December 9, 2013
NPR’s Book Concierge replaces year-end lists
by Nick Davies
It’s December, that magical season when the world is awash in best-of lists and holiday guides; but if you’re looking for the usual series of best book lists from NPR, you’re out of luck this year. Suffering from what they describe as “a little list fatigue,” the NPR books staff introduced a new way to explore some of their favorite books of 2013: the Book Concierge.
Every year for the past five years, NPR has increased its coverage to include more year-end books list, going from thirteen of them in 2008 to twenty in 2012. The books team curated more than 200 suggestions from staff and critics, including “NPR’s go-to librarian” Nancy Pearl, Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan, Morning Edition host David Greene, and others. Once all the titles were in, they sat down to assign categories to them, and with the help of the NPR NewsApps team, created an interactive system for users to find the right book for them.
The Book Concierge works rather intuitively. You start with a somewhat daunting page with the covers of the 200-plus books:
To the right, there’s a list of categories and filters. Some of them are familiar genres like sci-fi, biography & memoir, and cookbooks; but there are other options such as For History Lovers, both Rather Short and Rather Long, and Let’s Talk About Sex. You can keep adding filters on to your search, until the Concierge narrows it down to a few — or just one — book suited to your tastes. Each title also comes with a recommendation from someone who contributed to the project, a short snippet visible on the main page, and in full when you click through to that book.
For example, you could start with Tales from Around the World, and already the field is narrowed to just under forty books. Combine that with For History lovers, and you’re down to a more manageable fifteen. When you add on another condition, let’s say The Dark Side, and you’re left with just four books that you can peruse: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, John Boyne’s This House Is Haunted, Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, and Wendy Lower’s Hilter’s Furies. If even that’s overwhelming, you can keep adding filters until one of them is chosen for you.
Time will tell if this becomes the preferred method for presenting a year’s worth of literary highlights for online outlets instead of the multitude of lists to which we’re accustomed.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.