Books, and in particular, the process of book discovery, are still being somewhat failed by the Internet.

No, that’s unfair — a big call, and a big generalisation. Certain genres are fine, as well as anybody interested in keeping up with that handful of bestsellers that happen to be riding high on the western world’s collective Top 20 at any given time. You know, those titles you find in every airport bookshop.

But wait, there I go already: using a real-world example to represent book discovery in a way you’ll all relate to. Where’s that ubiquitous Internet equivalent? I’m sure many could throw an example or ten at me, but of those, how many will have a list identical to the next? And even though there’ll be some places that will start to clump, what are the chances that those popular sources match my particular taste in books?

It’s all so hard. If you want to get serious about finding online book reviews and curation that matches your own tastes, it really is a lot of work. Too much for most, which is a shame, considering what is potentially being missed if you stick to the easy Top Lists. Plus — and I’m happy to cast this generalisation out there without sounding like a total snob — there’s often a lot of pulpy stuff on those Top Lists. I’m sure you can pick a few titles out of the air that found their way onto the popular bestseller lists that may have been a fun holiday ready, but ultimately drivel and not all that engaging as a non-holiday read (if that’s what you’re into). Or worse: crappy YA or NA titles that get caught on that list for two years at a time, often joined by their sequel/s, openly derided by all bar their specific demographic or fan-base.

Look, all that stuff is still fine. Each to their own. I don’t mind if people are reading crappy books – it’s still cooler they’re reading anything at all, rather than not. If those books are what sells, then whether I’m into them as well is irrelevant – give the people what they want.

The problem, then, is still this other one: how are the rest of us supposed to navigate? With the most prolific book-buyers (thus demand-supply drivers) not always encouraging titles with higher education or reading-age levels, particularly with the rise and rise of the Young and New Adult genres in the past ten years, those with broader genre or literary tastes aren’t getting the same ease of discovery as the rest. Those reviews are still all out there, those books still being reviewed, but it takes a lot more proactive work to sift through it all, and even more research to know whether or not individual reviewers might share your taste (as opposed to going with the numbers, as YA readers are often able to do).

The solution, for now, would appear to be one-on-one engagement within communities you know and trust.

Finding certain Goodreads lists. An individual reviewer on your favourite newspaper. A regular best-of-the-month post on a particular blog. Some dark corner of one of Reddit’s numerous book subreddits.

Yes, it’s all out there. It’s still just a little too hard. I’ve had to do a lot of work over the past couple of years whittling down my own preferred sources. And honestly, when all is said and done, apart from the annual Booker Prize Longlist and a couple of favourite reviewers, much of my own reading list comes from a handful of trusted friends I’m in regular comment-banter with on one particular (private) Facebook Group.

“You’ll love this one, dude.” See, I can trust that title, since I trust the guy behind the words.

What I’m hoping to see in the coming years is a stronger level of AI on popular book sites or stores. Right now you tend to get “other readers who bought this also bought ____ ” style suggestions from sites, which I’m assuming are largely based on the numbers (see above re: pulp). But imagine if the software began digging even deeper than that. What if, having just picked up and enjoyed The Goldfinch, some clever piece of code was able to identify that I enjoyed that particular style of writing, or that I like stories with characters spiralling into dark, dark places, or that matched books with similar overarching themes, keeping that in mind while they ran through your own history for things of a similar reading-age etc. Perhaps it’d be smart enough to learn that you didn’t just like reading heavy book after heavy book, throwing in something lighter or quirky after you just read something dark? I can see it being possible at some point, though it doesn’t exist yet. Not online, not automagically.

Or does it?

I am getting my reading list from somewhere, right? And didn’t I just say most of it was coming from a nice bunch of trusted friends on a private Facebook Group? My eyeballs are still finding those great book titles, aren’t they?

Haters gonna hate.

I’m sure I’ll get my super-smart AI book-discovery robot one day, Internet. (And my flying car.) And boy, will there be hell to pay the first time that bleeping bastard serves me up a copy of Twilight or Fifty Shades.