Categorize or Bust!

Using science and blind luck to select great books

Categorize or Bust

My categorization efforts for the candidate book list continue. I have determined the genre, publication year, author gender, relative significance, and a descriptive keyword or two for three-fourths of the nearly 1,700 books on the list. I should be done by early next week.

Once I have basic data on every book, I will start tossing out great works by the hundreds. First, if an author has more than one book on the list, I’ll retain only his or her magnum opus. This should trim thirty to forty percent of the items off the list right away. It’s ridiculous how many authors try to force their way onto great-book lists multiple times through writing skill.

Next, out come the books written for children or young adults. (Of course The Very Hungry Caterpillar is on the list; what were you thinking?) It seems that a few of the candidate books were added to one or more recommended-reading lists for their entertainment value only. They get the boot as well.

Next comes the hard part. My goal is to have a representative sample of books based on statistics found in the entire list. For instance, if female authors penned twenty percent of the full list, then twenty percent of the final list should reflect that factor. But such restrictions also need to take publication year into account. I don’t want to prejudice the reading by including too many works from my lifetime, so the final list of fifty books will probably include only five books (ten percent) written since the 1960s. If books before 1960 were more likely to be written by men, then older books in the final list will lean more toward masculine authors.

Each book will also be weighted by how many times it appeared on the various recommendation lists. The final, and most important, step is to warm up the random number generator. Even after I pare down the choices, there will likely be a few hundred books left. I may have to resort to pulling the book names out of a hat because the sad fact is that there are too many good books in the world. Sigh.

[Image Credits: rubinstein]


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