Learn to enjoy reading rather than being so focussed on picking the book you can get the most out of
How do you pick your next book to read?
Do you religiously scroll through the thousands of book recommendation articles on Medium, getting more and more confused as each author promises these are the only books you’ll need to live your best life?
Or do you follow your heart and stop caring about whether or not you manage to pick the books that will help you grow the most?
If you found yourself nodding to the former, there might be an internalised capitalist in you that’s stopping you from becoming a better reader.
In this post, I’m going to dissect the obsessive need some readers have to “get something out of each book they read” and suggest alternatives that helped me through. Because they focus so much on finishing all the well-known books, several readers end up mimicking each other’s thoughts, without letting the insights really affect them.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
— Haruki Murakami
Being Whimsical vs Methodical
I like to call myself a whimsical reader. For some books, a single review or video is enough to convince me to start reading. For others, I spend several minutes going through each review, weighing the pros and cons, wondering whether or not I’ll enjoy it.
Surprisingly, it’s the books I pick up on a whim that I end up loving the most.
If there’s one thing I’ve prided myself on since childhood, it’s this: I don’t shy away from picking up lesser-known or underrated reads. I also take personalised recommendations seriously. I might not know the reading taste of a person, but if they love a book passionately enough, I’d pick it up without a second thought.
For example, I picked up The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune because a friend of mine was raving on Instagram about how happy it made her feel. I thought if a book is able to spark that fire in a person’s heart, there’s no reason I should deprive myself of the same pleasure.
Similarly, I read S A Chakraborty’s The Daevabad Trilogy because Vipula Gupta wrote a review about how diverse the characters are and how much she loved them. After going through that heartfelt review, there was no way I could stop myself from reading the books.
I am grateful because both these books aren’t “popular” by any standards, and had I relied on Goodreads alone, I might have never come across them. They have fewer than 100,000 reviews combined and haven’t won any major literary awards. But I won’t be lying when I said they ended up becoming the BEST books I read in not just this year, but my entire adult life.
Identify the Capitalist in You
In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Noah Harari considers capitalism to be a form of religion. That’s because it focusses on creating a better version of tomorrow and insists on spreading this belief to everyone. In other words, it is truly universal and missionary. The core tenet of capitalism, according to Harari, is:
“Capitalism distinguishes ‘capital’ from mere ‘wealth’. Capital consists of money, goods and resources that are invested in production. Wealth, on the other hand, is buried in the ground or wasted on unproductive activities.”
Everything we own is capital — the seeds for future growth. Our money, time, skills, even our hobbies — they have no value if we don’t use them to grow our existing worth even more.
This is tied to our innate need to produce more value with everything we do. We have reduced reading to the consumption of knowledge so we can simply replicate it.
Following Recommendations will Get You Nowhere
Most of the articles on Medium focus on boosting productivity. Yes, we all want to be the best versions of ourselves, but have we internalised capitalism so much that we stopped doing things for the sheer pleasure it promises?
Reading is a hobby. It’s not supposed to turn you into a productivity machine. You can read non-fiction if you enjoy it, but if your only goal behind picking a book is to learn something, maybe you’re doing it wrong.
Fiction books don’t have takeaways that are clearly outlined, but if you read them mindfully, you can learn life lessons that are much more valuable than any a self-help book can teach you. I covered this extensively in another article.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Picking Your Next Read
Before you pick your next book, the first step you need to take is to let go of the idea that reading is supposed to teach you new skills. Don’t obsess over the fact that you’re devoting X hours of your life to reading the book, so it must yield some value that’s more than those X hours you invested.
It’s completely okay to read for pleasure.
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction. If you are mindful enough, every book has a treasure trove of lessons to offer.
Identify the why
Make a list about why you want to read.
Are you looking for inspiration?
Are you seeking entertainment and an escape from reality?
Do you want to gain knowledge and learn more about the field of your choice?
Do you want to feel like you are not the only one going through the same?
Or do you want to read as a way of celebrating the language?
Based on your reasons, you can pick a genre that will best fit your reading taste.
Don’t be afraid to pick an underrated read
The internalised capitalism forces us to equate the hours we invest in reading to how much money or growth we can get out of the book. But if you let it go, the only reason you’re reading is that you love books.
I’ve discovered so many amazing new authors and genres I would have been oblivious to, had I only chosen to read books that are widely loved. These books might not have offered me tangible life-changing lessons, but they helped me rediscover the joy of reading.
They made me more empathetic, more open to accepting differences, and told me my pain is not singular, that there are others going through something similar.
They were like food for my soul. If that is not rewarding enough, I have no idea what is.
I hope this article gave you something to ponder on. Fancy some underrated reads? Here are some of my hand-picked recommendations:
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