Let’s call not knowing what to read reader’s block. All through elementary, secondary, and post-secondary school, I never experienced reader’s block. A majority of the time, 8-months, 10-months, or even all year long, someone else decided what to read for me. Some of my most memorable reads were E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (grade 3 or 4), S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (grade 7), and Jackson’s “The Lottery” (grade 10). Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice and LaFerrière’s provocative How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired were my favourite university-required reads.
Now, I experience reader’s block all the time. More frequently than writer’s block. Gone are the days of assigned readings, reading lists in syllabi, and literature reviews. Part of me misses them. It was easier to find a gem when someone else was looking for me. Even my all-time favourite book, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was a school-based find. It appeared on a list of reading options for our final essays in grade 12.
There’s power in making decisions for ourselves, but there’s magic in discovering something in the curated collections of others. Seeing what someone else sees in a piece, or finding your treasure in another’s old favourite, can revolutionize your old readings ways.
I get asked how I pick what to read next all of the time, and the honest answer is I don’t. Most of the time, I read what I read based on the recommendations of others. I read shortlists and award-winners. I pick and choose from critics' curated lists of the best of the best. I listen to podcasts that share backlisted hidden gems. And yes, I’ve taken online courses with reading lists when I’m stuck for inspiration and desperate to learn something new in a structured manner.
Here are some ways to have others pick your books:
Shortlists, Longlists and Award-Winners
Every year, lists of reading recommendations become widely available, from the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature and Pulitzer Prize to lesser-known…