Are best-sellers bad for you?
May 17, 2014 | 10:52 am
By Joanna Cabot
From Indie Reader came the link to this story from Shane Parrish, who decides to make reading a priority, so that he can acquire knowledge. 161 books later, he concludes that if you want to get smarter, you should avoid best-sellers. From the article:
“If you read the best-sellers, by definition, you’re reading what everyone else reads. And if you read what everyone else reads, odds are you’re going to start to think like everyone else. If you think like everyone else, you’re not going to think differently and creatively, stifling your ability to stand out and excel.”
I get that argument, and I think Parrish makes a good point that people will learn more if they read widely in a certain subject area, and pick books which have stood the test of time. But what Parrish does not tell you is how to find such books. He points out, correctly, that people gravitate toward best-seller lists because they aren’t sure what else they should be reading. But he gives no suggestions for how to solve that problem. If you want to read better stuff, but you don’t know where to start—well, where SHOULD you start? Where, if not the best-seller lists?
I suppose this is a function that real, live librarians used to fulfill. I remember once doing a research project for a course I was taking, where a certain study was referenced repeatedly in the literature I found as being pioneering in the area. It was published in 1972 and so was not available through any of the online databases I could access. I went to the local reference library to try and track it down, and I think the helpful librarian who came to my aid enjoyed himself immensely. I wasn’t inconveniencing him, as I had feared. I was giving him a meaty problem to solve. He did track down the original study for me, and it really was a great read.
So, where do we go for that now, with the shuttering of bookstores and the closure of libraries and information centres? Crowd-sourcing it all to the internet is imperfect because Amazon or Goodreads lists are too easily manipulated. And any review site or best-of listing will of course have its biases.
So, if you want to read smarter, if you want to read beyond the best-seller lists, where can you go in search of your next read?