Saturday, March 2, 2024

When There Are Too Many Books and Too Little Time, Optimize Your Reading

Scott D. Parker

It started with The Six Million Dollar Man.

A few weeks ago, I learned that the debut of one of my favorite childhood TV shows occurred fifty years ago. With that in mind, I thought about going back and rewatching the series, this time with adult eyes, and see how it holds up. When I got to the Peacock, I realized there were 99 episodes. 

I don’t have time for that, so I went to Google and conducted a search of the Top 10 episodes of the show. Thankfully, the Bigfoot episodes are in there as well as a few crossovers with The Bionic Woman (weren’t those epic episodes!). Now, armed with my manageable list, I have a few episodes to rewatch and then decide whether or not I want to keep watching other episodes.


I’m deep into the second (of two) seasons of the Reacher TV, but I’m one of those viewers who has never read any of the books by Lee Child. Since I’m really enjoying the series, I thought I might look into reading some of the Reacher books. As soon as I got to my Libby app, I noticed two things. There are more than thirty books and short stories from which to choose. And they’re nearly all checked out.

Still, with thirty stories, I don’t have time for all of them—and still read all the other things I want to read. But before I headed off to the internet, I had a chance encounter in the office breakroom.

There’s a particular co-worker with whom I chat Star Wars stuff, but I asked him about the Reacher TV show. He said he has already watched both seasons…and he’s read a number of the books. I saw my chance. I asked him if he could give me his Top 5 books. Charged with such a monumental task, he said he’d ponder the question and get back with me. 

Agatha Christie

As these two things permeated through my head, I realized I was already doing something like it with Agatha Christie. Each year, the folks at create a list of twelve books to read, one per month. For an author with such an extensive bibliography, something like this is good for the Christie newbie.

Ditto for James Patterson. And Stephen King. And Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. And Clive Cussler. And Erle Stanley Gardner. And James Rollins. And Mary Higgins Clark. And you name the author. 

So what do you do when you discover an author (or TV show or comic book) that has a decent number of books/episodes/issues and you want to start?

Years ago in a grocery store, I saw the cover of The Race by Clive Cussler. It instantly intrigued me so I found out the series name—Isaac Bell—and ended up starting on Book 1. It took a few months to finally get to book that captured my attention, but there weren’t many total books in that series.

I stopped doing that ever since. If there’s a book that catches my eye, I’ll just read that book. It doesn’t matter if it’s book 23 or not.

Optimized Reading

But when I’m coming in cold to something like Lee Child—with covers that barely have any imagery—I head to the internet and do some research. I call it optimized reading. If I like something, I’ll keep reading. If not, then the opinions of veteran readers can let me know pretty quickly if I’m going to like a particular author.

Because let’s face it: the number of books we want to read does not equal the time available to read. So why not optimize the selection process?

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