Stewart Bain view on Your Perfect Match

As someone who helps promote the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – the world’s best celebration of the crime genre – I was pretty intrigued by one up-coming panel this Month: Your Perfect Match.

How do you find THE book that speaks to your heart? That compels you to urge it on all you meet?

You know how it is, when you buy a random present for a relative on Amazon all about the joys of caravanning, then all of a sudden you’re being recommended a whole list of titles irrelevant to your tastes?

At a time when Amazon reviews and star-ratings have become devalued, how do we come across that very special book that will stay with us for a lifetime? I got in touch with Orkney Library’s Senior Library Assistant Stewart Bain to find out how we conquer this particular Holy Grail – he says trust your local librarian… In his words:

“It is impossible to remember every detail about all the books you have read. Some you vaguely recall; it was to do with a dinner lady winning thousands on the bingo and moving abroad; or, it was quite a big book and had a picture of a hefty man standing next to a Ford Anglia on the cover.

“Others books are so forgettable they will leave your memory permanently the very second you read the last word. Then there are the books in which the people and places resonate with you to such an extent that they will stay with you forever. This is the sort of book everyone wants to read, so how do you find it?

“You may read books because they have been recommended to you. If a friend tells you they have just finished an amazing novel and you must read it, you will probably give it a go. You assume your friend is telling the truth and it isn’t some devious plan to see you waste several hours of your life as you plod through chapter after chapter of poorly written nonsense.

“If you are not fortunate enough to have a friend to make reading recommendations, you may seek inspiration online. The internet is awash with book reviews, but can you trust them? In the old days it was easy, you just watched Late Review and three people who were clearly brainier than you would say clever things about the new Umberto Eco novel. However, in the digital age everyone can share their opinion on a book with the entire world.

“Reading book reviews online is a minefield. For every positive review that ranks a new novel alongside the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, you will find a negative one from a person who wouldn’t even tear the book up to line the bottom of the birdcage. The book Brenda from Paisley thinks is a page-turner, VexedTrevor94 thinks is a stomach-turner. This can be terribly confusing, but to make matters worse these reviews may not even be real.

“Recently the whole sock puppet scandal revealed the practice of authors using fake online profiles to not only give glowing praise to their own work, but also to dismiss the work of other writers. So if Brenda from Paisley and VexedTrevor94 are merely characters in The Case of the Fabricated 5-star Review by A.N. Author, who do you go to for advice on what to read next?

“The answer, as it so often should be, to all sorts of questions, is the library. Library staff have years of experience in helping readers to find the right books for them. There is no ulterior motive; they aren’t on commission; it makes no difference to a librarian if you borrow the complete works of Proust or the 19th volume of autobiography by Katie Price. People who work in libraries are there to assist you in choosing books; the only sock puppetry you will get in a library is to be found at 745.59224 #DeweyBanter.

“In 2015 you don’t even have to visit the building for a library to help with your choice of reading material. Back in the day the only way to seek help from a librarian outside library opening hours was to ambush them in the beige slacks aisle of M&S or at the hairdresser as they had their bun riveted in place. Now libraries are online, answering queries through websites, e-mail and social media. You can even download books online with a library membership; it’s all very modern.

“If you enjoy reading, and use the internet, you will be bombarded with publishers, publicists and authors trying to persuade you that their latest titles need to be top of your reading list. By the way authors, a DM on Twitter saying ‘Hi, thanks for following. You might like my new book The Ombudsman’s Harpsichord’ is likely to get you unfollowed quicker than you can type ‘I’ve got four bairns to feed’.

“Libraries give you the information about authors and new books without the hard sell. There are no commercial interests, just a shared love of reading. One of the best things about libraries is that not only can they introduce you to new book by an author you haven’t read before, but, if you enjoyed it, they can also give you access to their previous titles. For free!

“Often libraries can be a real hub of the community; readers meet, swap book titles they have enjoyed, gossip about the girl from the shoe shop who had an affair with the driving instructor, and ask the staff for help finding new authors. Social media means more people than ever before can become part of these reading communities, regardless of where they live. There are even libraries attracting quite a sizeable global following online… “

Orkney Library’s Senior Library Assistant Stewart Bain is chief Tweeter @OrkneyLibrary, which has reached 16,000 followers. He’ll be appearing on the ‘Your Perfect Match’ panel exploring the murky world of online reviews at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate on Friday 17 July.