BookBrowse's Read-Alikes and Nancy Pearl's Rule of Four

"When we want a book exactly like the one we just finished reading, what we really want is to recreate that pleasurable experience--the headlong rush to the last page, the falling into a character's life, the deeper understanding we've gotten of a place or a time, or the feeling of reading words that are put together in a way that causes us to look at the world differently. We need to start thinking about what it is about a book that draws us in, rather than what the book is about."
- Nancy Pearl, on The The Four Doors to Reading

Readers often ask us how BookBrowse's Read-Alikes are selected. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and GoodReads use complex algorithms to generate recommendations, so I think lots of readers assume we do, too. Our method is a lot less high-tech (actually, no-tech), and far more personal: we pick them by hand. But what criteria do we use to select them? When we read about librarian Nancy Pearl's Four Doors to Reading (also known as the Rule of Four), we realized she was pretty much describing how we think about our Read-Alikes. Pearl asserts that "all works of fiction and narrative nonfiction are broadly made up of four experiential elements: story, character, setting, and language." She refers to these elements as doorways, some of them larger or smaller depending on the dominant element of each book:


Excellent article on the four constitutive elements of a novel (or any work of fiction for that matter) and I was intrigued to see the results of your poll, where story and character take 75% or more of the votes, and language takes the least.

No doubt that if we were discussing films, the setting would rate higher than here, where we're focused on written fiction. One could however take exception to the distinction between "story" and "character", because in the better novels (in my humble opinion) character is what drives the story - hence they're indistinguishable.

Be that as it may, this remains a very interesting approach to evaluating books - many thanks for sharing and setting up the poll!
# Posted By Claude Nougat | 7/16/12 5:29 AM
I just tried this feature to see what would come up. I chose one of my favorite books, and was delightfully surprised to find that many of the recommended books were ones that I have read and also enjoyed. This gives me great confidence in the feature, and I have added other books from the recommendations to my list of books to read. Thank you!
# Posted By Elyse | 2/29/20 8:15 PM
Hi Elyse
I'm so glad to hear you say that! Our editors and reviewers put a lot of thought into choosing the readalikes because we're not just interested in linking, say, thrillers to thrillers, or books in a a particular setting to others in the same setting, as algorithms do. Instead we're also looking to make intuitive connections, often across genres, because we feel that reading is a journey, and every book is one more step along the way.
# Posted By Davina, BookBrowse editor | 2/29/20 8:48 PM
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