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Why Do We Spend So Long Deciding What To Read Instead Of Just Picking Something Up?

A photograph of a tower of books, viewed from the top down

I’m in a reading slump at the moment, mostly because I’m overwhelmed by choice (high expectations rather than numbers in this case). It seemed the perfect time to ask why we don’t just get on with reading. It’s a deceptively simple question, I think, because it’s very first-world-problem whilst also pointing to something important – wasting time. We waste time choosing in general, not just reading time but spending time looking at our books – the problem is we look at them over and over again.

Why do we do this? We do it because we want a good book. We want this every time and so we try to work out which books wouldn’t be so good – a hard thing to do when we haven’t read them because the blurb can only say so much. Thinking on this begs the question: what are we doing trying to choose the right book in this context? If we need to choose then surely that means we’ve some bad books in the bunch and we’re due a culling session rather than a ponder. I do think that’s likely sometimes but it’s a bit utopian because if we culled for that reason alone we’d still be stuck; this time it would be choosing between extremely high-rated books that would quite possibly be similar in subject.

The thing is we’re planning, or at least hoping, to read all the choices at some point, what does choosing matter?

But we like to match books to moods. Of course we can ask how we know if it’ll fit but a better question is if it’s a book we think we’d like anyway is perfect timing really that important? All those times we say we read a book at the right time, might we have disliked it otherwise? In the case of mood probably not, unless it was in some way triggering at a certain moment, so why think so much? The case for reading a book at the ‘right’ time is surely that we might find more meaning in it, more value, and that is important, but we can get too invested in this idea when it’s a rare occurrence compared to the general good reading experience. It’d be pretty difficult to find the ‘right’ book every time.

I dislike wasting time choosing but thinking about that in itself holds me back. It makes it easier to fall into a slump as opposed to being strict with myself and just picking something. This is where more variety works in my favour, even a variety that includes very average, even bad, reads.

I’d like to think this procrastination, which is a good word for it because there’s an element of worry involved, can be worked out, but would it result in less joy? I’m not sure we should worry about every day items bringing us joy as Marie Kondo suggests because throwing out dirty laundry and ugly heirlooms would be a setback, but we should be concerned that our reading brings us joy. Reading becomes a chore when you’ve a list you want to deviate from but can’t.

Do you spend time deciding what to read?


Literary Feline

February 10, 2016, 10:57 pm

I feel like I waste far too much time trying to settle on the next book to read. Ultimately, I think it’s having too many choices. And then, from there, all the reasons you list.

I honestly do not think it would cause me less joy to not have to struggle with the decision. Especially when it takes me entire lunch break, when I could have been happily reading.

I actually like it better when I am more prepared and have a book in mind when I finish the one I’m currently reading. I don’t necessarily have to start the book right away, but at least I can be content in knowing it’s one less problem to solve, however minor.


February 11, 2016, 9:13 pm

Ohmigosh, I waste time all the time trying to choose a book! Well, actually, not all the time – any time I have to choose from my own shelves, it takes me a while to choose. Mostly because by this point, the majority of the books left unread on my shelves have been left there, unread, for a reason :-)

That said, I do believe in the right book at the right time. For example, some books are just more densely written or on heavier topics than others. Those, I definitely think I would enjoy more if I were in a certain mindset than if I were just looking for something to read between library holds.

Hillary Roberts

February 14, 2016, 12:17 pm

I am always thinking of the next book to read. I agree with you that it is good to have verity in the books that we read.


February 15, 2016, 1:31 pm

“I dislike wasting time choosing but thinking about that in itself holds me back.”

I feel the same! I actually had this moment last night, I just couldn’t decide so I ended up not reading at all. My problem at the moment is that I’m craving an amazing book and i’m just not encountering one.


February 26, 2016, 3:35 pm

Literary Feline: Definitely, we’re spoiled for choice and it’s even worse now with the plethora of free ebooks. That’s a good point – if you’re enjoying the thinking then that’s okay. And there is that factor of looking over your shelves, physical, digital or just running through a mental list, and getting a pleasure of sorts from it. It’s minor but in our world of blogging perhaps bigger than for most people ;)

Aarti: Yes indeed. And we always know the reason because it tends to be one of few! True, there’s an attention factor in there.

Hillary: That’s a good idea, being on the ball and being early.

Alice: Oh yes, that situation is frustrating!

Allison @ The Book Wheel

February 28, 2016, 7:34 am

I used to spend at least an hour trying to figure out what to read next. Then I cleared my Goodreads TBR and started reading Kindle singles between longer books and I’m much happier!



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