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How I choose what to read

Airdrie opinion_text

For my entire life, I’ve been an avid reader. Sitting down with a good book has been my primary pastime for as long as I can remember, and over the course of a year, I end up reading a lot. Because I’m a nerd who keeps track of these kinds of things, I know that in 2019, I finished 41 books and read more than 15,700 pages – an all-time personal best.

Recently, a friend asked me how I pick what I read. Normally, I would offer a brief response like, “I’ll read pretty much anything.” For some reason, however, I took the time to analyze how I arrive at my selections.

Over the course of the year, I read a mix of classic or award-winning fiction and a handful of new releases, with some non-fiction tossed in.

When I was 25 years old, I set a personal goal to read every title on TIME magazine’s 2006 list of the 100 best English-language books published since 1923 before I turned 35. I try to pick at least 10 books from that list each year, and I’m proud to say that, five years later, I’ve read more than half the list. Similar lists – a non-fiction version from TIME, the Harvard Book Store Top 100 Books and a poster I have of classic novels – offer similar guidance, and a little overlap.

I also gravitate toward books that have won or been shortlisted for awards like the Pulitzer or the Man Booker Prize. Seeing that medallion imprinted on the book’s cover is a sure-fire way to pique my interest.

When I’m interested in a television or film adaptation that’s set for release, I try to read the novel first. The last book I purchased was Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which I intend to read before it debuts on HBO March 16. Last year, in anticipation of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, my wife and I made our way through the classic novel together.

When it comes to new releases, I’m all about the hype. New books that are getting a lot of buzz will end up on my reading list sooner or later, as will new releases from my favourite authors and journalists.

For non-fiction, I try to deep-dive on topics or people I’m interested in learning more about.

And then, of course, sometimes you just see a book on the shelf and it calls to you for whatever strange reason.

When it comes down to it, the advice I’d give to fellow readers is to pick books that appeal to you. It sounds simple, but knowing your personal reading preferences and setting your own goals can mean the difference between being totally engrossed by a book, and finding it a complete slog.

Ben Sherick,
Follow me on Twitter @BenSherick