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Professional Book Nerd vs. ChatGPT: Who Recommended Better

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With all this chatter that ChatGPT will take over the world, those of us over at Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) decided to see if AI is about to put us all out of work. TBR is our subscription based service that matches customers with their own professional book nerd, AKA bibliologist, who recommends three books per quarter based on the customer’s interests. When customers sign up for TBR, they fill out a short survey about their reading likes and dislikes, and let us know if there’s anything in particular they want to explore. Armed with a couple sample surveys and a ChatGPT login, I set out to see if I, an actual human bibliologist, could out-recommend ChatGPT’s algorithms.

Customer Number 1

First up, customer number one is a big fan of fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, YA, and horror. They’re looking to explore more fantasy from non-Western viewpoints, enjoy books with multiple narrators, and would like to stretch a little bit outside their comfort zone. Their favorite recent reads include City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and Feed by Mira Grant. The customer would like to avoid any books that contain violence towards animals.

Recommendation Number 1 

ChatGPT picked The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: “This epic fantasy novel draws inspiration from Chinese history and mythology, offering a gripping tale of war, politics, and a determined young protagonist.”

An excellent book! But not right for this customer since it includes graphic violence towards animals, which the customer specifically asked to avoid. 

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi Book Cover

Instead, I’d go with The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi. It’s an epic fantasy that follows three interconnected characters as they navigate a society where the color of one’s blood determines their role. This one is perfect for this customer since it is told through multiple perspectives and takes its inspiration from Arabian and African mythologies, fulfilling the request for non-Western fantasy.

Recommendation Number 2

ChatGPT went with Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: “This post-apocalyptic novel explores the interconnected lives of various characters before, during, and after a devastating pandemic. It focuses on their resilience, creativity, and the importance of art in preserving humanity.”

Another great read — one of my favorites in fact. But I wouldn’t recommend it to a TBR customer since it’s already very popular and even has a TV adaptation. One of the benefits of TBR is we avoid picking books that already have a wide readership and instead hunt for more under-the-radar reads that customers aren’t as likely to have found on their own. 

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen book cover

My pick would be We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen; a psychological horror novel set aboard a spaceship sent to colonize a remote moon. I think it’d be a good fit for the customer since they enjoy both sci-fi and horror, and the book’s futuristic setting and inclusion of android characters also pushes it into the speculative category.

Recommendation Number 3 

Chat GPT suggested continuing the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty since the customer loved The City of Brass: “Since you enjoyed this book, you may also want to continue with the rest of the Daevabad Trilogy, including The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold. This trilogy is rich in Middle Eastern mythology, political intrigue, and complex characters.”

Book cover of The Keeper of the Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Ah yes, because a customer who enjoyed the first book in a series definitely needs a professional to suggest they read the second. File this under, “things your bibliologist will never do.” Instead, I’d go with The Keeper of the Night by Kylie Lee Baker. Not only is it an imaginative YA fantasy that weaves British and Japanese folklore, but it also branches out some from the customer’s usual interests with its historical London setting. 

Customer Number 2

Let’s try another one! Our second hypothetical customer wants their recommendations to include a nonfiction book by an author from a marginalized community, wants to expand their literary horizons, and would like at least one book that’s lighter in tone. They recently enjoyed The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson, A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, and Front Desk by Kelly Yang. They read any genre and are eager to try a mix of recommendations, so there’s lots of room to play here.

Recommendation Number 1 

ChatGPT chose Becoming by Michelle Obama: “In this memoir, former First Lady Michelle Obama reflects on her life, from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years in the White House. It offers insights into her personal journey, achievements, and the impact she has had on the world.”

cover of Hijab Butch Blues: A Memoir

Again, considering that this was one of the best selling books of 2018, I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded it exists, as good as it is.  

Instead, I would go with Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H. It’s a newly released memoir by an anonymous queer Muslim woman. With some similar themes as The Ugly Cry, including coming-of-age and belonging, I think the customer will enjoy this unique perspective and be drawn in Lamya’s strong voice.

Recommendation Number 2

ChatGPT went with The Poppy War again. 

I guess I can see why ChatGPT recommended this book, but since the customer is looking to try new things, let’s go for more of a hidden gem, shall we?

cover of Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti

I’d recommend a graphic novel called Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti. Featuring dreamy illustrations, the story follows two nonbinary characters from opposite sides of an interplanetary war who collide and form a deep friendship that may grow into more. Since the customer doesn’t mention reading graphic novels, I think this will be a great way for them to explore a new-to-them genre while keeping with the hopeful tone they’ve enjoyed in other books.

Recommendation Number 3 

ChatGPT chose The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune: “This heartwarming fantasy novel follows a caseworker who is sent to evaluate an orphanage for magical children. It explores themes of found family, acceptance, and the power of love and kindness.”

Book cover of Mango, Mambo, and Murder

Another missed opportunity for a hidden gem! Since this customer wants to be recommended a mix of genres, I decided to go with Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes — a cozy mystery about a food anthropologist who winds up needing to solve a murder. It hits on the customer’s request for a light read while still being outside their comfort zone.

When it comes down to it, ChatGPT isn’t awful at recommending books, it just isn’t very creative. If you ask it for sci-fi, you’ll get Brandon Sanderson and Frank Herbert. Ask for horror and it’ll churn out Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Request literary fiction and it’ll suggest F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee. And as we saw, it tends toward recommending best sellers, and, unless you specify you’re looking for diversity, white authors. It can’t seem to figure out how to avoid books that contain certain triggers and doesn’t really grasp the request to expand literary horizons. This experiment shows that once again, AI is a useful tool that can be outdone by a real human brain. If you’re interested in seeing what a real human being recommends for your next favorite book, come check out TBR!