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Discovering books that get you excited to read

With a proliferation of dopamine fueled activities to pass time, it's harder to allocate the time toward reading books. From friends and colleagues I constantly hear things like "I wish I read more books", or "I can't find books that interest me". The latter is a very interesting statement. A device like the Kindle gives us access to millions of books without ever needing to leave our apartment. And yet it's just as hard as it was before such devices existed to find those books that "we can't put down".

When I was a kid (in the 90s) I recall bi-weekly trips to the public library with my parents. Aside from going to the kids section and browsing book covers, I had built up a list of "categories" for books I knew I'd be interested in reading. One was authors. Anything by Roald Dahl I loved. Book series, like Goosebumps or The Indian in the Cupboard was another. I was also a big basketball fan, so any basketball related fiction books I was interested in. As a kid the books that captured me were the ones I could relate to. I could either envision myself as a character in the book, or the topic captured my imagination.

I was lucky in that I was able to find these kinds of books when I was younger. I was encouraged to do so and was given a lot of opportunities to find such books. And yet many kids do not have the same experience which deprives them of a foundational love/passion/interest in reading. They may have been forced to read classics in school that had no relevance to them, and that sour taste of reading carried through to their adult lives. I believe we need to spend more time helping kids find books that they can enjoy, rather than making sure they read X books by the end of the school year.

At a young age we are instilled with the habit that if you start a book, you must finish it. This is a habit worth breaking. You don't have enough time on this planet to read every single book available. If you can only read a small percentage of books in existence, why spend time reading something you aren't excited about?

Coming back to the discovery question. One of my weaknesses is I get excited easily. I hear about a book that sounds awesome, and I'll start reading it even though I've already started 3 or 5 other books. I'm currently in progress on 7books, here is how I discovered each one:

  1. Striking Thoughts by Bruce Lee: a recommendation by entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant on the Tim Ferriss podcast.
  2. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout: a recommendation by Tim Ferriss through his podcast.
  3. The Tao of Leadership by John Heider: this was required reading for a leadership class I took in college. One of the few books I did not sell after graduation.
  4. The Great Bridge by David McCullough: having recently moved to Brooklyn, I've developed a fascination with the Brooklyn Bridge. It's iconic, beautiful, and functional. Seeing it everyday fueled an interest in learning about how it was built. I discovered the book by Googling best book about Brooklyn Bridge and reading various book reviews until I settled on this one.
  5. Wait But Why Year One by Tim Urban: Tim is the author of one of my favorite blogs. This ebook is a collection of all his posts from his first year of the site. I discovered Tim's writing through his AI post that came up in Readability Top Reads feed.
  6. The Jacket (Star-Rover) by Jack London: My dad read this when he was a kid, loved it, and recommended it to me.
  7. Einstein by Walter Isaacson: I loved Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography and decided to try this one. It's a bit more dense than the Jobs book and I've been reading it on and off for a while.

Books 1, 2, 3, and 6 came by recommendation from trusted sources. 4 was the result of my interest and environment. 5 and 7 came from my exposure to the author and developing an interest in their work.

With the majority of my books coming by recommendation, maybe that is a takeaway here. From kids to adults how can we find ways to connect a trusted recommender to a reader. With kids I'd think this responsibility falls on the teacher. A teacher has knowledge of past students and which books get kids excited. Plus, as the teacher gets to know the student throughout the year, they can make better recommendations. Until kids have algorithms that give curated lists of books based on their interests, there is an opportunity to empower teachers to provide better recommendations, and inspire their students to be lifelong readers.