University of Houston Law professor Jacqueline Lipton has a problem. Ordinarily around this time of year she posts a list of summer reading for anyone who happens to be interested in her summer reading recommendations. This year she isn't doing it, and instead posted on Faculty Lounge a short rant about how hard it is to find good books to read:
But I wanted to also raise the question of how to FIND good books to read other than Goodreads, word of mouth and the NYT best-seller list. I used to rely on what was getting good reviews at Amazon, but I've found that increasingly difficult because so many works have four and five star reviews on Amazon that really aren't very good, and I don't mean that in a subjective sense. A bunch of self-published books in particular simply have editorial errors all over them, inconsistencies in plots and characters etc and still get four and five star reviews, often from hundreds and occasionally from thousands of readers. I'm at a bit of a loss to know how this comes to pass. Even if friends of the author are writing the reviews, who has that many friends? Or are there services folks can pay to get good reviews posted on Amazon?
I don't mean to be negative about self-publishing because I think it's terrific that authors can self-publish, particularly as the traditional publishers are consolidating and it's getting so much harder to publish in the traditional mode. But as a reader, I now find it difficult to sort through the morass of available tomes in e-book format. It's one of those areas where digital tech has created information overload and it's increasingly difficult for me as a reader to separate the wheat from the chaff. How do other people manage? Some folks must want to read interesting books that aren't NYT bestsellers. But how do you find them now?
We can understand the hipster-instinct to avoid things on the NYT list, but we're a bit at a loss as to what's wrong with Goodreads (which functions a bit like Pandora for identifying books you might like). Word of mouth seems like an even worse thing to complain about, since part of the enjoyment of reading a book is being able to share the experience with other people, ...and because her normal summer reading list is nothing but word of mouth recommendations.
Anyways, we're a law blog, and we have a law bloggy type angle to this, and not just pointing out the ridiculously trite things law professors go to the internet to complain about.
For however bad Lipton thinks the mainstream publishing world is about letting the signal to noise ratio get completely screwed up by a mountain of sub-literate self published texts, the legal industry is far worse.
Legal academics produce roughly 10,000 journal articles every year, and it's not just that many of them aren't interesting, but that 80% of them are crap. How is anyone supposed to locate the best articles from that mountain of paper? If you wanted to read only the top 1%, truly separate the wheat from the chaff, you'd still have to read 1 article every 3 days. And that wouldn't even allow you to start working on the backlog of articles published before you started your reading binge.
If you didn't see the an ironic twist coming from the start, fair warning, ironic twist ahead.
We took a look at professor Lipton's CV, and in her 20 years in academia she has written more than 80 articles. Four per year. Is there anyone out there who thinks professor Lipton has four publication-worthy ideas each year? Does anyone really think that extraordinary level of insight is coming from someone who can't figure out how to get book recommendations?
[PS: All four of her recommendations from last year appeared on the NYT bestseller list. But leave it to a law professor to look for a solution without a problem, and then fail to find it.]