How to find books that are actually worth reading

I’m a self-confessed bookworm. But I also confess to struggling to make time for reading. I may get a few free minutes or so a day, but rarely enough to actually settle down to read a book. So when I do manage to make time, I want to make sure what I read is worth it.

I like to read at night. On the bed, the book propped up on my tummy. I like to read until my eyes are so weary they start to close on their own. I like to be invested in what I’m reading, so intensely focused that I forget everything else.

This means:

  1. I need a conducive reading environment.
  2. What I read has to engage me wholly.

I’ve got the first one covered. Its why I read at night; for the peace. I lock my doors and don’t look at my phone until the next morning.

I still struggle with finding an engaging book though.

That’s why when I started to track what I read, I  also started to track what I should read.

Note I said should.

I no longer have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. It’s been replaced by the  “Potential” list.

I pre-assess any book that catches my interest. Read thorough reviews especially the critical ones. I regularly weed out the books I no longer have interest in, and re-prioritize the list according to what I should read next.

But most importantly, even before I start on all that…

The books are already pre-curated by someone else even before they make it to my list. 

And its those someone else-s that I will talk about today. This is how to find a book that you will actually read.

 

Continue reading “How to find books that are actually worth reading”

How to track what you’re reading (and what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read)

I love books.

In my family, good grades meant book money. For every subject you score a 90 or above, you get a pocketbook. As a kid this was how I fed my Sweet Valley High addiction.

At the time I was an only child and we lived in a bad neighborhood. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house aside from school, so I never got into sports. My only pastime, pre- computers, was books.

My friends were mostly fiction; characters from whatever fantasy series I was into at the time.

One day, I made actual living human friends. And some of them loved books as well.

So we talked about books. Recommended books. Traded books with one another.

And then I learned to save money so I can buy my own books.

Over the years, this meant a lot of books. Books I read. Books I lent. Books I borrowed. Books I meant to read. And so on.

It was getting out of hand.

Then in 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) rolled into the Philippines. A flood rushed into our single-storey home. Our books were some of the first to go.

It was the universe’s way of telling us we needed a booktervention.

So of the books we managed to salvage, we sold. Of the books we couldn’t sell, we donated.

These days we still read a lot. But we’ve become a lot pickier about which books end up in our home.

As part of the pickiness effort, in 2012 I got the idea to track what I read. I wrote everything on a single list, making notes along the way if something was worth recommending.

In 2015, I decided to go visual and moved everything to Trello.

What is Trello?

Trello is one of those things that are easier to show than to explain, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine a cork board. Those boards where you tack a piece of paper to make an announcement, or a photo to remember a special event in your life.

Next, imagine a Kanban board. Those boards that have three columns: “To-Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. They’re used for task management where everything starts in the To-Do queue and make their way to Done.

Trello is the two’s lovechild.

What is Trello for?

Trello is a tool meant to organize projects visually.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

“What is Trello?” by Trello Help

It’s popularly used as a project/task management tool similar to JIRA (on that note: Atlassian acquires Trello).

What does this have to do with books?

Everything.

I track what I read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read all via Trello.

library
My virtual library over at Trello.

Similar to a Kanban board, I have three primary columns:

  • Next (To-Do)
  • Now Reading (In Progress)
  • Done!

But I don’t track tasks. I track books instead. I track what status I am in reading them.

Over time I’ve added other columns as well.

  • Potential – Books I’m interested in but don’t have a copy of. These books are either recommendations or stuff I see in bookstores that caught my eye.
  • On Hold – Books I’ve lent, or dropped temporarily for one reason or another.
  • Dropped – Books I’ve dropped not-so-temporarily.

So, it just tracks what you’re reading? That’s it?

Yes… and no.

Trello has a lot of nifty features, and its those features that allow me to do so much more than just track. For example:

Comments

I can comment my thoughts on a book, post somebody else’s review (like Amazon’s or Goodread’s), or put a note to self if I borrowed it from/lent it to someone else.

Since I set the board to public, others can comment on the cards as well so if you want to feedback on any of the books go ahead.

Labels

I’ve labeled the books by genre and which ones I recommend.

Since Trello can filter by label, its easy for me to look for say, “books about fantasy” or even “books about fantasy that I highly recommend”.

It also gives me an idea of what kind of books I gravitate to. Trend says I read mostly nonfiction nowadays.

What does this have to do with the Ondoy story?

My family lost our library that day. We don’t intend to rebuild.

Instead, we’ve become more conscientious book-buyers. We try to borrow a copy or grab an e-book as much as possible. If we really have no choice but to go buy a physical book, its with the accepted risk that someday we’ll re-sell or donate it.

So the Trello board is the closest thing I have to a personal library. A virtual library. One that, at a glance, shows me everything I read. Whether its something borrowed, downloaded, or bought.

Trello has been really effective in tracking and organizing my books, so I would recommend this tool and method to anyone.

In the next post I’ll write about how I find what books I want to read next. That “Potential” list doesn’t populate itself after all.

Infographic: How the World Reads

Did you know that people in India read the most, at an average of 10.4 hours a week? Or that reading can enhance your memory and lessen your chances of getting Alzheimer’s?

When I worked from Australia last year, my colleagues were surprised to find out how much time I spent reading. And how often I would visit the bookstores. And how much money I was spending on books. Why wasn’t I doing sports instead? they asked.

Of all the things to get culture shock from, I was definitely not expecting books. My reading habit is considered the norm in the Philippines. I know many people who spend more hours reading on the average than I do.

Turns out, how often you read is all relative. The infographic below by FeelGoodContacts shows that the Philippines comes in fourth in hours spent reading (whereas Australia doesn’t even appear in the list). For more interesting facts about reading, check out the infographic below… then raise your own country’s average by reading!

How the World ReadsPlease include attribution to https://www.feelgoodcontacts.com with this graphic.

On the bookshelves this second week of November

Once a week I make a trip to the local bookstore.

I never go there to buy anything. Sometimes I leave my wallet behind, so I can avoid making an impulse buy. I just browse, browse, and browse the aisles.

Sometimes I talk to the sales staff, and ask if they’re carrying a new book I’ve heard about. Or if they have the so-and-so book of an author or series they’re already carrying. Or to ask why they decided to change their display this month.

It hurts a bit to read about Neil Gaiman’s librarians as I don’t have those. I don’t have any book gurus to recommend me books and encourage my reading. The bookstore sales staff are probably the closest I can get. Public libraries are hard to come by where I live, and even the few ones that exist are in a pretty dismal state.

But I’m happy with what I have. The bookstore to me is what the library must have been to the young Neil: A solace. A happy place. I never schedule my trips there, and yet I always end up going mid-week, either on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Always right when I feel like the corporate world is going to gobble me up then spit me out. It’s my hump day reward.

It must be what retail therapy is like, except I don’t have to spend for anything.

When I was making my rounds last week, I thought it’d be interesting to share the books that caught my eye. If others manage to discover a great book through my book haunts then I’d be so happy to be of service! The books below are my finds, along with what it was about them that sparked my interest:

Continue reading “On the bookshelves this second week of November”