Our Reading Lives

How I Choose What To Read Next

Dana Rosette Pangan

Staff Writer

Dana Rosette Pangan is a supervisor by day and a fangirl all the time. She holds a degree in Laboratory Technology but finds that she has more chemistry with language and writing. When she's not making embarrassingly lame puns, she can be found avoiding social situations and searching for something that can hold her attention for more than 30 minutes. She is from the Philippines and is probably doing something weird right now.

When I was just a student, I tried to buy a book whenever I had some money left from my allowance. This means that there were times when I had finished a book but did not yet have another one to read. When I got a job, I finally had my own money to spend however I wished (I mean, you know, after paying off debts and bills and other adulting stuff), so I spent it on books. Whenever I received my pay, I would buy a book or two (or seven), and because I was working, it had an unfortunate side effect of not having much time to read. As a result, the books I bought just piled up on my shelves, unread.

The more choices we have, the less satisfied we will be with the choice that we do make. This explains why the more books we have on our literal and virtual shelves, the more agonized we become deciding which one to read next.

I’m faced with this problem every time I finish a book, sometimes when I’m not even through with it yet. I get so stressed out trying to decide which book will follow the one I’m currently reading that I don’t enjoy my reading experience as much as I ought to. I tried different approaches, but they didn’t seem to work for me.

Reading books in alphabetical order

I once listed down the titles of unread books in a spreadsheet, then arranged them in alphabetical order. I had planned to read a book that started with the letter A, then with the letter B, and so on. Well, I did read a book that started with A, but I did not feel like reading any of the B titles that I owned, so, like the mature adult that I am,  I decided to hell with this method.


Alternating genres

I wanted to be considered “well read,” and in order to be one, I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone and read across a wide variety of genres. Then I thought, “Okay, I’ll just schedule the genres I will read. This way, I have control over the genres I read and I now have a pretty neat way to decide which book to read next.” It worked for a while, but, alas, there also came a time when I wasn’t feeling the genre I was supposed to read, so this, too, suffered the fate that my first approach had.

Reading based on the placement of books on the bookshelf

When the genre approach failed, I started reading the books on my bookshelf from left to right. It’s a wonderful feeling, reading my way through my shelf, like the very hungry caterpillar, except I’m bingeing on knowledge and stories. It would have worked if I hadn’t arranged my shelf according to genre, as now I’m reading way too much of a single genre, and you know you can have too much of a good thing.

Book lottery

There’s this thing called a book lottery (actually, I don’t know what it’s called; I just made that up) where you write the titles of books in small pieces of paper, fold them up, and put them in a container. You then draw a title and read it (the book, not the title). It’s a great method because all your books have an equal chance of being read, plus it’s fun because you never know which one you’re going to get. It’s perfect … until you draw one, don’t like it, put it back, draw another, don’t care much for it either, and do the same thing over and over for the rest of your life, which is what happened to me. I ended up throwing the title confetti (and my self-respect) in the trash.


Reading what I want to read at the moment

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Ugh, just pick a freakin’ book that you feel like reading right now and be done with it!” Well, you see, I’ve done that too. I stare at my bookshelves trying to see which book appeals to me at the moment. Then, one of two things happen: either everything appeals to me at the moment (and I unfortunately don’t have the superpower to read everything all at once), or nothing does. Sometimes, I do find something. I start reading it, and before long, another book crosses my mind’s eye. I think about how nice it would be to read that book, how I should have picked it instead. Or maybe I should have picked the one next to it. It seems pretty exciting too. I think and think until I don’t understand what I’m reading anymore.

Can you help a fellow reader out? What do you suggest is a good way to decide which book to read next?