When I first started seriously reading, maybe around 16 or 17, I had a hard time figuring out what I should read—what entertained me, what stimulated my intellectual curiosities, and what would grab me emotionally. My grandmother, who was a librarian and English teacher, helped steer me in the right direction until she passed, and so I needed further direction.
College helped. I asked professors for suggestions. I took what I liked, did internet searches, and explored the labyrinth of interconnected ideas. I went to grad school, began to write, and suggestions grew from other writers and professors: I had more suggestions than I could read.
Now, at 31-years-old, somewhat detached from the intellectual and academic community that I was a part of for so long, I’m forced to explore other avenues. Here are some ways that I discover books that challenge me, make me grow, help me think outside the box as a writer, and stay up-to-date on the literary community:
1.) Scour the internet for blogs from thinkers, innovators, and writers who share what they’re reading. One of my new favorites is Bill Gates’s blog, where he has a special section on books. Look – if Bill Gates is reading it and suggesting it, I should at least read a review and consider checking it out.
2.) Review lists of recent prize winners and finalists: Pulitzer, Man Booker Prize, National Book Awards, etc. If it won or was considered, then it’s a good list to explore and see what really sparks my interest. This is also a great way to stay current with what’s out there, even if I’m not able to read all of them.
3.) Go to independent bookstores. I do this for a ton of reasons. I like to support shops that are, somehow, keeping the doors open to a local community and younger generation while the large booksellers dominate the industry. Independent bookstores also tend to cater to those who read beyond the commercial and bestseller lists. For example, I was in Bay Books in Coronado, in San Diego, this past weekend. They have so many quality books, with tables full of interesting, prolific thinkers and storytellers. I walked out with Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, a #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir that I’d yet to hear about, where Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, writes about life while dying of cancer.
4.) Literary magazines (of course!): I do my best to read a few literary magazines consistently. And each year, I pick up a copy of The Best American Essays (I’m primarily a nonfiction writer myself, but there’s a collection for fiction and poetry, too, and a number of other subgenre collections). When I find a work that I connect with, I look at the author’s bio and see what else the contributor has written. Often, this leads me to a book.
5.) Keep going to school: I find that after being out of grad school for a couple of years, I’m back to craving more of a formal learning environment. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt I’ll ever go back for another degree, but I still like some structure thrown at me when looking to learn about something I don’t know much about. Coursea is one of the tools that I use to do this. I can learn about Modern Terrorism, or Dinosaur Paleobiology, Understanding The Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life, or Financial Accounting. The best part is that it’s free, or I can get an official certification if I pay a reasonable fee. These courses are taught by global experts and ivy league professors. The course syllabus usually contains outside readings and suggests additional readings (and I don’t have to take the course to access it). Coursea has an app so materials can be accessed on the go. I strongly suggest checking it out. (I promise – I’m not getting paid to give them a plug; I just love what they offer and think that this could be how the next generation goes to school without being weighed down with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.)
There are tons of ways to continue finding interesting material—classics, contemporary, innovative. These are just some of the methods that I use, especially when I’ve gotten away from reading as much as I’d like and need to reinject my life with creative and thought.
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