Do You Struggle With What To Read Next?

Does this sound familiar to you?

Struggling with the question of what to read next?
Photo by Alana Sousa on Pexels.com

You’re ready to begin reading your next book. You go to your (very crowded) bookshelves and start reaching for every book you’ve been excited about recently. You begin to make a pile. You keep grabbing books until you have a stack of maybe 12 books. By now half an hour has gone past but you’re still not done.

You sit on the floor/bed/ in the chair and begin flicking through each candidate; reading the blurbs; dipping into the pages. Trying to weigh up whether you feel like a fast-paced thriller or a thoughtful novel about relationships. Or that book that’s just won a prize. But then, that little voice in your head pipes up: aren’t you supposed to be reading the next book club choice? Didn’t you say you wanted to read more by [name your author]. And what about that challenge you started months ago that’s now way behind schedule.

Meanwhile the minutes are ticking away. Time you could have spent on actually reading, instead of just thinking and agonising.

Indecision has undone you.

Sometimes the hardest part about reading is actually deciding what to read next.

Maybe you don’t have that problem. Perhaps you have your reading plans so carefully worked out so you know exactly not only what book you’ll be reading next, but what you’ll be reading next week, and next month. You may even be so well organised that you have your schedule plotted into a calendar or spreadsheet.

I’m more towards the opposite end of the scale. Not so completely disorganised that I miss deadlines for any books I’ve agreed to review. But with book club selections I’ve sailed too close to the wind several times, rushing to finish the chosen book just a few minutes before the meeting begins.

Experience with various reading challenges over the years have taught me one thing: I don’t respond well to heavily prescribed reading lists. I much prefer the free and easy, read on a whim approach.

But I can still get overwhelmed by the sheer number of books from which to choose my next read.

The more books I’ve acquired, the more difficult it’s become to make choices. Occasionally I’ve resorted to going to the bookshelves, closing my eyes and whatever my hand touches, becomes my next read.

The Book Jar is one way to help answer the question: What to read next

A few years ago someone came to the rescue of pontificators everywhere by creating the Book Jar. The idea was simple. You just filled a jar with slips of paper containing the names of the books from your TBR. If you wanted to be clever, you could use different colours for different genres. Then, whenever it was time to choose your next read, you pulled a slip from the jar.

There was just one flaw in this concept. It was so, so easy to cheat.

If you drew a book you didn’t feel like reading right then, what was to stop you putting that slip back into the jar and pulling out another? If you were ultra naughty, you could keep going until you got the right slip.

The Book Jar was very popular for a while but I haven’t heard about it for a good few years now. I never did one myself – I just didn’t have the inclination to write hundreds of slips of paper.

Or maybe it got over-turned by a more technology driven solution. A random generator site like www.random.org can take the angst out of decision-making. All you do is to make a list of possible books to read, type them into the site, hit “Randomize” and the answer of what to read first, second, third etc, is done for you. I had a play around with this today using titles I acquired via NetGalley.

A randomiser can help answer the question: what to read next
Result of Random Generator

If you have more of a visual personality, you can achieve the same thing using an app (isn’t there always an app??) called Spin The Wheel – Random Picker. It’s available for IOS and Android devices.

Just plug the names of books into the colour wheel, press spin and the decision is made for you.

Colourful wheel to make choices on what to read next
Result of a wheel spin

Of course, as fun as these two tools are, they have the same issue as the book jar: you can easily cheat. The random generator gives you the option to press “Again” until you get the result you want. With the wheel, you just keep hitting spin.

But if you’re going to do that then you’re no better off than you were anyway. So not much point really.

Will I use them? I might use Spin the Wheel occasionally just for amusement but I don’t see it replacing my “read what my hand touches” approach.

Now how about you? Do you suffer from indecision or are you a planner? How do you decide what to read next?

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BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

42 thoughts on “Do You Struggle With What To Read Next?

  • November 7, 2020 at 12:03 pm
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    I tend to alternate. I love reading books for work about fitness, but they don’t count. When I read for pleasure, I tend to alternate fiction and non-fiction. For example, this summer I read a 700 p. Woodrow Wilson bio. But next? Dear G-d! My brain was fried! I needed something lighter so I went fiction (David Baldacci I think. I would need to look at my blog where I keep track of my books), but then I may go a leadership type book, or another non-fiction. I read everything. I wish I had more time!

    Reply
    • November 10, 2020 at 9:35 pm
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      Why do you feel the fitness books don’t count? If they are just a series of exercises then yes, saying you read them would be a stretch (excuse the pun) but if they have an intro to explain the philosophy or the science then I can’t see there is a problem including them

      Reply
  • November 5, 2020 at 10:59 am
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    My indecision definitely stems from the “spoiled for choice” problem – I have been lucky enough to amass a collection of SO MANY amazing books I want to read. I have tried random selections (I do have my books listed in a spreadsheet, ha!, and tried using a random number generator to pick the line of what I was going to read next), but I fall into the “cheating” territory you describe. I respond best to variety, and if I read too many same-y books in a row (which seems to happen surprisingly often with random picks! why?!), I get intensely bored and frustrated and I don’t give the book a fair shot. Still, all told, it’s a good problem to have, isn’t it? 🙂

    Reply
    • November 6, 2020 at 9:25 pm
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      It absolutely is a good problem. I love having a well stocked library at my fingertips, 24/7 and every day of the year. I’ve tried so many different approaches over the year – reading by category, alphabetically by initial letter of the author’s name, going in the order of where the books are in the shelves. You name it I’ve tried it. And none of them lasted longer than a few months 🙂

      Reply
  • November 2, 2020 at 5:16 pm
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    This is the kind of post that makes non-readers think heavy book readers are nuts. I love it! Thanks for all the fun ideas. I, too, don’t respond well to reading lists, as much as I enjoying make such lists. For a few years now I tend have a book or two that I’ll plan to read in the next month, but also make sure I have plenty of room to be spontaneous. Unless I’m taking a class, I tend to sabotage or resit my own reading from lists. I fear I’ll never complete The Classics Club list.

    Reply
    • November 6, 2020 at 9:44 pm
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      Well it took me about 7 years to finish my Classics Club list. To make sure I had plenty of choices I created a list much longer than 50 titles, even so I added a few.

      Reply
  • November 2, 2020 at 2:29 pm
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    Library reserves do tend to come at the most inopportune moment, particularly now in Wales where the loan period is essentially indefinite. In the past if you reserved a book you could judge from your place in the queue roughly when it would become available. But now, it’s impossible to predict

    Reply
  • November 2, 2020 at 2:06 pm
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    I generally decide which book to read depending on my mood. I”ll open a couple of books, read a line or two, and then choose. Usually, I choose a light-reading book after a chunkster or “difficult” one.

    Because i’m such a mood-based reader, I have stopped accepting books for review as I could never do them the justice they deserved.

    Reply
    • November 6, 2020 at 9:45 pm
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      I tend to pull a small pile together and stack them on a side table thinking that’s what I’ll chose from next time I am ready to begin a new book. Sometimes that works, but very often I just end up going to the bookshelves and choosing depending on my mood

      Reply
  • November 1, 2020 at 4:28 pm
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    Good question! I’m a whimsy sort of person so, to avoid feelings of guilt imbibed from a strict Catholic upbringing, I’ve stopped committing myself to any challenges or events where a set title or number of titles are to be read, and I’ve long stopped accepting review copies (apart from doing the odd favour).

    So, I stand by my shelves — not always the TBR ones — and think, What do I fancy? What am I feeling strong enough to read? What light / heavy matter do I want to make time for? And is it a title I really, really want to review?

    And then I see what book I actually take down! It’s a variation on the arcane practice of bibliomancy… 😁

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 12:48 pm
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      I’m weaning myself of the challenges involving set titles or numbers of books. I lose all the enthusiasm once I feel I HAVE to read a certain book.
      Interesting that one of your questions as you stand at the bookshelf is whether you want to review the book. Does that mean you seldom read anything that you wouldn’t want to review?

      Reply
      • November 2, 2020 at 12:55 pm
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        I occasionally reread books I don’t intend reviewing but I’ve made it a habit now of posting something about every book I’ve read: it comes of reading so many books in the past that I couldn’t subsequently remember much about, and note-taking and/or reviewing is my way of fixing each one in, as it were, literary formaldehyde!

        I love ideas and concepts in books and this is my way of distilling what I see as interesting in each title.

        Reply
  • November 1, 2020 at 11:06 am
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    I carry four or so books around with me in my backpack and then discover, sometimes after years that I haven’t read them, or haven’t read past the first few pages. There’s always something intervening, usually a recent purchase that jumps the queue; or I’ll restart an old project – to read Walter Scott for instance. I’m not even sure what I’ll read in half an hour’s time when I go to bed – probably the library book I have to return this week and which I’m half through. But there are six books stacked on top of it, shelves of enticing unreads, projects half started, or half thought out. Thank heavens I don’t accept reviews.

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 12:49 pm
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      I’m giggling at the thought of those books you’ve lugged around with you maybe for years. it sounds like you are the kind of reader that has more than one book on the go at any time?

      Reply
      • November 3, 2020 at 4:03 am
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        I have about 20 reserve books in the cupboards above my bunk, but carry a few I’m reading or should read in my backpack (so that they are home when I’m home). A Cardboard Crown is a case in point. It’s been travelling backwards and forwards to Melbourne for a couple of months. I got a couple of chapters in and then got sidetracked. I’ll probably have to start again at the beginning, though some I just put back in the shelves until their time comes again.

        Reply
        • November 3, 2020 at 9:37 pm
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          I had a similar experience with a non fiction book called The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. I remember being interested but the text was so tiny it was hard to read so I put it to one side. Now I can’t remember a thing about it

  • November 1, 2020 at 6:51 am
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    If I plan what to read next it’s often fatal as I’ll just read whatever takes my fancy. I agree with Mary Daniels Brown – if you use a random generator or a book jar and realise the book that comes up is not the ‘right’ result that helps you realise what you do want to read next. I know because I just used a generator and when the first number came out I immediately though ‘oh no – I don’t want to read that one next.’ 🙂

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 12:52 pm
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      I had exactly that experience with the book jar – I used it just for the list I had for the Classics Club. First time I dipped into it I got a book that I really didn’t feel like reading. Not just I didn’t feel like reading it then, I realised I didn’t actually want to read it ever. So that got me thinking about the choices I’d made for the list and I dropped some.

      I never went back the jar though

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 11:27 pm
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    I’m a major planner, and for books I requested for review, I read the ones that are going to be published the sooner. If I run behind release day, I go backwards, from the latest to the oldest. Right after my recap of the previous month, I always publish a post listing the books I’m going to read in the new month (the next post will be live on Nov 3). I also take into consideration books for challenges and/or readalong.
    For November, looks like I’m finally catching up with a whole bunch of books for review, so now I go to my physical book shelves and pick books recently given to me by friends, that I haven’t read yet

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 1:00 pm
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      If you accept lots of review books then it makes sense that you are more organised in your approach. I think I would find it stressful to know that I have so many deadlines coming up. There must be times when you wish you could read something that takes your eye rather than having to read a review copy/challenge book?

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 11:16 pm
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    This post made me laugh. I had a book jar. I had more fun writing the slips of paper than the choosing. Yes, I cheated and probably never read anything I chose. I’ve used random generator. It works for one pick then, whoosh, it floats away with the wind. Now I just pick from the shelf. I see The Rain Heron on your list. I went to the delayed launch of this book with Robbie Heron a couple of weeks ago. He is Tasmanian. He has a wonderful imagination. Maybe I should pick that one to read now. 🐧🤠🌷

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 1:04 pm
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      Writing all those slips of paper made me feel I was back in primary school! I used it once, didn’t care for what I picked, so never went back to it. i found it the other day and just ditched all the slips….

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 9:07 pm
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    I tend to grab whatever suits my mood of the moment, but I choose from the lists of books I’ve purchased, leaning toward the older ones…unless the shiny new ones are calling to me loudly, lol. I did The Book Jar for a while, but, yes, I did cheat now and then.

    My list of ARCs for review, however, is a more hard and fast rule of thumb for choice. I pay attention to those deadlines.

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 2:35 pm
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      I seem to remember that your stack of unread books is more modest than the 000s some of us have? Which would make it slightly easier. See, the solution is clearly “don’t buy any more books than you can possibly read. ” By not following this principle I’ve created the problem 🙂

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 8:02 pm
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    I pretty much let the library dictate when I read things, and that helps a lot! I put all the books I want to read on a wish list, keep as many of them on hold as possible, and read whatever comes in, according to when it’s due. Between that, my book club, and ARCs, I never really wonder what to read next. I wondered if living by the library’s schedule would bother me, but honestly it’s nicer than having to decide from 100s of books every time I finish one.

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 2:33 pm
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      In a sense the library is doing the randomiser job for you since you never know when your hold will come through. Does this mean you don’t have a stack of unread books at home beyond the library, book club and ARC?

      Reply
      • November 3, 2020 at 7:54 pm
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        That’s true! I do have some books at home, though not as many as most, and the problem with my system is I have a hard time getting to those books because something’s always more time sensitive. The other problem is that if a book is readily available at the library, I’m less likely to read it than one that’s on hold, because I feel I have to prioritize a book that other people are waiting on.

        Reply
        • November 3, 2020 at 9:27 pm
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          If there are a lot of people waiting on a book, our library system restricts us to a 3 week loan period with no option to renew. So that does force you to read it ahead of other books….hence why some books have been on my shelves unread for a lot longer than 5 years

  • October 31, 2020 at 7:26 pm
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    In a couple of the descriptions you write something like, “But this makes it so easy to cheat. You can keep doing the routine over and over until you get the right answer.” But isn’t this begging the question? Assuming that “the right answer” = the book you really want to read next, these procedures are very successful in producing the intended result.

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 2:31 pm
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      That’s a point. If there’s a book that you really really want to read, then why not just read it instead of pretending that you’ll read according to the randomiser

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 6:59 pm
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    I plan as a rule, then don’t stick to it. So I generally resort to flinging myself at the tbr and grabbing any book – it often works….

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 1:05 pm
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      Hope you land on some soft paperbacks, not the hard edges of that bookcase. Wouldn’t like to be you explaining in A&E that you cracked your head while looking for a book!

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 6:21 pm
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    Read the books I’ve promised to review. Indecision rules when I have a choice – nightmare!

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 2:30 pm
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      Not to worry, it seems like you are in good company

      Reply
  • October 31, 2020 at 6:02 pm
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    At the beginning of each season I carefully curate a list of 10 books that I want to read during the next 3 months…..that leaves me plenty of wiggle room for mood reading and arcs and to meet library and book club due dates! So I like some structure but I enjoy my freedom too! I can totally see myself cheating if I used a jar or randomizer!

    Reply
    • November 2, 2020 at 2:26 pm
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      That sounds like a good combination of structure and flexibility. I’m also assuming that you give yourself licence to change the list if something new comes along?

      Reply
      • November 2, 2020 at 6:10 pm
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        I make it a priority to complete my 10 for the season……but only 10 over 3 months gives me plenty of room to add other reads!

        Reply
        • November 2, 2020 at 10:14 pm
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          That’s true, setting the bar at a manageable level is a good way of ensuring success

  • October 31, 2020 at 5:59 pm
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    My reading is mostly planned, that way I know what I am reading and when and I can group themed or similar genre books together. One curve ball is library books, I renew them the same day each week and they often throw up titles that others have reserved that need to be be be read pronto.

    Reply
    • November 6, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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      This is odd Paul, I know I responded to your comment but what I wrote has ended up attached to a completely different comment. I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you. Library reserves are a bit of a strange game at the moment because the usual loan periods have gone out of the window so you can’t work out when a book might become available – and then they all come at once

      Reply

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