Puget Sound English Department

June 16, 2009

What to read next?


Seattle librarian and superhero Nancy Pearl is developing a kind of algorithm for choosing books. At this point, she herself functions as the equation–on her last two KUOW visits, she’s asked callers to rank a series of statements about a favorite (unnamed) book, then offered multiple recommendations based on the interplay among those statements. Very sketchily, the options involve ranking the relevance of each of the following aspects to one’s literary enjoyment: plot/pace; setting; character; quality of prose. Her claim is that while each reading experience is unique, she can predict something about what readers will like, across the usual generic conventions and subcategories, by knowing how they respond to the combination of categories above. It’s worth listening to the archives (linked at her site, above) to get a taste of her “system” and, as always, to pick up titles she recommends.

Her schematic also offers interesting insight into one’s own reading preferences–are you a character-driven reader, for whom these fictional people become friends who linger on? Are you a setting junkie, motivated to read about exotic places in rich detail, or to recapture historic eras? What happens to a reader whose page-turner ends up having the kind of powerful, evocative, unique language that stops her in her tracks? If you are like me, you may discover that the most compelling reading experience is one in which two contradictory categories battle it out, where you want to savor the setting but find yourself drawn ahead by needing to know more about the characters therein.

Nancy Pearl: making the world safer (and far more enjoyable) for book-lovers everywhere.


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