Friday, April 23, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 1


The first person I interviewed was my mom. She and I are very close, and we are both avid readers, but our tastes are usually quite different. Mom tends to stick with the same authors—every time Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, or Nora Roberts releases a new title, she immediately shows up at the book store to pick it up. Since she knows exactly what authors she likes and obviously didn’t need recommendations of other titles by those authors, I decided to try and expand her reading horizons by finding new authors for her to explore based on her preferences.

Because she is so loyal to those three specific authors, I felt that looking for author read-alikes would be the most helpful in her case. I first went to, having had success with this site for author read-alikes in the past. The search cloud is a fast and useful tool for getting a general idea of what authors share certain characteristics and how closely related some authors are. I created a short list for each of her favorite authors:

Jodi Picoult Read-alikes
Sue Monk Kidd
Alice Sebold
Anita Shreve
Elizabeth Berg
Audrey Niffenegger

Harlan Coben Read-alikes
Jonathan Kellerman
Stuart Woods
Walter Mosley
Dennis Lehane
Michael Connelly

Nora Roberts Read-alikes
Janet Evanovich
Jayne Ann Krentz
Mary Higgins Clark
Diana Gabaldon
Karen Robards

I then repeated these names to my mom and asked if she had already read any of them. She read The Lovely Bones and didn’t particularly enjoy it, so Alice Sebold is out. She also doesn’t didn’t enjoy Mary Higgins Clark. I know very well that my mom isn’t too interested in “unrealistic” books that deal with fantasy or time travel, so I went ahead and eliminated Diana Gabaldon. She also mentioned that she didn’t want to read Evanovich, as she has never been able to get into series of books, so Janet’s off as well.  We went down the lists and eliminated a few more authors based mostly on what my mom didn't want to read.

Next, I asked her what aspects of each author’s writing she most enjoys so that I could look for similar aspects when I researched the new authors. She enjoys Jodi Picoult because she “explores the human condition, really picks her characters apart, and always has a deeper meaning.” I used the Reader’s Advisor Online to research each favorite author and to explore some of the appeals shared with other authors and titles. For Jodi Picoult, I found Anita Shreve on the read-alike list and found that the two authors’ appeals are often their characters and their storylines with multiple points-of-view. I read my mom the summary of Shreve’s Testimony, and she thought it sounded worth checking out, so I wrote down that title for her.

My mom loves mysteries, and she loves that Harlan Coben always keeps her guessing until the end. According to RA Online, just about all of Jonathan Kellerman’s recent books are part of his Alex Delaware series, so I eliminated him from the list. I found this to be the case with most of the other author read-alikes, so I abandoned Harlan Coben and took a different approach. I asked my mom what she liked best in her favorite mysteries, and she replied that she enjoys murder stories, and loves when a smart woman is involved, whether she’s the investigator or the villain. So, I browsed RA Online’s “Related Theme List,” where I found a list of recommendations for “Women of a Certain Age, and the Crimes They Solve.” There I found a few titles featuring women who solve crimes in their communities. I read the summary of Josephine Carr’s My Very Own Murder to my mom, and she said it sounded perfect, so I recorded the title.

Mom claimed that she likes Nora Roberts for her mysteries that feature juicy romance. In RA Online, I found that Jayne Ann Krentz shares with Roberts the appeals of “engaging characters and smart storylines,” which is exactly what my mom looks for in every book she reads. I looked through some of Krentz’ most recent titles until I came upon the romantic suspense title All Night Long, which Mom said sounded great for her.

Thus, I found three new titles for my mom to seek out—each a read-alike of a different one of her favorite authors. After the whole process was finished, I realized that I probably should not have bothered using at all—Reader’s Advisory Online was quite sufficient for my purposes and going straight to that site would have saved me some time. But I went ahead and gave my mom the list of author read-alikes from literature-map, so she now has a long list of authors to explore in the future. I also showed her how easy it was to use that site so that she could look up more of her favorite authors on her own if she wanted to. She’s not very skilled with the internet and has trouble navigating complicated websites, so she appreciated the simplicity of the tool.

I checked her local library’s catalog for some of the titles, and I found that the Shreve title was available, but the other two were not at the library. I offered to see if I could help her borrow the books through interlibrary loan, but she said that she will probably start with the Shreve book and go from there.

Here is the final list I gave her.

Testimony by Anita Shreve
My Very Own Murder by Josephine Carr
All Night Long by Jayne Ann Krentz

Sue Monk Kidd
Audrey Niffenegger
Stuart Woods
Walter Mosley
Michael Connelly
Karen Robards

Readers’ Advisor Online


She is still working on the Anita Shreve title.  She gets most of her reading done at the beach, and there just hasn't been beach weather lately.  But she says is enjoying it, although it's been a little slow-paced for her tastes.  She's excited to try out some of the Harlan Coben read-alikes for more of a page-turner experience.

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