Move Over Buzzfeed, Hello Book Concierge: Make Your Own Best-Of-List

Book recommendations are tough business. Like the time I recommended The Luminaries to friends. (Still feel bad about that one, guys!) But that’s why I empathize with book reviewers this time of the year as they put forth their highly trumpeted “Best of the Year” lists. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to feel sorry for them. What a glamourous sounding job! But we expect a lot from these authoritative “Best of” lists and while we do discover great gems this way and experience validation when a book we loved lands on a Top Ten, truth is these lists can contain some clunkers, too. At its heart, reading is a truly personal experience. And what I like often isn’t what you like. So, how does one wade through the “Best of” lists to find something you are guaranteed to like? Especially in the Buzzfeed age of listicles?

I was pondering this question when I rediscovered NPR's Book Concierge. (By the way, has anyone noticed how NPR is killing it over on their website? Really innovative things going on there.) The Book Concierge is the perfect tool for book discovery. See their thoughtful, witty explanation here of how their “list fatigue” combined with a chance to work closely with the NPR NewsApp team gave birth to Concierge.

NPR's Book Concierge. Great way to find your next book.

A few moments in and it's clear that the site is a better reflection of how we actually discover new books than blindly following the same five or ten titles that pop up on all the end of year lists. It starts with 260 books that their staff and critics loved. From there you can browse by genre. Similar to how I don’t ask just anyone for book recommendations but instead ask friends or seek out reviewers who like to read the same types of books as I do. My colleague Rebecca found this great book with these filters on Book Concierge: Book Club Ideas + Rather Short + Realistic Fiction + Seriously Great Writing + Tales from Around the World. Which returned a book neither of us had heard. The Story of My Teeth by Valerie Luiselli. How did we miss this fantastic sounding title? It's not listed in any of the major Top Ten lists either so we wouldn't have found it that way. But we both immediately placed it on hold.

Moreover, Book Concierge is an answer to a digital-age dilemma - the problem with shopping for books online (or browsing an online library catalog) is that it’s really hard to duplicate the “discovery” process that happens from talking to librarians, bookstore staff and fellow readers inside a bricks-and-mortar place of books, where you can also browse displays of new titles and old favorites. Even Amazon just opened a bricks-and-mortar book store.  

NPR’s site might just have fixed that problem on its own, however. The engaging graphic display of all their top 260 book covers creates an opportunity to browse in a way you would in a store or library. And it casts a larger net of books than a Top Ten list, but far more appealingly and user friendly than either the Washington Post's Top 50 fiction or nonfiction books or the New York Times Top 100. Even though both of those are posted online, both of them are at their heart traditional print-first formats. There's no engagement similar to what Book Concierge offers.

With its genre-browsable refined searches and engaging visual presence, Book Concierge has enabled a new age of digital discovery for finding your next read. So, check it out – find new reads and create your own, best-for-you Top Ten list.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

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