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Ten thousand readers make their mark on Big Book Review

02/03/2022
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The University of Wolverhampton’s Big Book Review project has reached a major milestone of receiving over ten thousand book reviews from readers across the UK.

This significant milestone makes it the largest British survey of its kind, inviting readers to help answer a simple question “What makes a good book?”

Led by Sebastian Groes, Professor in English Literature at the University of Wolverhampton and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Big Book Review’s international team of literature researchers, computational linguists, psychologists and sociologists, has been investigating UK attitudes towards popular contemporary fiction by asking people to rate and review recently published novels.

The team hope to understand why some fiction is perceived to be literary: what intrinsic qualities does a text need to have, and how do factors such as genre, theme, literary prizes and the gender of the author shape people’s perceptions.

As the survey enters its final stretch, the project has teamed up with independent bookstore supporters Bookshop.org to offer several prizes of £50 gift cards in an online competition, open to anyone who takes its innovative survey.

 

Professor Sebastian Groes said: “We’re delighted to have reached this important milestone in the project with the help of Bookshop.org.

“This independent platform is exactly the kind of initiative that our project wants to support – and we’re proud to be backed by Bookshop.org. In the age of globalisation and the appeal of online shopping, it’s important to support physical bookshops across the UK. They’re not only a place where you can buy books, but they also unite the community together whilst bringing diversity to shopping areas.”

The novels, all published between 2014 and 2019 – have been selected from bestsellers and the most frequently-borrowed library books, with the list containing crime fiction, romance novels, young adult fiction, fantasy, science fiction and chick-lit as well as literary fiction. Participants are also asked how ‘literary’ they think novels are.

These reviews and responses will be compared with computational linguistic analysis of the texts themselves, looking at elements such as sentence length, vocabulary and grammatical difficulty. These methodologies are still relatively new and controversial: What can an algorithm say about the literary quality of a book? Can computers predict a bestseller?

In addition to surveying audience members at its travelling literary roadshow – which has so far appeared at libraries and festivals from Birmingham to Belfast, the Big Book Review has recently teamed up with Bookshop.org to reach supporters of independent bookshops around the country. The project is also working with Libraries Connected and the Reading Agency to gather the opinions of library users.

The Big Book Review builds on previous research by members of the project team in the Netherlands, The Riddle of Literary Quality, and also draws on the team’s work with BBC Arts’ ongoing engagement project The Novels That Shaped Our World, which celebrates 300 years of English-language novels through an exploration of ten different literary themes.

To take part in the survey and enter the competition click here.

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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