Yesterday I let Goodreads take me on a journey of odd literary connections that began with The Great Gatsby and left me with Harry the Dirty Dog. Today I took another tact. I decided to see how I could rank the books Goodreads offered me to entice the web site to suggest one of my favorites, Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. First thing I needed to do was get away from Harry the Dirty Dog and out of the children’s section. This proved difficult. Children’s books are big sellers and Goodreads has good reason to keep me there.
I scrolled through a few screens without ranking any more children’s books until Goodreads returned to a previous favorite, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which led to My Antonia, The Chosen, and The Good Earth, three books that have little in common beyond fertile soil and longish hair. When The Lord of the Flies turned up next to Little Women, I realized the Goodread’s algorithm was not going to be easy to manipulate.
I meandered through many near misses. Surely Carson McCullers was a near cousin to The Grapes of Wrath, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and The Jungle.
I tried to become strategic. If I liked Babbitt and O Pioneers the Lonely Hunter could not be far away, while ranking Heart of Darkness high would steer me away from my objective. Still, I rated every book I had read, and none less than three because, well, they were all good. Except for Confederacy of Dunces. I’m the sole person who hated that book. Couldn’t care less about a fat galoot romping through New Orleans.
I started to slip away from anything close to my objective. I got mired in Dickens, Melville, Tolstoy. I despaired that Goodreads would ever suggest the favorite I was seeking. I scrolled through screen after screen headed in the wrong direction. Some pairings were humorous. Why was Diary of a Young Girl offered up next to Crime and Punishment?
By now Goodreads was getting fed up with me as well, offering titles a second time. No, I have never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin or East of Eden and I despised the implication I was illiterate as a result. Why was I offered Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence over and over but never The House of Mirth? Why Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame but never Les Miserables?
I scrolled through all of the automatic pop-ups, and then hit continue for another round. When I reached the end of the second series without any opportunity to rate Carson McCullers, I stopped.
The takeaway? It’s more fun to let the computer take you where it wants to go than try to maneuver its ramblings. The impulse to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has to come from within.