Tag Archives: laura-miller

The Personal Business of Recommending Books

For book recom­mend­a­tions, most of us rely on the sug­ges­tions of trus­ted friends and on word of mouth. This, at least, allows us to hold someone account­able for those inev­it­able poor recom­mend­a­tions. But what of ‘pro­fes­sion­al’ book recom­mend­ers (writers in pub­lic­a­tions, not algorithmic ‘recom­mend­ers’)?

Laura Miller–author of the book recom­mend­a­tion Slate column, –looks at what she calls the fine art of recom­mend­ing books.

“You can’t recom­mend books to strangers without ask­ing per­son­al ques­tions,” [edit­or of the Par­is Review, Lor­in Stein] told me. As he poin­ted out, what we want to read is often pegged to trans­it­ory moods. The same book may not thrill the same per­son at every point in his or her life. “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleas­ure, exactly,” he went on. “Of course there is pleas­ure in read­ing. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or con­fused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of pro­tec­tion or quiet — or dis­turb­ance, or truth, or whatever.” The recom­mend­er must take this into account.

Miller also looks at the book recom­mend­ing pro­cesses of The Morn­ing News’ Bib­li­or­acle (John Warner) and “the doy­en of all pro­fes­sion­al book recom­mend­ers”, Nancy Pearl.

Pearl sug­gests that there are four “door­ways” that intrigue read­ers in the books they read: story, char­ac­ters, set­ting and lan­guage. One or more of these door­ways appeal to each type of read­er and the task of the recom­mend­er is in match­ing the reader’s door­way pref­er­ence with a book that deliv­ers exactly that.

The Issues of the Self-Publishing Future

In 2009, 764,448 books were pub­lished out­side of “tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing and clas­si­fic­a­tion defin­i­tions”, accord­ing to Bowker. This pleth­ora of self-pub­lished titles can be thought of as the ‘slush pile’, says Laura Miller, and while this future offers authors bet­ter options than ever before, it’s the impact on read­ers them­selves that we should be con­sid­er­ing (e.g. over­whelm­ing choice, increas­ingly large num­bers of poorly writ­ten books, etc.).

In dis­cuss­ing her wor­ries about the “post-pub­lish­ing” future, Miller looks at how we may con­sume and deliv­er books, how the role of the ‘gate­keep­er’ will evolve, and pon­ders the future of anti­so­cial or intro­ver­ted ‘geni­uses’. I liked this on con­sid­er­ing the oppor­tun­ity cost of dis­cov­er­ing works of art in the slush pile:

Every­body acknow­ledges that there have to be a few gems out in the slush pile – one manu­script in 10,000, say – bur­ied under all the dreck. The prob­lem lies in find­ing it. A dia­mond encased in a moun­tain of sol­id gran­ite may be truly valu­able, but at a cer­tain point the cost of extract­ing it exceeds the value of the jew­el. With slush, the cost is not only fin­an­cial (many pub­lish­ers can no longer afford to assign juni­or edit­ors to read unso­li­cited manu­scripts) but also – as is less often admit­ted – emo­tion­al and even mor­al. […]

I recently con­fided my wor­ries on this account to former Salon edit­or Scott Rosen­berg, but he was unper­turbed. In the near future, he assured me, “ ‘pub­lic­a­tion’ will become mean­ing­less.” […] Read­ers will be saved from wad­ing through slush by ama­teur author­it­ies – blog­gers and oth­er pun­dits spe­cial­iz­ing in par­tic­u­lar sub­jects or genres – who will point their fol­low­ers to the best books. “People will find new ways to decide which books mer­it their atten­tion.”