The Art of Knowing What to Read

The Art of Knowing What to Read

Imperfect Intellectuals love books, but we rarely feel “well read.” There are countless classics we still want to get to, and we also relish exploring current topics and lesser-known authors. We realize, too, that fiction—contemporary or centuries old—offers an unparalleled way of grappling with life issues and understanding other people. There are just too many books to choose from, and more coming out all the time. 

So, with a goal of regularly reading many types of books, how do you manage the art of knowing what to read? Here are a few tips for avoiding overwhelm and getting focused and discerning with books:

  • Perhaps most fun, there’s the intuitive way. This involves a trip to a good bookstore or library. It’s great to go in knowing exactly what kind of book you most like to read for pure pleasure (for example, a novel with a time-travel theme), and the kind of book you might not imagine yourself reading (for example, the political history of a country you’ve never even thought to visit), and then try to find an interesting example of both. As you search for each, you’ll find fiction and nonfiction titles that are far removed from your original premise but seem very interesting.

A great guiding question to ask yourself is, What would make a book about a topic I don’t usually think about an interesting read for me?

  • There’s always looking at bibliographies of books that you like.(You’ll often find at the end of the book, or at the end of each chapter, the author provides lists of other books that influenced their own thinking and are relevant to the topic at hand.) 
  • There are endless lists of “best books” online. You’ll find best books of:

– Any genre for any given year

– The 20th century (or 19th or 18th…)

– Virtually every country or region

Whatever list you choose, you might go through and choose the three titles you find most interesting and then give those a try. Or, for  shorter lists of books in various genres, try Five Books.

  • You can do a Google or ChatGPT search where you combine a genre and a topic, such as:

– Fiction and overcoming adversity

– Philosophy and humor

– Technology and ethics

  • Search online to see whether someone you admire has posted or discussed their book recommendations. 
  • A great conversation starter is to ask people you know and people you just met:

What book are you reading right now? What do you think of it?

What’s a book you love that’s really stayed with you? 

Of course, at Interintellect salons you invariably hear titles that other interesting thinkers recommend. And if you’re a member of Interintellect, our Currently Reading channel in Discord is likely to become one of your new favorite hangouts—a place not just to practice the art of knowing what books (and articles) to read, but also to engage in the rousing conversations great books invariably spark.

An Imperfect Intellectuals Guide