I love creating reading plans.
It’s exciting to chart your self-education for the next year and think about all the interesting books you’re going to read.
But I’m not just talking about a book list. Reading plans are more intentional.
While a reading list could be 30 books randomly selected, a reading plan is a list of books that accomplishes several reading goals.
Goals like becoming an expert on one small topic or deep reading a classic work of literature that you’ve always wanted to understand.
In this article I’ll share some of the best goals to include in your reading plan to make your reading more deliberate and exciting.
If you’re new to reading plans, I recommend first reading my 8-step guide on how to create a reading plan, before reading this article, which helps you with step 2. Otherwise, keep reading for some cool reading ideas.
Do a Deep Read of a Classic
Choose a classic like Moby Dick or The Republic and read it slowly.
Consider doing something like 10 pages every morning, or even just one page if the book is especially dense. I’m doing one chapter a morning for Moby Dick.
The goal here is depth of understanding, not speed of consumption..
Take notes and make an effort to think about the work’s wisdom as you go about your day. Live with the writer for a while.
Here are some wisdom-packed classics that would be great for a deep read:
- Democracy in America
- Montaigne’s Essays
- The Brothers Karamazov
- Nicomachean Ethics
- Letters from a Stoic
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra
To expand your knowledge of the work, read around it as well. By that I mean find the writer’s influences and read them too.
For example, for the Moby Dick deep read, I’m also reading a poem by one of the high romantics every morning, since they inspired his writing.
I’m also planning to read 2-3 of Shakespeare’s tragedies, since they were very influential for Melville.
Someone who wanted to take a project like this even further could also read the writer’s contemporaries to learn about the ideas that were in the air at the time of the work’s creation.
If you were reading Moby Dick, that’d mean studying Hawthorne and other big American writers of the early 19th century.
You could read books written about the author. Or take this as a chance to learn more about whaling or 19th century American culture.
If you’re reading nonfiction, you could use the rabbit hole method and use the bibliography of the book to find the writer’s influences.
I got this deep reading idea from Benjamin Mcevoy on his channel Hardcore Literature, which I recommend checking out.
If you like this approach, check out how he recommends reading Moby Dick:
You can apply his principles of a deep read to other books as well, including ones of nonfiction.
Become an Expert on one Small Topic
Is there one specific topic that fascinates you? One that you’d love to be considered an expert in?
If so, design a reading plan that will help you learn about it.
That might mean 30 books on ecology. Or 20 books on postcolonial Africa, existentialism, French political history, or something current like artificial intelligence or microfinance.
Perhaps you could even start a blog or YouTube channel on this subject and make some money by teaching other people about the topic.
To learn more about this method, check out Scott Young’s video:
He recommends reading 10 well-chosen books (ones experts reference today) on one specific question to become an expert on it.
In other words, to become someone who can express an informed and sophisticated opinion on that question.
Read a Writer’s Entire Body of Work
If you have a favorite writer, why not read all that they’ve ever written, or at least most of their best stuff?
We do that with musicians all the tme. Do it with writers too.
I have a long term reading goal of reading everything Orwell has put down on paper, including his many essays.
Perhaps you love one of these writers — Seneca, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Rousseau, Plato, Cormac Mccarthy, Thomas Sowell, or Toni Morrison.
Whoever it is, pay them homage by reading their entire opus.
Grab their biography too, as well as any other books that write about them or their ideas/works.
Think of this author as your mentor, by whose feet you now sit, receptive and grateful. ,
Analyze the Origins and Development of a Big Idea
Ever wondered how ideas like democracy, liberty, or justice came to mean what they do today? What about love, causality, or the nuclear family?
These are ideas that have been discussed in depth over the years by the world’s greatest thinkers and writers.
Mortimer Adler knew this. That’s one of the reasons he undertook the creation of the syntopicon in his Great Books of the Western World series.
It’s essentially “an index to the great ideas” that helps you find references in the great books to each of 102 great western ideas, including Angel, Cause, Emotion, Opinion, and Poetry.
His goal was to help people do things like find what 10 different great writers said on the word “opinion”.
Consider picking one idea or theme and rounding up some popular classic books on it.
You can go in order chronologically to see it develop over time, noting how each author reacts to and adds to what has already been said on the idea, but you don’t have to.
Regardless of how you go about this, you’ll develop a 360-view of a big idea. And you’ll also learn how to use differing opinions to create your own original one on an important idea.
Deeply Study a Historical Time Period / Location
Perhaps you find your country, or another one, to be utterly fascinating in one specific period of time.
For me, that’s America in the revolutionary era.
A fun history self-education goal for your reading plan could be to become an expert on that era/place.
That would mean, of course, reading a lot of history books. But it would also mean reading books from other genres.
For example, you could read some important essays, poems, and novels that were written during the period.
You could read sociological studies of that place’s culture, alongside memoirs or letters of people who lived through the era.
You could read works of political science that dissect the country’s government and political systems during that period.
There’s a lot of room to get creative here. This is a good reading goal to become a serious history buff.
If you’re on the fence about reading history books, I recommend checking out my article on why every self education plan should include some history.
Survey an Entire Field (or Subfield) of Study
Right now my friend and I are in a two-person book club. Pathetic? A little bit, but for this specific challenge, it’s better than going alone!
In an effort to gain a deep understanding of the big events of European History, we’re slowly but surely working our way through the 8-book Penguin History of Europe Series.
In other words, we’re surveying the discipline. My guess is that after this is over, I’ll know which specific places, periods, and events I want to study in-depth.
As another example, if you wanted to do it with philosophy, you could put together something like my 9-book philosophy reading plan for beginners.
This is a great reading goal for someone who thinks they’re interested in a subject and wants a basic broad grasp on the fundamentals before narrowing down.
Systematically Explore Your Interests
In my article on how to use books to find your calling, I argue that reading is one of the best low-risk ways to discover your interests and examine possible career paths.
If you’re curious about environmental science and think you might want to become a scientist, one of the least costly ways to determine whether this is actually an authentic love or just some temporary crush is to read a few serious books in the field.
Of course, in-person experience is always better, but sometimes that’s just unrealistic, so we need a test first, and books do well in that role.
So, for this goal, the idea is to choose 2-3 fields you think you might want to pursue as a career, whether that’s corporate finance, homebuilding, law, or english literature. Then, read 3 books on each one.
If you do this, you should come out the other side of the reading plan with greater self-knowledge than you did before, and perhaps some more direction for your career. .
Read the 25 Most Influential Books in one Academic Field
If there’s one discipline you really want to study, consider finding the most influential books in it and reading them.
You could use a list that already exists, perhaps one with a nice mix of modern and classic works in the subject.
For example, the 25 most influential political science books of 2010-2020.
In the above list, influential means the books that were referenced most in academic literature and popular media in that decade, not necessarily the books that were most widely sold.
Or, you could use a graduate school syllabi reading list. You can usually find these on Google.
For example, when I search “graduate comprehensive exam reading list American Politics”, an extensive Yale reading list comes up.
Here’s a snapshot of part of it:
These are the books that the program wants their graduate students to be familiar with.
Check out my article how to become well-read in 3 years to learn more about self-studying a few select subjects.
Choose a Genre to Explore Through Audiobook
Some genres of books lend themselves well to audiobooks.
These tend to be the lighter genres that don’t require too much hard thinking, like a contemporary fantasy novel or a personal development book.
On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t want to read Kant or Adam Smith on audiobooks.
I know if I did I’d get distracted almost immediately and start daydreaming and then be lost forever. I need the physical act of reading to hold me to the page for those denser books.
Consider choosing one genre to listen to on audiobook. I picked fantasy because it’s perfect to listen to before going to sleep when I’m in the mood to dream.
Using audiobooks in addition to regular books will allow you to read more books each year because when you’re tired out from reading books in physical form you can switch over to audiobooks and listen while you’re on a run or drifting off to sleep instead of just giving up on reading for the day.
Include Multiple Goals in Your Reading Plan
As you create your reading plan, consider including several of these goals to make a well-rounded one.
For example, my quarterly plan currently includes a special author project (Dickens), a deep read (Moby Dick), and a survey of European history.
Be sure to make a plan that excites you. Maybe create it and let it sit for a week. Then come back to it and see if the books on the list still entice you.
If they do, set a daily page number target and stick to it as best you can. The payoff will be increased knowledge, a stronger vocabulary, greater thinking capabilities, and many other self education benefits.
Plus you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.