By November 26, 2008 4 Comments Read More →

The Art & Science of Recommendations: the Brad Pitt Factor

The New York Times had a recent interesting article: If You Like This, You’re Sure to Like That by Clive Thompson. The article examines the difficulty of using a computer program, such as NetFlix’s Cinematch, to create recommendation lists. I admit an addiction to clicking through my Amazon and iTunes recommendations, ofter lured into wildly off-base purchases.

Audiobook recommendations add another layer of complexity. The false assumption of good book=good audiobook may lead listeners to selections where a lackluster narrator effectively kills a title. Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt: When Audiobook Casting Goes Terribly Wrong by Nate DiMeo, posted on, is a must-read. Then give a listen to NPR’s “When Audio Books Jar the Ear” where you can hear Brad’s perfectly dreadful Spanish accent! I especially like a quote from Thompson’s NYT article, “It used to be that if you wanted to buy a book, rent a movie or shop for some music, you had to rely on flesh-and-blood judgment — yours, or that of someone you trusted.”

Call me old fashioned, but that’s where librarians beat computerized recommendations every time: nothing is better than getting the right audiobook into the right hands. When a sixth-grader who has not read a book all year came running into my school library yesterday after finishing Star Wars: The Way of the Appentice, and asked for another great STORY, I had a listener sold on literature, not audiobooks. I had to smile when I realized that the narrator of that audiobook was Jonathan Davis, highlighed in a recent post!



Posted in: Audiobooks
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About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

4 Comments on "The Art & Science of Recommendations: the Brad Pitt Factor"

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  1.' Keir says:

    Great post and great links. The NYT Magazine article was fascinating, but I came to a similar conclusion as you did. And when we designed Booklist Online, we built it around the premise that algorithms are no substitute for human experience–our recommendations are made by editors!

  2.' Ginnie Daugherty says:

    I am a school librarian. A few years ago I bought a copy of A Wrinkle in Time (my favorite book in elementary school) on CD so that my son and I could listen to it in the car. I was so excited at the prospect of Madeleine L’Engle herself reading her own words. Well–long story short–her voice was so grating and her speech so lacking in expression that we barely made it through chapter 1! I’ll never forget it. Yes, it adversely affected our experience of a fantastic story.

    • Mary Burkey says:

      Ginnie, you’ll be glad to know that Listening Library released a NEW recording of A Wrinkle in Time with the divine Hope Davis narrating. So much better – give it a try 😉

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