In search of a good book? Ask a pro.
Why waste your summer on a book you won't love? Instead, ask an expert to pair you with your dream read.
You wouldn't think it would be hard to find a good book. The only thing more common than a "10 best" list is a "best summer reading list" and these compilations even come in various flavors – "best romance," "best fantasy," "best sci-fi," etc.Skip to next paragraph
End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' film rights acquired by Universal
Better World Books' bestseller list: more classics than new titles
More books, more choices: why America needs its indies
Is Slate's Amazon-defending blogger really a 'moron'?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The bad news is, however, that the people making the list don't know anything about you and whether your idea of "romance" tends more in the direction of Nora Roberts or veers distinctly toward Jane Austen.
So why not turn to the pros? Writing for Salon, book critic and author Laura Miller lauds three expert book "matchmakers." First, there's Lorin Stein, new editor of the Paris Review, who does his best to help readers in a new column called "Ask the Paris Review." (Typical question: "I'm looking for good books about New York to give as host/hostess gifts. What would you recommend?" Stein's suggestions include the E.B. White classic "Here is New York" and "Low Life" by Luc Sante.)
Naturally, Miller also mentions Seattle's rock-star librarian Nancy Pearl, author of the "Book Lust" series. Pearl says she will take book questions from readers she believes are "serious" about wanting advice on books. Her system for pairing reader and volume is intriguing. She asks readers a list of 16 questions, but what she's really trying to determine are the sizes of their "doorways" into books – i.e., are story, characters, setting, or language most important to this reader?
(According to Pearl there are three "fail-safe" books that please equally in all four areas: "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Lonesome Dove," and "Angle of Repose." Apparently these can be safely recommended to almost any reader.)
Lastly, Miller mentions the Biblioracle, John Warner at The Morning News, who has fascinated thousands by offering to recommend one book to each reader who submits a list of five favorites. Warner claims that feedback tells him that so far he's got about an 85 percent success rate. The only bad news is that the Biblioracle is now so popular that it's become a chore to slip your request into his in-box.
To Miller's list of experts I will add another whom I encountered during a somewhat random march across the Internet. Her name is Rachel Meier and she works at The Booksmith bookstore in San Francisco. I can't print the actual name of her website on this family-friendly website but I can tell you that if you go The Booksmith site, you can easily find Rachel in the About Us section. Once on her site, simply click on Tell Me What to Read.
Rachel wants to know at least three books you love, two books you hate, some authors that you like, which genres you like/dislike, and what you are reading now.
To use Rachel's system, however, you must be patient. She tells her would-be petitioners: "I'll tell you what to read, but you're going to have to wait – like a month. I hope to be caught up soon, but you people are demanding, and there are a lot of you. I'll get to you. In the meantime, have a snack."
Personally, it's been three weeks and I haven't yet heard back from Rachel. But that's OK. I've got plenty of books (and snacks) to work on while I wait.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.