Do you get overwhelmed when you finish reading one book, and you need to decide what book to pick up next? After all, there are so many books to choose from, with millions more getting published every year.
Should you pick a classic or a current bestseller? Should you read fiction or nonfiction? Or should you just go through your Goodreads “to-read” list, starting with the book that has been there longest?
If you think about it, though, the question is not so much, “What should I read?” The “what” is easy enough to figure out. Book recommendations are everywhere: friends, Goodreads, reviews, prizes, etc.
Instead, you might want to consider a more crucial element when picking your next book, especially if you’d like to read more: the why.
Be clear about the why
In all honesty, the why takes more work than the what because it is no longer a matter of simply picking up a book. It involves considering the reasons behind the book you choose … and that is not always easy.
At first, it might feel strange to ask yourself, “Why do I want to read this book?” but I believe that it is an essential question. Being clear about the why can help you chose the right book at the right time.
When contemplating the “why” of reading, here are a few overall reasons to read:
- Reading relieves stress.
- Reading stimulates the mind (people who read regularly are 2.5x less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease).
- Reading improves your English (through exposure to vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and more).
- Reading is a powerful way to learn.
- Reading stretches the imagination.
- Reading can be entertaining.
- Reading improves critical thinking.
- (If you are an avid reader, you can probably think of more reasons on your own.)
But reasons to read do not necessarily answer the why of what book you should read next. Doing so requires mindfulness.
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Jan Chozen Bays, MD, is a Zen teacher and author. In Mindful Eating, she shares practices that help us listen to our bodies for a healthier, more joyful relationship with food.
A major concept in the book is the idea of the “Seven Kinds of Hunger.” Bays explains that we eat for a variety of different reasons and that they are connected to different types of hunger: eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger, and heart hunger. Understanding why we want to eat is necessary if we hope to break away from automatic responses.
I believe that a similar practice can be used for reading. After all, isn’t reading a type of nourishment—for the mind and the soul?
So, going a bit deeper in the search for the why, you could ask yourself:
- How do I feel, and what do I need to read right now?
- Do I need to read to feed my spirit?
- Do I need to read to feed my soul?
- Do I need to read to feed my curiosity?
- Do I need to read to feed my hunger for knowledge?
- Do I need to read to be entertained?
- (Again, you can likely think of plenty of other reasons you need to read at the moment.)
If the book you choose fulfills that need you have identified, you’ll get a lot more out of it. Not only will you be more engaged in the book, but it will also work to satisfy that hunger—whether for knowledge or distraction or simply a bit of excitement.
You are home, feeling anxious, and the Elizabethan romance you’re currently reading is not very uplifting. Choosing mindfulness, you pause and wonder if this is the right book to read now. You realize that you probably need to read for comfort. You walk to your bookshelf, grab The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, and fix yourself a cup of tea while you’re at it.
Qualifiers when choosing the right book
You could go a bit further and apply a qualifier to help you pick the right book at the right time. Four primary qualifiers to consider are impact, time, variety, and availability.
- Impact: If you need to learn about a topic, which book will be the most effective? Or more broadly, what topic would bring you closer to your goal(s)?
- Time: Consider the time that you have to read your next book and choose the optimum length. Finishing a couple of books quickly is an excellent way to generate some momentum. Note: Goodreads will let you sort your to-read list by the number of pages.
- Variety: Break out of the usual and switch to something completely different. Go from essays to poetry, biographies to science fiction, etc.
- Availability: Can’t wait until Monday to hit your local bookstore? A book in the hand is worth two in your cart. Pick up something that you already own, or reread a favorite.
Ready for your next book?
Whether you want to get the most out of the next nonfiction book you read or really want to enjoy your next dose of speculative fiction, pause and ask yourself these simple “why” questions mentioned above.
Mindfulness’ benefits go beyond meditation. It can make a difference not only in the books you choose, but the positive impact those books can have in your life.