Working at the public library, we’ve all noticed the patron standing in front of our “new books” section, looking slightly befuddled, pulling books off the shelves and putting them right back, and we know the question to expect: “I’m looking for a good book. Do you have any ideas?”
Frankly, that question is right up our alley- we’re happy to provide recommendations. Frequently patrons ask us about our own favorite reads, but really the process for finding that next great read is a two-way conversation.
We always utilize some general guidelines when it comes to recommending books (the fancy term for this is “reader’s advisory”). All books have common characteristics, and emphasize some of those characteristics over others. Here’s the way famed librarian Nancy Pearl breaks these down:
Story: Story-driven books have fast-paced plots with lots of action, and watching the plot unfold is the main attraction. Most bestsellers are story-driven: mysteries, many romances, suspense novels, etc.
Character: In character-driven books, the primary appeal is watching the characters develop and change throughout the story; often these books are language-focused as well.
Setting: Sometimes we love books because of the places described in them- real or fictional.
Language: Language-driven books are those where you’re really amazed at the quality of the writing. They’re often referred to as “literary” and win prizes and are much-loved by professional book critics.
Of course, we all like to read things at different times. Many of us enjoy both story-driven books as well as literary fiction. And all books contain a mixture of these elements- many books that remain popular for years or decades combine each element in wonderful ways. For example, the masterful balance of story, character development, and unique setting are a primary reason Harry Potter remains so incredibly popular.
When we recommend books, we look at these elements and try to find similar titles just for you. There are many great websites for researching books- Goodreads and Fantastic Fiction are ones we use every day, and the Washington Anytime Library also has algorithm-based recommendations.
And to be completely honest, we look at book covers. Most publishers have figured out their cover art to the point where similar books usually have very similar covers. Dystopian fiction, beach romances, even literary fiction - all of these often have a fairly recognizable cover style. Don’t even get me started on how all cookbooks look exactly the same these days.
If you’re still having difficulty finding that next book, there’s always one more solution: take them all. Life is too short (and full of too many books that you’ll enjoy) to finish a book you’re trying to grit your way through. If you’ve made it to page 50 and you’re not into a book, put it down and come to Neill Public Library. We’re here to help you find more.
Adult Services Librarian