I’m really flattered whenever someone asks me what they should read next. It’s confirmation that I have good taste, but it makes me sweat in funny places. I hate when I choose the wrong book because I suck at quitting a bad one. When someone else recommends one to me, I feel pressured to become a fan of the book, even if it’s not one I end up being crazy about. In order to avoid these awkward situations, I’ve found some great tools to help me evade all human interaction while book hunting.
I’m not going to even talk about Amazon. I know their recommendations based on what other people have bought or searched for are getting better, but it hasn’t provided me with a good recommendation in so long I just skip it. I love Amz to shop for everything else, and I might end up buying a lot of books from them, but I don’t discover the next read through them. That said, let’s get to the hunt.
I know, they’re owned by Amz now, but Goodreads has become more and more useful for me. Here’s how I do it:
- Get some friends – Add people from Facebook, Twitter, and your email contacts. At first I only added people who I thought would have similar tastes, but then I noticed a couple people I didn’t even know were big readers reading books. It’s like some people are in the closet about their habits. So yes, add everyone. Next time you search for a book, their rating and review will appear first. You can then either judge whether or not that’s a good thing and even reach out to them (if you’re willing to talk to human beings at that point).
- Follow like-minded reviewers – Go back to Goodreads after you finish a book (or look up one you read) and go to the reviews. Read the first few. Make sure you’re looking at positive and negative reviews so you get a good range of opinion. Reviews are rated, so the most popular ones will float to the top, and they’re usually the best. If you keep doing this with books you read, you will eventually start to recognize some reviewers. People are prolific on this site. You’ll see that some of these reviewers are reading a lot of the same type of books, which for me is freaking crazy because I read all over the place. You can click on them and use the Compare Books feature to confirm that you think similar books are shitty or great. Once you’ve figured out that there is one more awesome person in the world, either friend or follow them. They’ll start showing up in your Goodreads feed either way, and when you click on new books, their reviews (along with other friends) will be at the top of the list. This is AMAZING. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve discovered or avoided this way.
- Listopia – Goodreads has a super duper neat feature called Listopia, which is useful if you’re reading something obscure and trying to find something similar. Pull up a book on Goodreads and scroll down. Between Friend Reviews and Community Reviews, you’ll see Lists with This Book. There may not be any, but if there are, click through them and see if there’s anything interesting. I was on an ancient Greek fantasy stint for a while, and this is how I found a lot of material for that streak.
- Goodreads recommendations – Goodreads now has a recommendation engine, which suggests books you might like based on what’s on your shelves and how your ratings. It’s nowhere as freakishly good as Netflix at knowing what I will like next, but it’s still better than Amazon because it considers whether or not I actually liked some of the books I bought.
A few of the big publishers (Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) teamed up to get more of their books in readers’ hands. They love bestsellers, but they love selling other books too, so they created this site as a way to find books that Amazon and the New York Times haven’t discovered yet. It’s dead simple. You enter a book you liked and it spits out a few recommendations–not a huge list, just a few. You can then add up to three more books you liked to get more tailored suggestions.
Bookish has formed partnerships with most other publishing houses, so their database is fairly large. It’s so quick to search that it’s worth checking out.
LibraryThing is a lot like Goodreads. I’ve noticed people tend to like one site more than the other. Some like GR because it’s free no matter what, while LT only lets you add 200 books for free ($10/yr or $25/yr for unlimited). GR is now owned by Amazon, so there’s been some defection to LT, but at the same time people from LT are switching to GR because it’s free. It’s complicated. Whatever. If you try Goodreads and decide you don’t like their site colors or parent company, give LibraryThing a shot. Obviously, I’m a Goodreads user, so if you want to shout about your favorite LibraryThing features that I’m skipping, feel free to do so in the comments and I’ll update this post as appropriate (with a tender, loving thank-you note, of course).
Books by Setting
I wrote a book that is partially set in Montreal. I’ve been there twice, but I wanted to make sure I had a good feel for its culture, so I went hunting for stories also based in that beautiful city with the best bagels on the planet. I got a few results from Google and random Wikipedia entries, but I found even more on this handy site:
The design is totally dated, but I was really impressed how many results I got. Sure, some of them were only partially set in Montreal, but once I had a few good titles, I was able to find other books by those authors and similar stories through further Goodreads searching.
Barely related: if you’re hunting for books by locale, check out this data source and see how stories set in that city are trending against other places like New York or Paris. You might not find new books to read, but it’s super interesting.
Find Books by Mood, Theme
This site uses some pretty abstract concepts with slider bars to narrow down choices for your next reading adventure. I think the results are a bit wild, but I had fun playing with the slider to see what combinations I could make that have “lots of sex” or some other available parameter. Seriously, you might not actually find anything here, but it’s worth the time for entertainment value.
Happy book hunting!