How to find good books

I didn't use to read all that much, but gradually as I realized that I had already seen most of the great movies and after reflecting that just reading articles online wasn't really giving me much satisfaction, I've switched the time I use to spend on those activities to reading instead.

The problem I initially had was discovering good books to read. Now on the other hand I feel there is just so much out there to read. It's not a race, but I've finished 30 books so far this year, just because I've both gotten into the habit and discovered books that I either enjoy, or ones that might help me in life in some way — great books do both.

What changed? I thought I'd share some simple tips that I'd tell myself if I could go back in time a few years.

Goodreads is your friend

If you're into movies, you know about IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Goodreads is that, except well... for books (shocking I know). Books can get a lot more niche than movies, as they don't cost much to write and as such don't need mass appeal. This means that a good Goodreads score won't guarantee it'll be a good choice for you. Rather I've found that the best way to use Goodreads is for sorting and filtering.

My "book discovery algorithm" right now works based on first finding a lot of ideas for books that sound interesting, adding them all as "want to read" on Goodreads for later reference, then when I feel comfortable taking on another book to read I go through that "want to read" list sorted by average score and use that information to help me decide what to read next. So how do you find ideas to fill that list?

Books refer to other books

After you have a daily reading habit for a while, you'll start noticing that especially nonfiction tends to refer to other books. For instance an author might present an interesting idea, and then also share where he read that idea. Sometimes authors even straight out recommend other books, such as Carl Sagan giving a list of his favorite science fiction books in Broca's Brain. It becomes like the world wide web, and soon you start discovering many books that sound interesting just from others you've read.

Reading more from the same author

Quite obvious, but once you've finished reading something that was really eye-opening or enjoyable, check what else that author has written. You can use Goodreads to see if what you just finished is rated as their best book ever, or if you are lucky you might find that there is something else from the author that you might enjoy even more.

Find reading lists from people you like

This is great for jumpstarting your reading: find lists online from real people that you respect where they share the books they've liked. I wouldn't recommend giving much credit to lazily written listicles that just try to get pageviews or commissions from sending you to amazon to buy something. Rather find real people with the primary motivation of just sharing what they've truly liked. Lists such as Sivers "Books I've Read", Bill Gates book recommendations, or Alan Kay's Reading List.

Avoid signaling books

Finally, I'd be wary of books that everyone likes to brag about having read. In hacker circles these are books such as "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", "Gödel, Escher, Bach" and "The Master and Margarita". While I'm sure many have truly enjoyed these and gotten much out of it, I suspect that often those who recommend them may be just signaling to others how sophisticated they are.

Do take a look to get a feel for what books like these are like, but don't feel compelled to finish if you find yourself not enjoying or getting much out of them after a few dozen pages. Don't feel bad if you don't like them even though you are "supposed to".

Challenge yourself

There are a lot of fluffy books that are designed to be easily digestible with mass appeal. You might get stuck in this zone, so try to mix it up a bit and challenge yourself to read things that require slight struggle to make progress on. For instance I recently read "A Canticle for Leibowitz", which is basically post-apocalyptic scifi about monks. I found it very hard to read at first, but after gaining enough "monk vocabulary", I found myself enjoying it.

Another reason for progress being tough is just that what you are reading is information-dense. In this case as long as you are getting enough out of it, then it makes sense to keep going. You might have one book like this that you're making slow progress on, a few pages per day, and another more instantly rewarding one that you can easily finish a chapter a day. If the tough one seems like it would melt your brain if taken too much at once, you can use the more fun one as a "reward" of sorts, making a bit of progress on each every day.

Oh, and another type of book I've found is "useful but stressful". Two examples would be the business book "Traction" that shares ways to market a startup company, and "E-Myth Revisited" that is about how to break out a company from its infant stages. I've found these impossible to read in bed just before sleep, as they just make me want to get up and work. If I read them, I've found I need enough time to read something more relaxing and less immediately practical afterwards.

Thanks for reading

Hope you found these tips useful. If not, I'm sorry I wasted your time :(