How I use Goodreads to pick what I read

So far this year, I have read 35 books. I'm trying something new for 2015 so I thought I'd write up the outline in case someone else finds it useful. As I wrote at the end of last year, I'll be reading 150 books over the course of 2015. That's fifty books more than I read in 2014. The point of it is to expose myself to lots of different ideas, different styles, different perspectives. I've found that 150 probably isn't an impossible amount to be reading (less than three a week) and I really relish brushing up against interesting authors and ideas.

I've used Goodreads as a way of tracking what I read for a long time now. I'm lucky enough to have an interesting group of 'friends' who also use it (more or less regularly) so there's usually a decent amount of new or niche books that I discover that way. I also use it as a way of noting down the books I want to read in the future. (Incidentally, I've never really had a problem in finding something new to read. The list of books I want to read will always be larger than the time I have to read them. That's just life.)

Goodreads offers a 'list' function whereby you can not only state that you 'want to read' a book, but where you can categorise things to your heart's content. Each year I set up a list ("2015toread" and so on) so I can see which books I think I'm more motivated to read that year. I'll usually take 5 or 10 minutes each weak checking over the list to make sure the things I added to the list are actually things I still want to read (versus things I added in the heat of a moment, after reading a particularly persuasive review, for example, but which I probably don't need to spend my time on).

Previously, I was generally following my gut with what I wanted to read next. Unfortunately, this often meant I went with the easiest option, or the path of least resistance. Long books (weighty histories, or more abstruse theoretical texts) would be passed up for the latest *it* novel or someone's entirely forgettable memoir about their time in Afghanistan that I'll feel obliged to read.

This year I've been trying a different approach. Goodreads allows you to sort lists by various bits of metadata attached to each book (author name, date added etc) but you can also sort by "average rating". This is the average rating given to a particular book by the entire Goodreads user base (20+ million users). You can see how this pans out in my current set of 'up next' books:


This "average rating" isn't in any way a guarantee of anything resembling quality. It's not that hard for authors to game the system, and books with few reviews (common for niche subjects like Afghanistan or Islam) have either really high or low ratings. But I'm finding this approach brings me to read far more books outside my path-of-least-resistance choices and often brings me into contact with some real gems.

Needless to say, this method of discovery is only a little better than putting all the names in a hat and picking one at random, but I am still finding some benefit. It does mess with my desire to read fewer male authors (you'll note in the picture above that only book number seven is by a woman; the rest are men) but everything in life is a tradeoff of some sort, I suppose.

Let me know if you find some use to this or if you have any other ways you pick what books to read next.