I don't remember how, before this job, I used to pick the next book to read. I probably just browsed — my bookcases at home, the shelves and tables of neighborhood bookstores, the stacks at the public library — and, you know, picked something. Made a decision.

Now, decisions are mostly made for me: What book is coming out that I must write about? What author must I interview, and what have they written, and have I read it, and, if not, how can I get my mitts on a copy, fast?

But most of you have the freedom to choose, and I'm interested in how you do it. I'm particularly interested in how Jack El-Hai does it, because his method is so unusual.

El-Hai lives in Minneapolis, teaches at Augsburg College and is the author of "The Nazi and the Psychiatrist," among other books of nonfiction.

To choose something to read, he does not browse; browsing tends to paralyze him. Everything looks good! Instead, he developed a system that chooses for him.

El-Hai has 89 shelves of books in his house. Some are short and hold only 20 or 30 books; some are long and hold up to 100 books.

When he needs a book to read, he goes to an internet site that generates random numbers. "I ask for a random number between 1 and 89, and it'll spit out a number," he said. "And if it spits out 27 I'll go to shelf 27." He counts the number of books on that shelf, and then asks the random number generator for a new number. "I count off and then I pull that book off."

And that is what he reads.

Usually. "Sometimes it happens that I pull the book off and then I ask myself why on Earth did I ever acquire this book?" he said. "I don't want to read it. And then it goes into the Little Free Library and I start over."

OK, like I said, I cannot remember how I used to pick my next book but I think it is safe to say that this is not how I did it.

Nor is it how other readers do it. I know, because I asked some. "That is an amazing method," said Laureen Peltier of St. Paul. "I wish I could tell you I was that organized."

Peltier relies on intuition and bookstores. "I see what falls in my hands. Sometimes the book just feels right."

David Hakensen of Minnetonka is inspired by all sorts of things — obituaries of authors; bestseller lists; book reviews.

He likes to read writers in context, so after he finishes a book he might then read other authors from the same time period. This recently led him to read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which then led him to read three biographies of Carson. "So you can see how it spirals out of control," he said.

Molly Hill of Minnetonka sent me a photo of her TBR stack, which is actually three stacks of about 30 books each. She keeps them in an upstairs closet, which might be a bad idea — a closet gives them the privacy they need to reproduce.

"I follow several indie bookstores on Twitter to see what they're talking about. I also follow [the Star Tribune], The Thread, Graywolf, The Loft — as well as my friends who are in book clubs," Hill said. "If I really like what I read I'll likely binge on that author's books and read them all. This happened recently with Anthony Doerr, George Saunders, William Kent Krueger, and now I'm working my way through Colm Tóibín."

She's working her way through Colm Tóibín! Such great reading she has ahead of her. I'm jealous.

What about you? There are millions of books out there, and new ones pub every week. How do you choose what next to read? Does anyone else use random number generators? Or do something even more creative? Can you top El-Hai? Write me: books@startribune.com

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks