I was talking to a friend a couple days ago about a Pitchfork for books, a concise pitch if I’ve ever heard one. I told him I couldn’t think of one; I could think of various blogs that covered aspects of lit culture, but I’d never found one that surveyed and then channeled them into a few topical recommendations.
Think of how it works in music. You have a melange of musical styles and artists. So many, in fact, that you can’t possibly cover it all, and you don’t try. No one tries to be an expert in country, rap, jazz, indie rock, and metal, all at the same time. Instead, you specialize in areas that interest you.
It’s hard to be a true expert in even one of these. Metal, for one, is sprawling, and it would take months to work your way through all it’s sub-genres. So instead you drill down to a few specific artists and listen to what you like, even if you know you’re, by necessity, missing a lot you would also like. It’s quality over quantity, the opposite of an all-encompassing search algorithm.
Books don’t have this.
I find the books I like by browsing in bookstores, or inheriting them from friends. The friend above, for instance, had just finished reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, I book I’ve also read and enjoyed. It captures the excitement and the dynamic energy behind a poetry movement in a University, and the real-life ways people in those environments live. It’s full of joy and sadness and passion, beautifully woven together through the lives of all the interlocking characters.
I’d like to find books like it and my friend would too, but there’s no site that fills this niche in a way that you find in music.
It’s strange, because books, like music, are so personal and individual. Like music, there’s also just such a sheer huge massive amount of it that you have to start somewhere definite.
There’s always something, of course, some bone for every searchable interest on the Internet you can imagine; for books, there are sites that nonspecifically chain book lists together and then spit out suggestions (example: Goodreads). That’s not good enough, for what I want.
I want an opinionated, sharp-edged sword cutting through the millions of results that clutter every possible literary topic. I want a definite worldview, filtered through one decisive person’s point of view. The problem with too many choices is that there’s no stand, no organizing personality behind it. I want to know that this particular person read it, and liked it, and likes these books, too. Even more than that, I’d like to know the philosophy that this person has cobbled together from those books, and see how it compares to mine. That’s the real part, the human part, of culture, that bonds us closer and brings us together.
In books and music, my rule is opinion first and neutrality second. I knew there are thousands of good bands, just as I know there are thousands of great books. Only some appeal to me. Finding those naturally should come naturally, too.