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How to Overcome "What to Read" Overwhelm

Karen lives in Jackson, MS with her husband and son, and works as an accountant. She enjoys writing, reading, and D&D role playing game.


You Walk into a Bookstore, and Then What?

Do you ever get that feeling of being overwhelmed when you walk into a bookstore? Maybe you start with the best sellers, but you've been burned a few times on those. Not everyone likes the same thing, and just because one book does better than another does not necessarily mean you will like it more. Being acutely aware of that, you mosey on to the section on your favorite genre. But still, then what? These books are probably listed alphabetically, which also is no help.

You might choose a book in a series that you've started and liked okay, just because you know you'll like it, but something in the back of your neck is telling you you are settling. You know there is a really juicy page-turner in all this; there's something unique you have never read, but how do you find it?

I have a few suggestions and hope, by posting this article, that others will comment with their own ideas too!

Ways to Find Your Next Great Read

More ideas? Please comment below!

Make a list

Read reviews

Set rules

BOTM or other club

Subscribe to blog(s)

Know what you like

Know what you don't like

Share what you read

Set a small goal

Set aside reading time

Don't limit yourself

Start with your favorites

Make a List

I know this article is supposed to be about finding books to read, so how can you make a list if you don't know what to put on it?

Well, you have to start somewhere! And, if you have a list in hand next time you go to the bookstore, maybe you won't feel so overwhelmed!

What to put on the list?

Start with a sort of "pre-list" to get you going. Books you've read that you have loved. Date read, author, genre, etc. Goodreads is a great place to keep up with this, but you can do it on paper or a cute bullet journal, or a spreadsheet, or record yourself. This is your list!

Now that you have your pre-list, find something else, maybe something newer, by the author of one of those books. Then find something in the same genre as one of those books by a different author with good reviews. Hopefully, you now have one or two new book ideas to check out on your to be read list.

Know Your Own Rules!


What Are Your Rules for Reading?

Is there a particular genre that you really don't like that you know you will never read? Or maybe more than one? (For me, it's romance. It's not that I don't like them, but I want to discover more exciting stuff out there!)

So rule one is to rule it out quickly if it's not your thing. You know if it is or isn't. No matter whether it's on the New York Times bestseller list for a hundred weeks, it is still not your thing, so no. There are too many great books out there that you will love! Don't waste time on what you know you won't.

Rule of Thumb: I like to do a thumb test. That's where I thumb to some random page toward the middle of a book and read a couple of lines. If I like the language, the book gets a plus. If I don't, it is not necessarily disqualifying, but moves me toward "meh."

You might notice a theme here. I'm ruling out books right and left. That is true! We're doing a great big whittle down right out of the gate. This makes it much easier!

Other rules for me: I don't like to read series books. Actually, that is what I used to always read because they were safe. But now, I might read the first in a series, but very rarely the next, even if I liked it a lot!

But this is not about my rules; it's about yours. Figure out your own and stick to them, at least for a while until you get the hang of your list.

One more rule of mine: I keep my to-be-read list under 50 books. If it has been on the list for more than a year or so, I will remove it. I want to always think I can read all the books on my list before I die.

Join a Book Group, Club, or Mailing List


I am naturally kind of shy, so don't do so well in groups, but I have been able to find some groups online (mostly via Goodreads but also on Facebook and Twitter) where we talk about books we love.

Traditional book clubs also don't work for me because it always seems someone is hogging the conversation—and often they have not even read the book! Maybe it is also my shyness. Anyway, that may be an avenue for you, though!

I am also a subscriber to a few email lists that send out suggestions and let me know when something new and exciting is coming. I delete most of them, but now and then I find a gem in these lists. A few of my favorites: Book Riot (mostly about young adult books but not always), NPR Books, NY Times book review podcast. But you need to find the ones that resonate with your taste and reading style.

Lastly, I am also a member of Book of the Month—I don't always buy the monthly selections, but it is nice sometimes when I am running out of good books to read, especially during my busy season when I do not have time to shop at all. I also like that they really try to tailor to your tastes. They get to know your likes and recommend accordingly. I have rarely been disappointed in their recommendations.

New York Times Book Review

The Last Few Tips

I think I touched on most of my list, but here are a few stragglers:

  • Set aside reading time. I am not just talking about books here either. Know when you'll read your books, yes, but also when you can read about what to read next. One must do the homework to get the job done. I don't think of it as a chore, though. It is fun to "discover" that next book!
  • Don't limit yourself. I know I said the opposite of that earlier, but this time I mean don't be afraid to expand your horizons. Have you tried reading the classics? I find that term too broad, myself, but I have found a gem or two digging through the "classics." Also maybe something that is not brand new—an older bestseller from the '90s or '80s, even '70s. That's what I mean by "don't limit yourself."
  • Set small goals. Again, Goodreads is great for this with their annual reading challenges. But as long as it is part of your daily life, you will be more likely to keep it in the front of your mind and be alert to finding that next great book.

My Reading Challenge