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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Webster

Novel Use

The Challenge

My mum loves reading, but she has read all the books in her bookcase at least twice. At 97, it's simply not feasible for her to visit a library or bookshop to find more. One of her favourite authors is R.F. Delderfield, whose books depict England in the past*. However, without investing a significant amount of time to grasp the intricacies of his writing, it's challenging for me to identify similar authors. Perhaps this is a task for Gen AI?


Turning to Generative AI

What if I asked Gen AI to recommend similar books written by different authors that would be suitable for a 97-year-old?

The result was a pleasant surprise; some of the authors were already familiar to my mother, while others were new**. I made a random selection and, to keep costs down, discovered that purchasing second-hand books on Amazon is the most cost-effective approach. I can say that my mum enjoyed some of the books more than others, but curating a diverse selection like this would have been a challenge and incredibly time-consuming. It's a novel way in which AI is helping us improve our daily lives. But that's not all.


Comparing AI with Traditional Search

Years ago, I would have visited a library or a bookshop and browsed, purchasing a selection of books that I thought might fit the bill. This process would have been quite time-consuming. Perhaps I would have sought assistance from the librarian or bookshop owner along the way. Then, over the last 20 years, search engines emerged, providing an alternative method of browsing the Internet with Google to find titles that might have been suitable. Alternatively, I could have utilised Amazon, possibly focusing on purchases made by people who had already bought a book by R.F. Delderfield.


The Future of AI in Everyday Life

These options are still available, but now I can also utilise Gen AI. It's clear to me that there is a distinct difference between a Google search and using AI. Search is excellent if you know precisely what you want and are simply trying to locate it on the Internet. However, if you require more background information and knowledge about a topic, it's not as effective. Even if you do find information, it tends to be in a wiki page format, which may or may not answer the specific question you are seeking. Consequently, since the advent of Gen AI, my use of Google has significantly decreased, and I prefer to use platforms like Perplexity to guide me in the right direction. These Gen AI-based searches also have a less tacky feel to them; while I may still be subjected to marketing, it's not as overt. I've heard quite a few commentators remark on how the old search engines often feature paid advertisements at the top, pushing them above free information due to the commercial nature of the model. There's something else, too.


Learning Lessons

Learning how to use AI is something that many people will have to do, and when faced with a blank prompt window, it's amazing how complex it can seem. That's why some basic training to gain confidence in integrating Gen AI into your everyday life is helpful. I've heard some commentators mention that, in their opinion, simply learning prompts from other people is no better than trying to learn phrases from a book when learning a foreign language, and I tend to agree. A smattering of phrases might get you a beer or a coffee, and you may be able to buy a railway ticket and say thank you, but it's not truly a conversation. That's the difference between using AI and using Google. With Google, you input a prompt and sift through the answers, whereas using Gen AI tends to be more of a dialogue and discussion, or at least that's how you get the most out of Gen AI; it's not just a fact-generating machine.

However, I do think that seeing what other people do with Gen AI is very helpful. The example I've given above with my mother may not be immediately obvious, but if you copy, adopt, and adapt, you may find that a slightly different approach can help you benefit from AI. For example, if you've read a book and want to learn from that experience, you can now have a constructive dialogue with AI about the content of that book, reinforcing your impression of the written work.


My mother continues to read, and now she has discovered some new authors and titles. If you know an elderly person who shares a similar passion for reading, why not try Gen AI to expand their reading list?



* Ronald Frederick Delderfield was a popular English novelist and playwright, best known for his historical novels and family sagas that vividly depict English life from the Victorian era through the mid-20th century. His works are characterized by their detailed narrative, accessible style, and warm humanism. Delderfield's novels often explore themes of societal change and the impact of historical events on personal lives, resonating with a broad readership.

Some of Delderfield's most notable works include:

  1. The "Avenue" series ("A Horseman Riding By", "Theirs Was the Kingdom", and "The Green Gauntlet") - This trilogy covers the life and times of the inhabitants of a Devonshire community from the early 1900s through World War II, illustrating the social and economic changes affecting the characters.

  2. The "Swann" series ("God Is an Englishman", "Their Sons' Great Glory", and "The Avenue Goes to War") - This series follows the Swann family as they rise from modest beginnings to prominence through the transport industry, detailing their personal trials and tribulations across generations.

  3. "To Serve Them All My Days" - Perhaps one of his most beloved works, this novel follows the life of a shell-shocked World War I veteran who becomes a teacher at a boys' boarding school in England. It's a poignant exploration of healing and service, set against the backdrop of the interwar years and World War II.

Delderfield's writing is notable for its affectionate and detailed portrayals of English countryside and the decency of ordinary people. His books often provide a comforting retreat into a world where values like integrity and duty are upheld, and they have been adapted into several successful television series, bringing his stories to an even wider audience.


** R.F. Delderfield is known for his sweeping historical novels and engaging family sagas, which often explore themes of English rural life, societal changes, and the human spirit. If your mother enjoys Delderfield's style and themes, here are some authors and books she might also enjoy:

  1. Maeve Binchy - Known for her warm and engaging novels set in Ireland, Binchy's books often explore interpersonal relationships and community ties. Some of her most popular works include "Circle of Friends" and "Tara Road."

  2. Rosamunde Pilcher - Pilcher's novels frequently delve into family dynamics and life in the British countryside. "The Shell Seekers" and "Coming Home" are two of her beloved novels that offer rich storytelling similar to Delderfield's.

  3. Elizabeth Jane Howard - Her series "The Cazalet Chronicles" begins with "The Light Years" and is an absorbing family saga set before, during, and after World War II. It provides a detailed look at the lives and transformations of the Cazalet family.

  4. Winston Graham - Best known for the "Poldark" series, Graham weaves compelling narratives of romance, adventure, and family ties against the backdrop of Cornwall. The series offers a blend of historical detail and drama.

  5. John Galsworthy - His series "The Forsyte Saga" is a classic exploration of upper-middle-class English family life spanning three generations. The series begins with "The Man of Property" and offers a critique of Victorian and Edwardian society.

  6. Nevil Shute - While often categorized under historical romance and adventure, Shute's novels like "A Town Like Alice" and "On the Beach" provide compelling narratives with a strong sense of place and era.

These authors provide a similar sense of depth in their character development and historical settings, which should resonate with a fan of R.F. Delderfield.


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