Out of Curiosity: A Reader’s Advisory Question for All

I have been doing a interesting literature review about reader’s advisory (the art of recommending books, usually applicable in a library setting) for a research project recently. I just wanted to informally share some of the ideas I’ve discovered and query all of my reading friends as to whether they ring true for you. Apparently, the latest research in RA is happening in regards to reader behavior as opposed to book description (i.e. connecting a reader to a book based on their needs instead of the description of the book), and some of the findings, especially by Ross, were rather unexpected. After doing in-depth interviews with almost 200 ‘heavy’ (reading more than 1 book per week) readers, Ross concluded that people pick their next book based primarily on their mood. This means that a person with high stress levels in their lives will tend to want something easy and safe, like a book by an already known author, while those with less stress want to try something new or more difficult. So, not only might we consider recommending books based on mood, but also all books don’t have to be critically regarded as excellent to be worthwhile. A series book may be just the right thing for someone overworked and low on time.

So the question is: do you pick your next book based on mood? And if not, how do you figure out what to read?



5 thoughts on “Out of Curiosity: A Reader’s Advisory Question for All

  1. My method of choosing books is simple: I have a long list of books that have been recommended by friends, family, or book reviews, and when I go to the library I see what on my list is on the shelves. I also look for interesting titles on the New Books and Reader’s Express shelves, and will take anything anyone wants to pass along to me (though the Kindle has dried up some of my best sources). In other words, my choices are most often based upon availability rather than mood.

    That said, I do find that mood affects my reactions to books–I can’t stand chick lit unless I’m on vacation and can suspend all need to be useful, and I couldn’t read any thing remotely scary or suspenseful when my husband was in a war zone. But contrary to the research cited, I find that when my life is very stressful I prefer a complex book–War and Peace provided a great deal of perspective when I was living through a tumultuous local battle. And further, I find that my mood is influenced by the books I read as often as not–something grim and gritty leaves me wilted until I finish it, and something sweet and funny makes me want to bake cookies.

    But I definitely agree that critical acclaim does not promise a satisfying read. Some of the most engrossing books I’ve ever fallen into would not be found on the must-read list of any self-respecting book critic.

    • What a great response! I also pick books in much the same way – I have a list in the back of my head of, say, 10-15 books, and I check the library shelves for them periodically and get what’s there. That being said, Ross does say that another big component of what people choose to read next is cost, meaning either the time it would take to read the book or the effort it would take to get the book. It looks like, for us, cost is much more of a factor than mood, since we base our choices on availability.
      Yet, I find it interesting that you say your mood is affected by the books, rather than the other way around. It reminds me of a question very much in vogue when I was in high school: do you pick your music to suit your mood or to change your mood? It did strike me as odd that Ross found mood to be the single greatest factor in determining a next read, because I think that mood almost never comes into the equation for me. However, it did seem like she was mostly talking about genre specific readers (i.e. only read romance, etc.), where as you and I, I know, will read just about anything. Since all of the results didn’t quite ring true to my own behavior, I am going to try to do some original research about this, perhaps researching the behavior of cross-genre readers, infrequent readers, or non-fiction readers, because I don’t believe that mood is a determining factor for everyone. Curiosity, for example, is a much stronger factor for me.

  2. Usually I have a rough timeline for when I am going to read a book, but yes mood does effect it. Most of the time I schedule the long books and then fill in around these book shorter books. Whatever I am in the mood for.

    • Well – I don’t quite agree with him, but my husband read your comment and said that’s exactly what I do, too. I suppose, for the big projects, you do sort of have to plan them out, but at the same time it’s good to read some smaller ones to keep it interesting. So I guess then you would agree with Ross’s findings – that you base your big projects on ‘cost’ (time it takes to read) and your smaller ones on mood.

  3. Personally, I found it odd that Ross only interviewed “heavy” readers.
    What was the logic behind limiting the study in this way? I say this
    because I would guess that this variable (whether someone is a
    “heavy,” “medium,” or “light” reader) would greatly affect which book
    recommendation they would enjoy.

    Much like you, me, and tea. You drink a lot of tea, and love tea, and
    so you have become a connoissseur and now have to choose a type of tea
    when you travel to the cupboard. Do you choose based on what mood you
    in? What time of the day it is? Or what kind of day you’ve had? Or
    what kind of book you’re reading? 🙂 On the other hand, I like tea,
    drink some tea, and know what I like – black tea with a pinch of sugar
    and milk. So normally when I decide to drink tea, I just go for that.
    Similarly, I would hypothesize that the more frequently you read, the
    more likely you are to try new genres and authors, and vice versa.

    I found this to be true in my own experience. Here in Mali, I have to
    switch genres and authors between books because I get bored reading
    too much of one type, but in the States, when I had time to read, I
    stuck with what I knew and (for better or worse) kept up on my J.K.
    Rowling and Dan Brown.

    Furthermore, I find it odd that Ross stayed focussed on the “heavy”
    readers because it seems that these people don’t need recommendations.
    Both you and a previous commenter already said that you have a laundry
    list of books to choose from already. Even I have a laundry list in
    Mali, and I don’t qualify as a heavy reader. For an RA librarian, my
    guess is that most of the recommending would be for “light” and
    “medium” readers, but I could well be wrong.

    Anyways, that’s my opinion. Hope it is at least thought-provoking. I
    think there is defintely room here for further research. Ross
    primarily did qualitative analysis, yes? I think that by combining
    this and quantiative types of analyses and collecting data on all
    types of readers, another study could be much more compelling (and
    possibly a killer thesis). If you needed a bit of assistance, I would
    be interested in helping with the quantitative analysis too. After
    all, economics is the study of decision-making and choosing what book
    to read next is a decision. Anyways, let me know what you think. No
    problems either way. Best of luck!

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