It seems everyone these days has a must-read book list. Seeing so many book recommendations can feel overwhelming to me–a natural rule-follower (give me the syllabus!). This is especially the case with nonfiction books, which are what I mostly read this last year. Here are fifteen must-reads on X topic! You’d better dive in. You’re already behind! It can feel paralyzing. How do I vet which books are worth my time? How can I possibly read them all? The short answers would be–don’t read so many lists in the first place, consider what you are trying to experience or learn from a book then choose it, recognize you can’t read everything, then just start reading.
With my limited time, I usually choose books from my growing to-read list. I take screenshots of books that sound interesting, transfer them to a Pinterest board, then browse the list when I’m ready to start a new book. I also add new titles and displace old ones at any time, so the list feels less like a looming assignment and more like a spontaneous buffet. I typically read a few books at a time, both in print and audiobook form. If I am in a reading slump, I read something short: a middle grade novel or a short story or essay collection. The high I get from finishing a book helps to grease the cylinders for more reading. I have also begun abandoning books at times, a practice I used to think somehow shameful but which doesn’t bother me now (some exceptions are books that I choose to slog through because a. I’m trying to develop reading stamina, b. I am working towards some goal, or c. I am reading it alongside someone else).
One place I like to go for new books ideas is a blog series called On My Shelf, which includes brief interviews with people about books that have formed them. Here are some posts I have drawn from: Jarvis Williams, Karen Ellis, and Thabiti Anyabwile.