Zettelkasten Forum


"Want to read" and "what to read?": Discussion on reading lists

Reading is a big source of content for my Zettelkasten and I could imagine it is so for others. I would really like to hear how you all approach what to read.

Yesterday, Goodreads/Amazon decided to step further in the direction of being siloed and out of my control. I've been concerned about this for a while, so I've been thinking of what steps to take to be retain ownership of my reading log. However, it sparked some thoughts. I used Goodreads as "want to read" list, which is very different from a "to read". I read a good deal for my work, but that is a "need"; things I need for research or similar. But my "want to read" is mainly for the enjoyment of reading and learning about all sorts of topics.

When I pick a new book, I might browse through the "want to read" list and see what captures my attention, and mainly it is my guts doing the selection. Generally, this means I have one fiction book or biography that I can read before bed and one non-fiction book so I can... well... geek-out 🤓

A friend of mine said that the more important question is "what to learn" rather than "what to read". This approach seems very reasonable and is definitely how I approach my professional reading. This also ties into syntopical reading, which is the fancy word for reading multiple books/sources on the same topic in order to get multiple perspectives.

What do you do?

  • Do you have a highly detailed reading plan?
  • If a book is read with a goal in mind, do you put it down when that has been reached?
  • Do you stumble into the library and pick the first book on the shelves?
  • What is your best source of book recommendations? (not main!)

Comments

  • Over the years, I tried several approaches and I settled on creating what I call a Master Reading List. It's a running list of books in the subject areas collected from all kinds of aggregated sources including The Paris Review, the Literary Hub, book reviews, forums, and bibliographies from the books I read. For each book listed, I enter a comment stating the reason the book was initially placed on the list. I try to keep an open mind when it comes to considering books that interest me. However, I must say I left Goodreads about year ago. One of the more interesting and recent discoveries that I made comes from Seminary-Coop Bookstores in Chicago. You can gain access to their online 2020 Notables listing here.

  • Too many books, too little time.

    @henrikenggaard said:
    What do you do?

    • Do you have a highly detailed reading plan?

    No. especially now that I'm reading with more intention, with a pen in hand, and considering what I read as fodder for my archive. I used to read 100 or so books a year but I can't remember 99.99% of what I read when reading at this volume and not taking notes. Every time I plan or set an intention, life happens, and I get sidetracked by new and shiny books.

    • If a book is read with a goal in mind, do you put it down when that has been reached?

    I'm trying to quite more books. I'm trying to focus on chapters rather than whole books, which can work for some books, not others.

    • Do you stumble into the library and pick the first book on the shelves?

    I do stumble around the library, and I love the atmosphere. Usually, I spend hours looking at dozens of potential love affairs with books.

    • What is your best source of book recommendations? (not main!)

    Some of the top of my head. Mostly I look at biographies and recommendation for books I read and find valuable to progressing my knowledge.

    Seth Godin, The Knowledge Project, Marginal Revolution, Brain Pickings, Austin Kleon

    I second what @jamesrregan said.

    @jamesrregan said:
    ... collected from all kinds of aggregated sources, including The Paris Review, the Literary Hub, book reviews, forums, and bibliographies from the books I read.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Maintaining a list of stuff to read is discouraging me more than it fires my interest. A book recommendation can sound interesting now, and more often than note I'm buying a used book out of a whim the moment someone tells me something interesting about it. (Like Rothfuss's "The Name of the Wind" which was mentioned here, with a reference to a library that's grows over such a long period of time that nobody knows how it's ordered, really, or something like that -- haven't reached that part yet :)) When I put stuff on a list, it sometimes becomes just another list to work my way through. I also don't always want to read any book in my unread books stack. When I'm done with a book, I pick something that's available and that speaks to me at the moment. Picking something up because I think I should be reading it doesn't work well for me at the moment because reading time is mostly leisure time, and if I'm not interested, I'll not be reading at all. -- All that might change when I change my day to day schedule.

    I always loved the description of Alberto Manguel's daily routine (book: A Reading Diary), reading in the morning hours, then writing later in the day. I guess I'd be reading differently if my day looked like that.

    That being said, I do have the following lists:

    • research topics for programming with book recommendations, to be picked up when I look into the topic eventually; it's a list in my org files aka personal info/task management
    • I move some non-fiction books out of my Amazon shopping cart onto the list of things to buy later
    • I buy used books on medimops.de and they have a watchlist feature, so I get notified when a book eventually is available again; when enough books I'm interested in are available (>10 EUR for free shipping :)) I buy a couple; mostly fiction, inspirational book, stuff that's out-of-print or prohibitively expensive

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • I've never kept a list of books to read, and I never would. I don't really have time to read books I might "want" to read. Almost all the reading I do is because I need to read certain things for reasons like doing a course or helping somebody in their studies. As I near the age of seventy, I look at my shelves and think that the material I have there would probably take me about twenty years to get through. There is no time.

  • edited December 2020

    Over the past couple of years, I've become intrigued with Charlie Munger, and his "latticework of mental models" that he says everyone should have and maintain.
    Over the past 3 months or so, I've been working my way through a mental model a week, and doing background reading where it's applicable, to see how do use the different models, etc.
    He has a list of recommended reading which I'm slowly working through, and have bought a load of those books.

    Since starting to read more from this recommendation list, I've re-discovered my love of reading sci-fi fantasy, so I now tend to have 1x non-fiction, and 1x fiction on the go at any one point in time. I tend to be making notes on the non-fiction, whilst just enjoying the fiction ones.

    I keep a running master list of books that I want to read, or have been recommended, which I'm just slowly working through. I've begun a cycle that (at the moment) I like, which is 1x fiction, 1x non-fiction, and 1x history (ancient history through to modern history).
    Although a rule I've made with myself is that I'm not allowed to buy more non-fiction/history books for myself until I've read what I already have on my book shelf. I don't have many fictions, so allowing myself to buy fiction so I can keep up the cycle.

  • This is a topic that fascinates me because it is the first step to improve upon/reflect on with the zettelkasten. Especially since we have a limited amount of time/energy to dedicate towards reading.

    I have collected different ideas on this as I've come across them. Here are some

    Another way to think of it is as a complexity pipeline and the reasons you are reading. You could be reading to learn or reading for inspiration. For reading to learn, you start with an introductory book (A Very Short Introduction Series), than move onto a beginning textbook, than move onto an intermediate textbook, followed by journal publications or popular science books in the area of study.

    Reading for inspiration is the idea of reading to expose yourself to different ways of thinking or areas of knowledge in hopes that they can give you insight into the field of expertise you work in. In this case, you just want to pick up a wide selection of books, preferably ones you'd never normally read.

    As for sources for finding books

    The ones I use from the above list are subreddits, Fivebooks, and author interviews from crazy amount of podcasts I listen to. I also just happen to have a very large reading list already built up. Not sure how to prioritize it though.

  • Thanks for the question – interesting to read all the answers!

    When it comes to non-fiction, my approach has changed very much over time. During my time at school and often also at university, I very much tended to read books/texts completely – that's usually what was expected from the people grading me. Now, not forced by any exams, I usually first decide what I want to learn (like the friend you mentioned) by formulating a question, then look for sources that I expect to contain good answers to it and scan these sources for exactly these answers – everything else is pretty much ignored (unless something catches my attention). No reading lists, only lists with things I want to learn / find answers to.
    I find this method much more efficient and motivating than working through a book from beginning to end, forcing myself to understand sections I'm not actually interested in at that time. The danger with it: You can get caught in your own worldview, because this restricts the research questions I ask to a certain degree. It's therefore very important that I also get some non-filtered inputs from e.g. my RSS feed, conversations with people, podcasts, flipping through books with interesting titles in the bookstore, etc. These sources often inspire me to ask questions I otherwise wouldn't have thought about.

    When it comes to fiction, it's purely for enjoyment for me. If I come across something that I really fancy reading, but don't have time for at the moment, I put it on a list in my Taskmanager app. This list I only look at when I've run out of obvious things to read and need some ideas – I'm never "obliged" to look at it, because I haven't "committed" to the items on it in any sense.

  • @MartinBB said:
    I've never kept a list of books to read, and I never would. I don't really have time to read books I might "want" to read. Almost all the reading I do is because I need to read certain things for reasons like doing a course or helping somebody in their studies. As I near the age of seventy, I look at my shelves and think that the material I have there would probably take me about twenty years to get through. There is no time.

    Haha! I'm in exactly the same position (in time and philosophy). I know exactly what you are saying (and feeling). So little time, so many interesting things around me.

  • Do you have a highly detailed reading plan?

    No. When I finish a book I go to my books and touch books as long as I need to "feel it". Then I read this book.

    If a book is read with a goal in mind, do you put it down when that has been reached?

    Yes. In German academics, there is a distinction between using a book and reading it. If I just want something from the book I just take this thing.

    Do you stumble into the library and pick the first book on the shelves?

    No. 99% of the time I read books that are recommended to me by trusted sources. 80% of the time I read books that are recommended to me by multiple sources. 70% of the time I read books that are considered to impactful by very many people.

    What is your best source of book recommendations? (not main!)

    1. The multiplicity of recommendations is the most important.
    2. People I trust

    I am a Zettler

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