Blogging has been a bit light in the last couple of weeks, due to a combination of two weekends away in a row (normally I write a week or two’s worth of entries at the weekend) and the fact that due to award submissions I can’t actually write about some of the books I have been reading. So I thought I would do a soft relaunch by telling you about how I decide which books to read next.
I have developed a Reading Order to guide me up the slopes of Mount Tsundoku. I have two aims here: first, to get through as many unread books as possible, especially those that have been on my shelves for a while; second, to make sure that in that process I don’t end up spending too much time on books by white men (which are inevitably the majority).
I catalogue all of my books on LibraryThing, a superb resource. At the time of writing I have 8095 books catalogued there, of which 382 are currently tagged as unread. I have classified the unread books into a number of lists, as follows (the original neat alphabetical order has been overtaken by events):
- a) unread non-fiction books, in order of entry into my catalogue
- c) unread non-fiction books, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- d) unread non-sff fiction books, in order of entry into my catalogue
- e) unread non-sff fiction books, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- f) unread sf books, in order of entry into my catalogue
- h) unread sf books, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- p) unread comics in languages other than English, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- q) unread comics in English, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- s) unread books by writers of colour, roughly in order of popularity on LibraryThing
- u♀) unread books by writers who are not men
- y) unread books acquired in the year I am currently finishing up (2015 at present), in ascending order of page length
- b15) unread books acquired in 2015, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b16) unread books acquired in 2016, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b17) unread books acquired in 2017, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b18) unread books acquired in 2018, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b19) unread books acquired in 2019, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b20) unread books acquired in 2020, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b21) unread books acquired in 2021, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- b22) unread books acquired in 2022, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- hn) joint winners of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, in chronological order
- k) winners of the Clarke, BSFA Best Novel and Tiptoe/Otherwise awards, in chronological order
- wells) books on my shelves by H.G. Wells that I have not yet written up online, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- pterry) books on my shelves by Terry Pratchett that I have not yet written up online, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
- v) books on my shelves that I have in fact read but have not written up online, and are not by Terry Pratchett, in descending order of popularity on LibraryThing
At the start of the calendar year, I take the top book on each list and arrange them in a Reading Order by length, shortest first. I then bump up any book not by a white man up the Reading Order by six places. (Or to the top of the list if already in the top six.) And that’s my initial Reading Order for the year. Sometimes the same book appears at the top of more than one list, and that’s fine.
As I start each book, I recheck the list it was on to take account of newly acquired books; when I finish each book, the next book on that list goes either to the end of the Reading Order, if by a white man, or seventh from the end, if not by a white man. If the book I have just finished was at the top of more than one list, the next books in each list are arranged by increasing LibraryThing popularity on the Reading Order (so that I get to the more obscure ones first).
I read three books at a time, usually the three which were top of the Reading Order. I make exceptions – if I am already reading two sf books, I may slide down the Reading Order to take the next non-sf book; if I am starting two or three new books at the same time, I’ll start with the shortest of the top two or three on the Reading Order.
I’ve been publishing the current Reading Order in my end-of-month book roundups since January 2010. I have varied the system over the years. Back when Livejournal was a thing and Mount Tsundoku was much lower, I did annual polls to help me decide which books to read the following year. I’m getting through four years’ worth of Tiptree / BSFA / Clarke winners every year, and am now at 2008, so I will finish the k) list in 2026 at that rate. The H.G. Wells and Terry Pratchett lists are new, basically to stop them dominating the b19) and v) lists respectively.
There are special measures for the year that currently has the earliest unread books – at present 2015. I’m about to change the system here. From now on, one of the three regular reading slots will be reserved for the next book on the Reading Order which was acquired in 2015, ie from lists a), d), f), b15) and y). If the top book on lists a), d) or f) was acquired later than 2015, it will be put on hold until I finish the 2015 books. (This is currently the case for lists d) and f), the two fiction categories.) When I do finish the 2015 books I’ll do the same for those acquired in 2016, and so hope to gradually work my way up the Tsundoku slopes.
There are also special measures for Doctor Who books. Each month, the first open slot among my three regular books will be filled by reading the next unread Doctor Who graphic novel from my (large) stash of digital comics, in series canonical order. Then I will read the top unread Doctor Who prose book, whether fiction or non-fiction, from my shelves. Then I will read the next in the Lethbridge-Stewart sequence. Then I will read the next two Black Archive books, and the novelisation of the relevant stories if they exist.
And finally, I also have a “speed read” option where I alternate 50 pages of the three Reading Order books with 50 pages of a book that I want to finish fast. I am currently implementing this for award submissions, but in the first half of the year I tend to use it a lot for Christmas presents, BSFA shortlisted works and Hugo finalists. I also implement it for books that were the basis for Oscar-, Hugo- and Nebula-winning films as I watch them. They tend to be short. (Not always.)
And of course fairly often I just pick up a book off the shelf at random, and read it. Damn the torpedoes!