Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Anatomy of a Good Read

"Every reader his or her book, and every book its reader." -S. R. Ranganathan

Did you know that you can ask for your very own personalized list of good reads? Today, I'm going to give you the behind-the-scenes tour of our recommendation process, share some of our most-recommended read-alikes like Downtown Owl, and offer up some of our arcane, mystical secrets (okay, yeah, publicly-accessible databases and websites).

In the library world, finding the perfect book is an art and science known as Readers' Advisory. You might think that it's as easy as recommending something that you've read and liked yourself, but as one of my colleagues puts it, "If there's one thing that people are picky about, it's not clothes, or food. It's what they like to read." Readers' advisory means predicting the future: what books will someone like, based on what they've liked in the past?

Part of the trick is asking probing questions, and paying attention to clues like other books the person likes. For example, if you want to read something like The Hunger Games (and a lot of people do!), what did you like about it? Was it the pacing, writing style, social satire, dystopian setting, female protagonist, love triangle, or...? We might suggest Blood Red Road for the female protagonist, House of the Scorpion for social satire and action, Divergent for the pacing and writing style, Legend for the dystopian setting, and the Infernal Devices series for the love triangle.

We have a whole team of recommendation gurus who read a wide variety of genres. But we often do research beyond what we have personally read, to find just the perfect book for that reader. Here are some of our favorite resources:

  • Fantastic Fiction is a, well, fantastic website created by a UK bookstore, which offers comprehensive bibliographies of most authors' work, with series labeled and in order.
  • On our Books & Reading databases page, you can find Novelist and the Literary Reference Center. Novelist is especially handy for finding read-alikes, because their staff label books by criteria like pacing, mood, and character types, as well as genre. Did you know that when you search our catalog for a book, and see a bunch of information at the bottom of the page for similar authors, other books in the series, etc., that this is powered by Novelist? (Take a look at the last Harry Potter book for an example of how this works -- just scroll down and wait a few seconds for the extra goodies to load.)
  • The Romance Reader, io9, Stop, You're Killing Me, the Western Writers Roundup, and the Christian Fiction Site are my favorite resources for specific genres: romance, sci-fi, mystery, Westerns, and Christian fiction, respectively.
  •  What Should I Read Next and Tastekid offer recommendations for all kinds of genres.

Finally, want a sneak peak at our most common recommendations? Here are a few that our team uses as a go-to list:

Happy reading,


  1. Well put and intriguing. Definitely will put a couple of those to the test. And yes, who cares about clothes and food? Since I was a child I have said that I could be happy living under a bridge provided that bridge was close to a good library!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I have said the same thing. :)


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