So many books, so little time.
That’s probably why I have 1,451 books in my Amazon Wish List. For as far back as I’ve had an Amazon account, I’ve used the Wish List as a way to save books I want to read. Someday.
Well, I did the math. Even if I were to blitz through the 1,451 books in my queue at the pace of one book per week, it would still take me almost 28 years to finish them all.
The reality is that I will never be able to read all the books in my list. But buried under that mountainous list is a handful of books that I’ve always wanted to read, but never got around to reading.
Someday was never going to come. If I didn’t get my reading list in order, I might very well die before I got around to reading most of them. So I decluttered my Amazon Wish List, and reduced those 1,451 books by 97% to 47 books. This is how I did it.
1. Exporting my Amazon Wish List
Amazon doesn’t have an easy way to manage your Wish List, so my first step was to export it to a spreadsheet, where I could do more work on it.
I tried using the ‘Print’ function on the Wish List page to create a list to copy and paste. But that method only lists up to 200 books at a time, which didn’t work for my large list.
Instead, I used Andy Langton’s Wish List exporter. It took a few tries to export my Wish List, but it eventually worked. Beside the book titles, I also copied their ratings and number of reviews. These came in handy later.
2. Reviewing my Wish List
After I pasted my Wish List into a spreadsheet, I created a new column to rank these books. I went through each title, and I marked with an asterisk in my new column any book that still looked interesting.
Because my list was so old, it felt like I was taking a trip down memory lane. It was interesting to see the evolution of my interests from years past, from subjects as divergent as hermeticism to ninjutsu to psychology.
Since this was the first pass, I was still generous in picking books to read. Even then, I had 173 books marked by the end, which already minimized the list by 88%.
3. Prioritizing my Wish List
I sorted the list by the asterisk column, by selecting it and choosing ‘Sort Descending.’ This brought all the books I’d marked to the top of the list.
I went through the 173 books, more ruthlessly this time. I asked myself which books I would choose if these were the only books I’d ever get to read in this lifetime. Those books got an extra asterisk.
After this second pass, I selected the asterisk column again and chose ‘Sort Descending.’ This brought the books with two asterisks to the top of the list.
4. Using the Wisdom of the Crowd
I then used the wisdom of the crowd to double-check my results. Because Andy Langton’s Wish List exporter also included the ratings and number of reviews for each book, I could see if there were any highly rated books I had missed.
To do that, I right-clicked on the ‘Ratings’ column and selected ‘Sort Descending.’ This brought the highest rated books to the top of the list. However, this result could be skewed. A five-star rating from a single reviewer, for example, isn’t better than a four-star average from 1,000 reviewers.
I then selected the ‘Number of Reviews’ column and selected ‘Sort Descending.’ That averaged out the books with the highest ratings, weighted by the most number of reviews, bringing them to the top of the list.
If there were any interesting books at the top of this list that I’d missed, I marked them either with a single asterisk for ‘interesting,’ or double-asterisk for ‘must-read.’
5. Prioritizing my Reading List
By the end of these four steps, I had 47 books marked with double asterisks, which was a 97% reduction from the original list of 1,451.
To make this new reading list more immediate, I went through the 47 books and marked with a third asterisk the books I wanted to dive into soonest. Out of 47, I picked seven books I wanted to read in the first half of the year.
47 Books is Doable, 1,451 is Not
At the realistic pace of one book per month, I would still need 3 years and 11 months to finish 47 books. It’s going to take a while, but it’s more doable than the 28 years I would have needed for 1,451 books.
I can’t wait to start.
If you’re curious, these are the 47 books that eventually made it from my list of 1,451. It’s a diverse list, from fantasy fiction to war strategy to business biographies. This list doesn’t contain my asterisks rankings, instead, I’ve listed them according to their ratings and number of reviews.
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. 4.8 stars out of 27,260 reviews.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese. 4.7 stars out of 5,311 reviews.
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu. 4.3 stars out of 3,054 reviews.
- Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss. 4.5 stars out of 2,519 reviews.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. 4.5 stars out of 2,370 reviews.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gregory Rabassa. 4.1 stars out of 1,479 reviews.
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, N. H. Thompson. 4.5 stars out of 1,279 reviews.
- Meditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius, Gregory Hays. 4.4 stars out of 972 reviews.
- The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. 4.5 stars out of 766 reviews.
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. 4.2 stars out of 757 reviews.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. 4.5 stars out of 607 reviews.
- The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder. 4.4 stars out of 466 reviews.
- The Way of Men by Jack Donovan. 4.4 stars out of 459 reviews.
- Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. 4.5 stars out of 387 reviews.
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk! by Al Ries, Jack Trout. 4.4 stars out of 368 reviews.
- The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. 4 stars out of 265 reviews.
- The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America by Warren E. Buffett, Lawrence A. Cunningham. 4.5 stars out of 233 reviews.
- 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by Karl Pillemer Ph.D. 4.5 stars out of 173 reviews.
- Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer. 4.4 stars out of 145 reviews.
- The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. 4 stars out of 136 reviews.
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition by Peter D. Kaufman, Ed Wexler, Warren E. Buffett, Charles T. Munger. 4.7 stars out of 115 reviews.
- Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett. 4.6 stars out of 105 reviews.
- Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. 4.2 stars out of 101 reviews.
- Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver. 4.8 stars out of 99 reviews.
- Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge. 4.6 stars out of 99 reviews.
- Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. 4.7 stars out of 98 reviews.
- The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh. 4.7 stars out of 95 reviews.
- Reflections on Silver River by Ken McLeod. 4.8 stars out of 68 reviews.
- Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher. 4.1 stars out of 47 reviews.
- The Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Wisdom Teachings by The Dalai Lama, Thupten Jinpa. 4.7 stars out of 46 reviews.
- The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth by Natalie Goldberg. 3.9 stars out of 41 reviews.
- Buddhism: A Concise Introduction by Huston Smith, Philip Novak. 4.4 stars out of 38 reviews.
- Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by Chade-Meng Tan. 4.7 stars out of 34 reviews.
- Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics by Gary Belsky, Thomas Gilovich. 4.2 stars out of 32 reviews.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho, Nobuyuki Yuasa. 3.8 stars out of 29 reviews.
- An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices by Peter Harvey. 3.5 stars out of 22 reviews.
- An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg. 4 stars out of 21 reviews.
- Book of Man, A Navy SEAL’s Guide to the Lost Art of Manhood by Derrick F. Van Orden, Adam Mitchell. 4.8 stars out of 19 reviews.
- Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thubten Chodron. 4.2 stars out of 19 reviews.
- The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion by Thich Nhat Hanh. 4.7 stars out of 18 reviews.
- The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava by Yeshe Tsogyal, Erik Pema Kunsang. 4.5 stars out of 18 reviews.
- Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making by Gary A. Klein. 4.5 stars out of 17 reviews.
- Enlightened Courage: An Explanation of the Seven-Point Mind Training by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Padmakara Translation Group. 4.7 stars out of 16 reviews.
- Ocean of Insight: A Sailor’s Voyage from Despair to Hope by Heather Lyn Mann. 5 stars out of 13 reviews.
- One Man’s View of the World by Lee Kuan Yew. 5 stars out of 10 reviews.
- An Arrow to the Heart: A Commentary on the Heart Sutra by Ken McLeod. 4.6 stars out of 5 reviews.
- Clear and Present Thinking: A Handbook in Logic and Rationality by Brendan Myers, Charlene Elsby, Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Nola Semczyszyn. 4 stars out of 2 reviews.