I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a couple years ago, and for as unhappy as I was when I arrived after being part of an entire department that was laid off at a job I loved, one thing that’s always stood out to me was how fantastic its public library system is. For the longest time, I didn’t really take advantage of it that much. I’d get the occasional movie, the even less frequent book, and pop in at a branch every now and again if I needed some cat-distraction-free time to apartment hunt or write stuff.
But since my annual goal is always to read more, I decided more frequent library use needed to be a key element. And that’s how I discovered Your Next Great Read, a service inspired by the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia. This article from The Library Journal goes into a ton of detail, but basically you fill out an online survey about your favorite and least favorite books, what you liked/didn’t like about them, your favorite shows and movies and some other questions about what you’re into and an actual person gives it a look, thinks really hard about it and offers up other authors and books you might like. If your library doesn’t have a similar program, definitely share this one with them to see if it’s something do-able.
“Big deal! Isn’t that just like GoodReads?!”
I mean, sort of, I guess. I don’t know exactly how the algorithms work for suggestions, but I suspect it’s something like “Oh, you rated this book four stars? Here are other books that other people who also rated it four stars also rated highly!” And that’s helpful, but it doesn’t allow for why you like something. It doesn’t know about that book you REALLY SHOULD HAVE LOVED but just kind of hated because of X, Y or Z. (Redshirts, I am looking directly at you.) It doesn’t factor in what you just don’t want to read at this particular moment in time.
Your online rec list algorithm isn’t tailor-made by people who’s job it is to know books.
I filled out my survey a few weeks ago, and in the world of “Everything is instant, gimme gimme now!” the two week wait to get your recommendations may seem interminable, but it’s okay. Really. Go to a movie. Take a walk. Play a game. Two weeks is nothing. Especially when it’s two weeks well worth it.
I did have to give a little nudge on the 15th day, but my library person was very apologetic and immediately got my reading guide to me. It was six-pages that started with authors I might want to check out, and as I was reading about them, I could really see the rationale that went into choosing them based on the answers I had provided.
I was recommended Daniel H. Wilson and John Wyndham, which most definitely came from my love of The Terminator franchise and Ray Bradbury, and Jasper Fforde and Matthew Quick, which seemed to take my preferences on writing style into account.
Each author rec came with a couple books to start with, but then there was an entirely separate category of other books by other people I might like. And really? I’m very excited for the 7/8 of them that I haven’t read. The rationale behind the picks feels just as solid and personalized as the author list, so much so that when the note for Andy Weir’s The Martian says “I know you said first-person narratives aren’t your favorite, but if you can look look past that, give this one a try…” I believe that I should 100 percent overlook my general dislike of first-person fiction for the “gripping tale” about survival and rescue attempts. (The Martian is one of those movies I always meant to see but haven’t. And I pretty much did always discount the book because first-person.)
I just moved again (just a new apartment, not a new job). Unpacking is taking longer than I expected, and I’ve got one book in progress that I want to finish, but I’m looking forward to diving into this list next month. I’m going to shoot for three before the year’s out, starting with:
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
- The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham OR You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney if I’m feeling in a nonfiction mood.
Wish me luck (on the unpacking and the reading, please)!
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