Test Driving NPR’s Book Concierge App

npr book conciergeI’m a huge fan of NPR’s annual end of the year book lists. I depend on them to help me book shop over the holidays and I SUPER depend on them while making my own Christmas wish list. So I was a little surprised to hear they were shaking things up this year by getting rid of their annual roll-out of “Best of” book lists in favor of… wait for it… a BOOK APP!

“Suffering from list fatigue” (the producers and editors of NPR Books get a nice BuzzFeed diss in, a site which really does not get enough shit for its “Twenty Ways You Know You’re in Your Late Twenties and Grew Up in the Nineties and Are Also a Disney Princess” listicles), the good folks at NPR Books decided to put together an app where out of 200 titles they loved this year, you can cross-reference and filter based on your specific needs. There are a ton of tags to play around with, it’s a very comprehensive system.

For example, if you have a fifteen-year old who has blasted through Hunger Games and Divergent and NEEDS MORE PAGES TO EAT, you can search the tags “Young Adult,” “Rather Long” and “It’s All Geek To Me,” and you’ll get Marisa Meyer’s Scarlet (Lunar Trilogy) and Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance. If you have a really voracious speculative YA reader, I imagine she’s already polished off Marisa Meyer’s books, but I’ve never heard of Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance (though it does have 763 reviews on Amazon, so this might just be me) and I’m a little in love with the pitch in Petra Meyer’s mini-review on the app: “What if the X-men were real? They’d probably have powers a lot like Marcus Sakey’s “brilliants” — endowed not with disbelief-straining flight or laser eyes but with accelerated human talents like pattern recognition, programming and strategy” F— this hypothetical thirteen year old I’m book shopping for, I want to buy this book FOR MYSELF.

When I used the filters “Funny Stuff,” “Seriously Great Writing,” and “Book Club Ideas” (I’m part of a co-ed book club that is more likely to go see Catching Fire in costume than do our required Paul Auster reading for the month), I got Tenth of December by George Saunders (again, like Marisa Meyer for speculative YA, not a shocker) and Snapper by Brian Kimberling, another book I had never heard of before. In Nancy Pearl AKA my imaginary best friend’s pitch, she states “Humor, tragedy and beautiful writing mark this series of stories chronicling events in the first three decades or so of professional bird-watcher Nathan Lochmueller’s life.” I’ll bite.

Look, I could go on and on with examples. But I won’t. This post would be eighteen-thousand words and you would never like me again. My takeaway is that the app works. The filters don’t just focus on genre and taste, they also gear towards a reader’s life. “Rather Long” and “Rather Short” are critical factors in a reading decision, “The Dark Side” is not a genre, but rather an angle, as is “Eye Opening Reads,” you could just use the “Book Club Ideas” filter and keep your club happy for all of 2014. For all my searches, there was usually an obvious recommendation but there was also always a surprise! And I get it, those obvious recs feel obvious to ME, not everyone. “Book Snob Snot-Pants” is my own personal filter, it’s not actually on the Concierge App (Next year, Nancy Pearl?)

In a season of list-scrolling, I’m thankful NPR went outside the box and came up with this super pretty and super helpful app. Have you guys tried it out? What did you think?

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