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A Case Against Buzz Lists


R. Alex Jenkins


Everyone knows what a news feed is. Swipe left on a mobile phone, open a browser or slide over a PC taskbar for dozens of suggestions that are sometimes welcome, but often intrusive and overwhelming.

Open up YouTube and see how much junk there is from 'suggestions' and cookies. Targeted marking based on your browsing habits.

It's the same with books. Must read this, best of the year that, friends are reading it, etc. You sometimes feel like a headless chicken running with the pack.

It's all a load of buzzcocks

As an avid reader and book collector, I regularly scour for bargain deals online, as well as reading lots of classics and just about anything that interests me, but I'm also very selective and snobby about simply diving in.

I like to feel that my decisions are made by me!

Think about the music charts and how easy it is to get hooked on new sounds. If you exclusively listen to recent hits, maybe you're denying yourself decades of rich music going back decades? If you expand this into classical music, this goes back centuries. No Mozart? It's up to you.

Now, compare this with books. Every time you open a feed, willingly or unwittingly, you're greeted with the same types of headlines: fantastic books to read this month, or the best books of this summer/fall. It's insistent marketing. Great literature goes back hundreds of years - even the last 20 years have been amazing - so why limit yourself to feeds, charts or bestseller lists? Are you in a rush for something quick and accessible? Do feel pressured into reading the latest ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) because a publisher wants you to? Do you get paid for it or is it your ego pushing you to remain ahead of the curve? Perhaps you like your hairdo so much and don't want to dilute your cool image?

Now-type lists are a great place to start if you don't want to do any background research. Let other people, AI bots or reader groups do the hard work for you. Come home, grab a book and sift the oceans of new content like a whale exposed to readable plankton.

Are you happy being a reading sea mammal trying to filter through everything?

The funny thing is, you never see any of these lists or recommendations until you became an avid reader. Now they're everywhere, all the time. Why? Because you live the life, read articles, watch videos and generally immerse in these circles. Meaning? Immediate go-to lists are useless and nothing more than marketing tactics to endlessly pump out and sell more content. You're inundated with material you don't want and have no time for.

How do you feel about targeted marketing? Our brains are pumped with third-party ideas every minute of the day, from cereal packets to friend recommendations on Goodreads, to advertising and AI-generated feeds.

If you see these lists and recommendations regularly, take note, you're obviously interested in literature - your cookies and habits say that much about you - but you're being targeted when you don't really want or need to be. You're already in these circles and focusing on your own interests.

Maybe you've read every good book in existence and need read-feeds to keep up to date with the latest releases? There's nothing wrong with that as long as you have a solid foundation to build on, with classics, favourite authors, genres and a decided idea about what you want.

Be your own judge.

  • If you're young, buzz lists and now-feeds can act like restrictive blinkers.

    • Someone else is telling you what to read.

  • If you're old, you probably pay no attention to them anyway.

    • You become focused (and narrow-minded to an extent).

The rest of us? Herded into reading what the bigwigs tell us to read to make them money and sell more copies.

Who knows, you may chance upon a fantastic new read from buzz lists, but if you regularly indulge in this habit you could be dining at the bottom of the marketing trough instead of making your own choices. The rest of your life starts today, but there's also an amazing back catalogue spanning hundreds of years. Maybe take the next 'must read now' list with a pinch of salt. It's not definitive and only there to grab your attention and make revenue for someone else.

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