The 10 best tools for finding truly great books.
By Brad Beckstrom
Recently Tim Ferriss (Writer and 4 Hour Workweek guru) was interviewing Kevin Kelly Founding Editor, Senior Maverick of Wired Magazine and an expert on all kinds of cool stuff. Kelly has a crazy two letter domain name kk.org where he shares everything from his extensive list of documentary film recommendations, books, photography and all kinds of cool tools he’s come across. The interview was so fascinating that Tim Ferriss extended it to a second podcast and eventually a third. I highly recommend having a listen.
In the interview Kevin Kelly said one thing that really stuck with me. “ read one book (any book) a month and it will change your life”. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but over the years but I’d gotten more reliant on magazines, blog feeds, apps (like feedly and flipboard) and podcasts. Taking the time to find and read really good books had gotten pushed aside. I was doing quite a bit of reading but the problem with books is that it takes some time to find good ones. I’d often start a book and then not finish it. I might even have two or three books I’ve started on my Kindle app at one time, but after the first few chapters they just sort of trail off.
A lot of the books I’ve read, especially nonfiction, business, and finance books start out like gangbusters then end up trailing off and repeat themselves for the second half of the book. The Kindle app lets you download a sample to your device, but I found the samples are rarely enough to really get a good feel for the quality of the book as they wrap up pretty quickly.
Here’s a quick tip, if a book doesn’t hold your attention at least to the middle chapters dump it. You wouldn’t go around telling people you’re in the middle of a bad book. If you’re going to commit the time to finishing a book a month it should really be one that you enjoy, that you can’t wait to get back to. There are a lot of bad books out there but there are still many many good ones you just need some cool tools to find them.
Let’s start with the free option, your local library. I’ve been using the Overdrive app to access millions of free books from my local library. It works on lots of different devices and can even sync across computers phones and tablets. One of the coolest features is free audiobooks. This is great if you like to listen while you walk or drive. The only drawback I found is that there’s often a short waiting list for popular books. Once you get the app set up you can simply put up to 10 books on your waiting list and the library will email you when they’re ready to download. The app syncs with your library card and automatically returns books when they expire, you can always check them out again. Even with the app I still try to get to our local library about once a month. This works well because I usually need to return a book so I just put it on the calendar.
The Amazon ecosystem
Amazon sells everything now, but books are what they do best. Once you start using Amazon their recommendation engine is really good. So when you find a book that you really like you can simply go to Amazon.com and see what customers that purchased that book also bought. This is a good place to start as you can pick a similar book look at reviews and send a sample to your device, or use the Overdrive app to see if it’s available for free. You don’t need an expensive tablet or smartphone to read on the go. Amazon offers a Kindle Fire starting at $49. The library Overdrive app also will work on the Kindle Fire. Amazon prime members get a free early release book each month and can borrow free books from the Amazon lending library .
Amazon is also linked to some free book recommendation services that include Goodreads.com, The Book Seer and Shelfari I’ve tried each of these services and I like Goodreads as it connects you with similar readers and friends via Facebook.
If you’re like most you don’t have a ton of of free time to sit by a fire and read a book. Audiobooks on your mobile phone are an awesome way to make an hour-long walk seem like 20 minutes. The advantage of an Audible membership is that they have the latest titles and a great recommendation engine also run by Amazon. I signed up for a free trial and have continued to use the service. You get one book per month, and you can return books that you don’t like. I’ve been using it for about a year and a half and only returned two books. When you return a book they credit your account so you can replace it.
Find a local independent bookstore
We used to have a good local bookstore nearby as well as a Border’s, both are closed now. This is probably the biggest reason I’ve been using Amazon, Audible and the library. I used to go into Borders and buy stuff I didn’t need like magazines and overpriced coffee. If you still have a local bookstore even a used bookshop, try to support them, they may not be around for long.
Cool websites and podcasts
If you really find yourself getting into books, I recommend checking out the website brainpickings.org great classics, fiction and nonfiction reviews from Maria Popova who is awsome. Also on the brainpickings site you’ll see lots of references to worldcat.org this is an excellent tool for finding any book at libraries in your ZIP Code.
Here are three great podcasts that interview authors weekly. I found some of the best books I’ve read through listening to podcasts because the authors go deep on the books during the interview and you get a good feel for whether you like the author after the first 10 minutes. Here are three of the best.
For creative books and self Improvement The Unmistakable Creative
For business books, fiction, gurus, investing and self Improvement The Tim Ferriss Show
For everything else including some crazy ass shit James Altucher Show
For comedy, film and even more crazy ass shit WTF with Marc Maron
Why take the time
There’s a ton of good television and Netflix binge watching opportunities out there but too much of it will fry your brain. What do you think is better for you, vegging out and letting the cable wash over you or going out for a one-hour walk with a kick ass audiobook? The other thing I noticed is that when kids see their parents reading they’re more likely to do the same. If you can’t take the time because you don’t have the time try putting yourself on a low information diet and replace worthless news and talk radio with some quality brain food.
Check out what I’ve been reading here