Ask the grumpies: How do you pick which book to read next?

Steph asks:

Most of my postdoc-salary lifestyle inflation has gone to my local indie bookstore, and I waaaay overbought in 2018. My TBR pile has ~30 books, plus at least a dozen graphic novels/comics collections. I find I’m paralyzed with indecision when I confront the pile! How do you pick your new books to read? Any suggestions for wading through a massive TBR stack? (I’m already forbidding myself from most new book purchases for a while, except for a couple new releases like Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts)

#1:  Back when I was a kid, what I would do would be to line up the books I was considering in a grid.  Then I would close my eyes and let fate guide my hand like with a Ouija board.  It always seemed to work out pretty well for me.

Now what I do instead is look at the book on top (either of the literal pile of unread books or on my kindle) and if it looks too hard, I look at the book under it, and so on.  When I’m on the plane and need something easier than what I have in my “new” kindle section (which, in addition to things I’ve gotten from my amazon wishlist, includes a bunch of classics I got from Gutenberg before DC2 was born… which I’m sometimes good with on trips and sometimes are too hard), I will go to the last page of my “read” section and see if there’s anything in there that looks like a pleasant reread.

Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having unread books in the stack.  I’ve had some for decades.  One day they may be what I need, or I’ll actually get to them and decide they’re not ever going to be worth reading all the way through and I’ll pass them on.  I read books for pleasure and not for improvement, so being forced to get through a stack seems like the opposite of fun for me.  Though sometimes I do find unexpected gems when I decide to wade through a pile (which I used to do back when I was sending my unwanted stuff to DH’s relative’s kid, but now have much less incentive to do).

Library books do get a bit of a priority bump because I know they’re going to have to go back.

#2: I use the implicit method of “whichever one I feel like”. I don’t really have a method. Sometimes it’s LIFO sometimes it’s random, sometimes it’s when the next book is out, sometimes I’m reminded of it, sometimes I feel like a fantasy, or a romance, or whatever…. I don’t even know. All of the above, none of the above.

#1: That reminds me.  Sometimes I take a picture of my pile and send it to #2 and ask her which I should read next.  She’s usually right.

#2:  Other suggestions:  Roll some dice.  Pick the nicest cover.  Or the one on the bottom instead of the one on top (FIFO).

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17 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do you pick which book to read next?”

  1. delagar Says:

    Library books get priority, and within library books, 7-day books get priority. Then within THOSE, whatever books I’ve been hearing the most squee about on the book blogs I follow.

    Then I read the first few pages. Whoever grabs me, wins.

    If I don’t have a library-squee book at the head of the list, whatever is in the stack gets the same treatment.

    I read so much, there’s usually a book drought looming, though. Books don’t pile up around here.

  2. Leigh Says:

    I do a modified FIFO method in that I decide if I feel like fiction or non fiction and then pick the first book on the corresponding to read list that I feel like picking up today! Always having a to read list keeps me reading. One exception: any book I buy goes to the top of list so that I don’t feel like I wasted money on a book I didn’t end up reading.

  3. FF Says:

    I also prioritize library books, then whatever I feel like–often this is the most recently purchased, but not always. I also like to have some extra unread books around, but I’m trying to limit acquisitions/cut down on the pile. Several years ago, I had a complete moratorium on new book purchases so that I could cut down on the backlog. Especially after realizing that I’d acquired a second copy of a book because I forgot that I’d already bought the first (luckily, a friend also likes this author, so I gave her the second copy). And I also have a few books that I got years ago and still haven’t read. Someday!

  4. rose Says:

    I have never been rich enough to fund my reading habit. SO the library due date and renewal potential determines the reading order. Luckily I read fast.

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I have book buying paralysis. I want digital books which are better for my hands but I don’t want to keep funding Amazon / Kindle and yet I am more able to get Amazon money than I am able to get regular spending money.

    I’m spending a lot of time in library books these days and last year I spent my book money on library funding but I’m back to wondering what I do this year. Library fees for digital books are HIGH.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    How I pick:
    * Whatever is being recalled to the library
    * Whatever I had to put on hold, especially if I had to wait for it
    * Whatever’s due at the library the earliest (ahem, or overdue)
    * Whatever is borrowed from friends
    * Whatever is the right shape for carrying around to where I’m going next
    * Whatever a friend just finished, so I can talk to him or her about it ASAP
    * Whatever I’m most looking forward to
    * Whatever I’m in the mood for
    Yes, sometimes I am in the middle of two or three books at once–one for carrying around, etc.–but then I try to work other ones when I’m at home or otherwise not restricted.

    When I got into a series I liked, I used to read all the books in that series before moving on. Now I prefer to save the next one in the series for when I’ve struck out with some other books and need something with a higher likelihood that I’ll really enjoy it. (Yes, I’m in the middle of several series right now.)

    In your position: you could pick whatever’s on top, unless you realize you’re totally not in the mood for that book or are otherwise feeling bad about having to read that book; then just pick the next one. If you have no clue just pick one and get started.

  7. Steph Says:

    I think my lesson here is I am just overthinking this! (The story of my life.) I either look at the stack and want to read either EVERYTHING or NOTHING, when instead I should just pick one and go. Thanks everybody :)

    Re: library books – I do tend to read library ebooks when I get them, but I get very few physical library books right now bc the locations and hours are inconvenient :(


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