Ask CK: How Do I Find Good Books To Read?

A reader writes in:

You often recommend books to readers in your Friday Links posts, and I read with interest your Voracious Reading Trial post and your Three Books in Three Days post.

My question is: how do you go about finding good books to read?

You've come to the right place. I’ll share a few of my own ideas on how to find good books to read--and readers, if you have your own advice for this reader, share it below!

1) Ask the most intellectual and well-read people in your life what they’ve been reading, and shamelessly copy them. Or, go even further and just ask them to suggest several books to you. Sidenote: it’s rarely a good idea to depend on people dumber or less literate than you for book recommendations. :)

2) Use the books you’re reading already as sources for more reading. There are a few ways you can do this. For example, in the next non-fiction book you read, look through the author’s endnotes, footnotes and index--in other words, the source literature the author used. Read anything and everything that grabs you. Then, with those books, do the same thing. You’ll quickly build a reading list of dozens--or hundreds!--of books. I did this exercise recently with Jared Diamond’s landmark book Guns, Germs, and Steel and I’m set for reading for at least another year.

3) Look into the contemporaries and colleagues of the author you just read. For example, a book like Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning might send to you to explore the works of other “Austrian school” psychiatrists like Adler or Freud. Reading Dan Gilbert’s excellent book Stumbling on Happiness might get you looking through some of the works of other cognitive psychologists like Martin Seligman, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

3a) You can do this with fiction too: If you liked the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, consider contemporaneous authors like H.G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, or, I don’t know, Jules Verne (and even better, you can find most of these authors' works for free in the public domain). If you're a fan of Virginia Woolf, why not try her contemporaries Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, or the attractive-looking G.K. Chesterton?

4) Finally, if you just read a book and agreed with it, do something intellectually honest: read a book that argues the exact contra-thesis. This was why I read The Food Police right after I read Appetite For Profit. After all, you wouldn’t want to mindlessly reinforce your already-held opinions, would you?

Readers, what suggestions would you offer? How do you find good books to read?

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Review: Wheat Belly by William Davis
Book Review: The Mindful Carnivore
Ask A Mindful Carnivore: Books For Further Reading

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Anonymous said...

On a related note, if you are a user of LinkedIN, their newsfeed has a channel devoted to book recommendations by their top influencers. So far quite a diverse selection of books have been highlighted on a variety of topics and viewpoints.

chacha1 said...

I read several book-related blogs, and other blogs that are literate (like this one). That helps.

Also a weekly newsmagazine that does a page of capsule book reviews.

Also I buy books on Amazon, which has a Recommendations feature which has sold me a lot of books.

Also I write fiction and that means doing research and that means reading and that means books.

Jen Blacker said...

I'm a Stephen King fan. When I was living in Cleveland they had some fantastic used book stores. When deciding on things to try new I'd look at the reviews on the back of the book. King is a voracious reader and has great taste. Due to his reviews I found a new world of authors. F. Paul Wilson, Preston & Child, Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman, and Lee Child just to name a few of my favorites. I started out as a horror fan but now I love everything from sci-fi to crime.

Faye said...

Another great source is your local librarian!

oilandgarlic said...

How about Goodreads? That's a good source.

chacha1 said...

Fresh comment: if you like A.C. Doyle, or Jules Verne, or H.G. Wells, or H. Rider Haggard, please DO NOT read Thomas Hardy.

The first four authors are fun. Thomas Hardy will make you want to blow your brains out.