The Immutable Reading List

BALLYCUMBER (n): One of the six half-read books lying somewhere in your bed. (Douglas Adams: The Meaning of Liff)

(the hook)

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The Immutable Reading List

After my last post, some of my friends have asked how I choose what I read next.

I have a reading list. Its order is strictly fixed. First-in-first-out. Whatever is on the top of it, is the next book I’ll read; new ones go to the bottom. No exceptions, no freedom.

What goes on the list? Whatever. Titles and authors from friends’ recommendations, accidental Wikipedia roamings, podcasts, videos, articles. Whatever.

But it must go to the bottom of the list, and can only be read when everything above was already crossed out.

That’s it.

Sounds horrible square, doesn’t it?

However this simple system works unreasonably well (for me) because of the following observed reasons:

(the listicle part, \o/ yay)

  1. No double-picking. Makes the choosing an atomic operation. It prevents you from committing to multiple books since you only commit to the List — it will chose your next read.
  2. No non-picking. Removes the procrastination of choosing your next. I do not wait for the perfect next book, or the one that “fits my mood nice and kentuckey”.
  3. No half-pickings. It doesn’t allow spending much time on “exploratory skimming”, because when I’m in a reading mood, it’s always clear what I’ll pick up. It discourages me to “check out a few pages to see if I like it” which then always leads to the pile of ballycumber (and the guilt that comes with that).
  4. Takes away the fear of missing out on a good book. If I put it on the list, I will get to it sooner or later, no need to rush to the bookstore.
  5. The surprising variety of what was chosen by past me (even if not always a pleasant one). If I’m to continue with writing some book reviews, it’ll get obvious how off character some of the titles are. 
    Upcoming entries, like: “Why Cars don’t go into buildings”(???), “John McCain’s book” (why?), “Tzar of love and techno”. Aren’t you already intrigued by the wtfness?
  6. The list pushes me to start books that I don’t think I’d like (that were once put on the list impulsively). But more importantly…
  7. It encourages me to admit if I don’t enjoy a read.

I cannot just half-assedly “forget” what I was reading and curiously find a new book. I have to consciously make a decision to stop, cross the entry out the list, and move on with very little guilt. And in this process I’m kinda forced to learn something about my interests and myself.

Cancelling is often a hard task since I want to love some books. I want to love Kerouac, Joyce and Borgess, but for the most part, I don’t. Maybe someday, someplace, after a change of context, or after someone gives me a passionate introduction I would love them, but right now I don’t. And that’s fine, moving on is allowed.

(the gist)

There are too many great books in store for this busy and short life. Too many to read things that one finds no value in. (And chances are that if you don’t like it at 33%, you won’t like it at the end either.)

This is the gist of it. Stop reading things you think you should like, or you think you’d be interested in. Read books which you — while reading — find interesting, valuable and enjoyable. You can find out which ones are like this by starting to read them.


ps. Dear friends, this is the reason I still have not read the book you got me or strongly recommended. The list has ~50 items, takes 6–8 months for a book to get to be read. But this is also the reason that you can rest assured I will give your book the old college try.