have sparked my thought process that eventually led to this post.
Time to read is another story which I blogged about on a different occasion. If I was part of a book club I might not get a lot of additional reading done either.
I commend you on your reading plan. I try to be organized too, but I often go way off base! It's sometimes fun to do that!
Hi Harvee - I definitely go off track, on a semi regular basis also :)
This is such an interesting topic, and I'm always fascinated by what tactics fellow bibliophiles choose their next read. Jacqui's plan with her TBR 20 stack was sufficiently intriguing for me to try that with my stack of Japanese literature, but alas, I've already wandered from that path. I am too much of an eclectic reader and therefore prone to grab what piques my interest as I wander through blogs and articles. I often think it would be wise to be as forward thinking as you are, planning your next read to the six or seventh book. All I can say for sure is that this July I'll be reading for Spanish Literature Month, Paris in July and my own Japanese Literature Challenge 9. As for August, we'll see...
Such a TERRIFIC post, Brian! Reading plans are dear to the hearts of most bookworms, I think, although not all of us are able to adhere to them.
Alas, this particular bookworm doesn't have any such well-organized list of books to read....lol. Being well-organized is not a talent I was born with, unfortunately. I do try to organize myself at times, only to get impatient and just give up! So I admire your own organizational skills regarding what you will read. It's also great that you can be flexible enough to deviate from your well laid-out plans whenever the mood suits you!
I myself have trouble deciding what to read next. For several years now, I've been attempting to strike a balance between fiction and nonfiction. I'm a VERY eclectic blogger, as you know. I think I'm also very much affected by what captures my interest at the moment, or what mood I happen to be in.
I want to read many more nonfiction books than I have so far, but whenever I review such books, you're pretty much the only person who comments! I appreciate the fact that you do so, even with books you are not interested in yourself. Unfortunately, the vast majority of bloggers prefer to read YA, and those who prefer literary fiction will not even visit my blog, since they probably think my blog design is geared ONLY to YA readers....
I love the mix of topics you're interested in! I, too, am interested in philosophy, but again, reviews of such books might not attract many comments..... As for the American Revolutionary period, that's a topic I'd really like to get into. (Ah, but reality intrudes....as you say, there simply isn't enough time!)
Your standards are very high indeed, and I commend you for them! I agree with all of them; these are the very things I look for in books. I love classics and literary fiction, and would like to review more such books. However, I love popular genres. as well, and think that reading these also strike a balance with reading more serious literature.
It's fascinating that you're currently reading nonfiction books on feminism, as well. This is a topic I don't see on many blogs, so I'm really looking forward to more of your reviews of such books! I greatly enjoyed reading your thoughts about Susan Brownmiller's "Men, Women, and Rape"!
I love what you have stated at the end of your post, too: "I predict that I will be following, as well as ignoring, my reading plans for years to come." Well said! Lol.
Thanks for your thoughts!! : )
Hi Bellezza - The funny thing is that despite my plans, what I will be reading two or three books down the line is still somewhat of a mystery.
I too would find it difficult to only read one category of books for more then two in a row. This is despite the fact that a topic such as Japanese literature sounds so fascinating.
I do think that these reading events kind of force us to make and to stick to plans.
You raise a very interesting point when you allude to not reading non - fiction books. That does the blogging actually affect what we choose for our next books. It does so at times for me. I do ask myself, is this the tail wagging the dog? On the other hand, blogging has been such a profound experience especially in terms of my reading, it stands to reason that it would influence what I read.
I also love certain genres especially science fiction. I wish that I had more time to read it.
This sounds like a good way to plan your reading. Currently, I'm considering how to make my non-fiction reading more focused. I tend to jump around to different topics, but I'd like to plan out at least several books for a topic of interest rather than hopping around.
Hi Hila - I think a lack of focus in terms of non - fiction reading is the bane of us folks who are interested in too many things.
It's great if you have a reading plan and are able to stick with it for the most part.
Your post reminds me I should read more non-fiction but I don't really make reading plans - apart from two reading events a year, the "Once Upon a Time Challenge" and "R.I.P." (Readers Imbibing Peril), my reading decisions are pretty much based on what I feel like reading at the moment.
Hi Delia - I found that even when I was just reading the next book that I felt like reading, a rough outline of a plan would begin to form in my mind.
Those events are such fun. I try when I can to fit reading events into my reading schedule too.
Yes, Brian, sometimes I feel as if the tail is, indeed, wagging the dog! Lol. I find myself weighing my desire for comments with my wish to read whatever I want. That's what blogging is all about, isn't it? Yet, I often find myself choosing books that I know will get comments, when I write reviews for them.
I've noticed that the book blogosphere seems to be dominated by YA blogs, with some literary fiction blogs/nonfiction blogs (like yours) in the picture. We who are very eclectic bloggers sure have a hard time of it!
Hi Maria - I know that your eclectic mix causes some of your regular readers to be uninterested when you post on certain types of books. I understand your dilemma since I love and get a lot out of comments too.
I left a comment but it's gone. Have you enabled comment moderation?
Hi Caroline - Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
I do not have moderation up.
I checked and your comment was not in the spam folder.
I have tried plans in the past & invariably they deviate, becoming more of a loose suggestion, a bit like the passenger/navigator in the car with a map on their lap & saying "I think it's that way".
Hi Gary -I like your analogy.
My grandiose plans are not all that different. Maybe just a wee bit structured.
It does sound like you have a good method on planning your reading. I tend to read in themes myself sometimes as well. Especially when something really grabs my attention, I want to keep reading books on that topic.
You have nice handwriting! Happy reading, hope your summer is going well.
Hi Naida - I love to read around themes. However sometimes I do not like to read two books on the same subject in a row. Sipping to other interests and then coming back to theme is a method that the planning has helped to foster.
I laughed when I read your comment on the handwriting. My handwriting is abominable. Thus I had asked my wife to write that list. I will pass on the compliment :) Thanks.
Wow I love it. I have no structured plans like that. Depending on how my recent read has left me depends on the type of book I search out from my shelves. For instance, the book I just finished was so moving and emotive, plus all the academic reads of late for my assignment, I plan on something "junk food" style for the brain. Something light, that said I may grab something from the floor as I am trying to clear the space that is building up books again on the floor (I am running out of room on my shelves, can you believe!).
I have one of those book journals but I have yet to use it, I don't think I could stick to the plan either.
Hi Lainy - Whatever earing pattern works and makes one happy is the right reading plan :)
Picking up books around the house to reduce clutter is something that I think that I also did at one time :)
Great post, Brian. Thoughtprovoking too.
I admire your ability to read non-fiction. I can't. So I need to find interesting fiction to get a bit of what I could learn in non-fiction.
Did you also have reading plans before you started your blog?
I didn't have any but now I have some. I want to take part to book blog events (Spanish Lit month, German lit month...), I'm in a book club, all this shapes my reading list.
Hi Emma - with so much to read maybe it is better to stick with just fiction. By reading so much non fiction I realize that there is fiction that I will never get to.
If I recall had reading plans a few years prior to blogging. i have given them more thought since I started the blog.
Interesting how we choose to read. I have two lists of books I want to read, one on Goodreads.com and one I keep manually. Over 10 years ago, to open m y mind to new authors (I mainly read fiction) I challenged myself to read a new author for every letter of the alphabet, each year. I have more or less achieved this and found some delights that I would not have otherwise picked up as well as some real suffers. Shook me out of my comfort zone
Thanks for stopping by Ian.
I think that going through the alphabet and reading authors as you describe is really neat. It is indeed something that might shake someone out of there routine.
I am thinking that for most letters, one could find really worthy writers.
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