There’s no feeling more deflating than asking someone what they’re reading, only to have never heard of any of the three books they readily rattle off. But what if that academic smugness could be yours? What if you were the one with their finger on the pulse of books nobody has heard of?
That’s the idea of the Hipster Summer Reading list, an interactive data visualization by Russell Goldenberg and Amber Thomas, spotted by FlowingData. The duo created a site that filters 100 million checkout records from the Seattle Public Library, rendering a towering stack of what Goldenberg calls the most “forgotten but available books” right in your browser. You can further filter the list by year, length, or obscurity. The most aggressive and apropos sorting method is labeled “Peak Hipster,” which consists of books that are over 100 years old and have no reviews on Goodreads.
The entire hipster angle is a joke, of course. But it hints at the database’s real utility. These are all books that haven’t been checked out in the last decade. They live on library shelves untouched. And because no one is reading these books, there are no fresh eyes to recommend them so they will be read again in the future. They’re artifacts forgotten by culture and algorithms alike. You will not see them popping up on Amazon or New York Times lists. They exist—but in terms of mindshare, they’re just gone.
Perhaps not all literature should live on forever in public consciousness. Perhaps many of these books are no longer relevant. That said, as we increasingly rely on the nudges of the Netflixes and Amazons of the world to decide what chunk of media to consume next, it’s refreshing to see a nudge in the completely opposite direction. Let’s all be sure to hug a hipster today.