When I was younger I slogged through some terrible books that, because they were deemed ‘classics’, I thought I should read. Thankfully, I’m a lot more ruthless with non-fiction and, in fact, these days I’m happy to give up on a book I’m not finding enjoyable/relevant after 50 pages.

The interesting thing, though, is that it’s always worth coming back to books. Sometimes, a change in interest, age, or context can completely change your relationship with them.

I used to believe that every book has an objective value. And I used to believe that this value is fixed and universal.

Now, I believe it’s much more useful to say something in this form: this book has this value to this person in this context.


The idea that a book’s value is best judged alongside the notional reader and their current context has some corollaries:

First, reading the books that your heroes cite as important will not necessarily be rewarding. If you admire Bret Victor for his work on computing interfaces, only some of his library will be high value to you because his library also includes lots of books that have nothing to do with UI.

Second, yes, it’s likely that “great books” may be high value in some more universal sense that is independent of reader and context. And, yes, this high value may come from something inherent in the quality of the books, rather than from the fact that they are about themes that are more relevant to more people. Yes, I probably wouldn’t dispute this. But I suspect that relevance to person and context is a better guide to what to read.

Third, book recommendation systems based on your reading history can be helpful, but only so much. You, now, are not represented by your reading history. You’ve changed. Making recommendations based on books you read twenty years ago might produce good books for you, now. But probably not.

Source: Is this a good book for me, now? | Mary Rose Cook

Image: Thought Catalog