You, and I, only have so much time we can devote to reading books. How do we choose wisely? Here’s how I approach this task.
In my work in preparing and presenting synopses of business books, the single hardest task I have is choosing the books I present. I spend large chunks of time looking at the best-sellers list, and reading reviews, and scouring Amazon for new releases and upcoming releases… I work hard on my task of selecting books.
For over 23 years, I have presented synopses of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Two books presented every month; for nearly 24 years. And, these presentations have proved to be valuable and useful to the many who attend, and to companies and organizations who bring me into their organizations for these synopses presentations.
We started out with two of us: Karl Krayer, my co-founder, would present one synopsis, and I would present the second synopsis. For the last few years, after Karl’s illness, I have presented both of the two synopses each month.
From the beginning, we established some guiding principles for choosing our books. We would select:
- business, or business-related, books
- books published by major, established publishers
- thus, no self-published books
- no finance books (partly because that wasn’t our arena).
- books that either were best-sellers, or had a chance of becoming best sellers.
And, of course, we try to choose books that provide valuable insights for business effectiveness and success.
Regarding best-selling books: the list I follow carefully each month is the New York Times list of best-selling business books. It is a monthly list. (I find weekly lists to be too short a time frame; a book can rise quickly for a number of reasons, but then not stay on the list past a week or two. A monthly list better captures a book’s ongoing influence, in my opinion). And over the years, with the exception of the finance books that make the New York Times, list, we have presented most of the best-sellers from that list.
I also know this: sometimes, I choose a book to present just because it has generated a lot of “buzz.” People are talking about the book. Some authors do this (Malcolm Gladwell; Adam Grant). And some books do this. One example that comes to mind is Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.
But, there are always books on the New York Times list that have been on the list for a long time. Some, for a long, long time, like Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Therefore, this list does not provide enough “new” books to lead us to all of our selections.
And, through the years, I developed some of my own thoughts and preferences in choosing books. I want the book to either teach something new, remind us of something important, or be especially useful.
And, here is something we came to understand. Most people, including the people in our audience, have not read, and will not read, most of the books we present. Most people simply do not have time to read 24 books a year. Therefore, I work hard to provide useful, transferable principles in my synopses.
In fact, a few years, ago, I began my practice of including my own lessons and takeaways at the end of each synopsis.
With that background, let me add one other thought that enters into my decision making. Sometimes I find a book that I feel like: I should present this book to my participants, just because it is especially important. This thinking led me to present three books in 2020 on racial issues. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion” is the new phrase to describe this challenge. And I have a bias; I think we need to understand some of our not-so-laudable history about exclusions, especially racism, so the books that I selected and presented were especially important.
In November, I will be presenting a new book, The Power of Pressure: Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution by Dane Jensen. Whatever else we are feeling in this tense, pandemic era, we are feeling pressure. This book may not make it to the top of the best-sellers list, but I have a hunch it is dealing with important real-life concerns. Thus, I have selected it for November.
Maybe this will help you know how I go about choosing books to present.
How do you choose which books to read in your life?
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