Who decides what you read?

It’s the end of Setptember and I’m back up at Oxford Brookes, teaching on the MA in Publishing Editorial module every Tuesday afternoon. One of the ice-breakers my colleague Beverley Tarquini does with the new cohort of students each year is to get them all talking about what they’re reading, what books they like in general, and how they read them (print or digital). 

It’s fascinating to hear the range – one student this year is mad about infectious diseases fiction. I didn’t even realise that was a genre.

I’m always reading multiple books: this week it’s The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence ahead of interviewing Andy Cope for the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast tomorrow; Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas, which is the EBBC book club choice this month; a chapter each night of Enid Blyton’s The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage which my 8-year-old was given as a leaving gift by last year’s class teacher; and I’ve just finished the utterly beautiful The Outrun by Amy Liptrot which was a Kindle Daily Deal some time back and which hooked me with the twin promise of descriptions of life in Orkney and a stunning cover. 

Also in the teetering pile by my bed is Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, which one of the students also recommended today – I’m going to promote it to the top and start it this evening. 

But one of the students said something fascinating as we discussed what we read and why: 

“I let the internet decide what I read.”

By which she meant GoodReads and the Amazon recommendation engine. I could add the Kindle Daily Deal, since that’s my main source of serendipitous purchase these days.

We’ve always relied on other people – peers, book reviewers, arbiters of taste – to direct our attention when it comes to reading. I don’t know if it’s really any different when it’s mediated by the Internet, other than the potential for gaming the system. But the phrase still makes me uneasy, and I decided it’s time for another trip to a real bookshop, to browse real books, and talk to real booksellers.