What should I read next?

Welcome to my blog!

What better first blog post for a website devoted to literary exploration, than recommender systems? This has been a hot topic in the IT world for a while now, it’s how your browser recommends things you might want to buy or Pandora predicts the next song you want to listen to.  Algorithms allow this magic to happen and ensure that the search results that are most accurate, are at the top. Recommender or filtering systems fall into several evolving categories: content based, collaborative, utility based, knowledge based.  There is a ton of research on these topic, which I will not go into here, but check out my paper on folksonomies for a very brief overview of these systems (shameless plug!).

What does this have to do with finding your next great read?  Well, just as librarians provide readers’ advisory (and are, in my humble opinion, much better than any website), there are helpful sites that provide similar guidance and these sites use these fancy algorithms. Below is a list and a short critique of a few:

  1. Goodreads– love this site and I think most book lovers already have an account. But the recommendations for me have stayed the same since I set-up my account. Another downfall is that before you can get recommendations, you have to create a profile and add books.  I have found it to be more useful for following authors to get book ideas or exploring lists that other users have created.
  2. LibraryThing– see above, another book community with virtual book storage.  I am not a member, so I’m not sure how accurate the recommendations are; however, the LibraryThing blog claims that each user can see as many as 1,000 recommendations based on a “single comprehensive algorithm.”
  3.  What Should I Read Next?– no sign up required for this one. I entered one of my favorite books (History of Love by Nicole Krauss) and the site generates a HUGE list.  I recognize some of the books and they are similar.  The site also lists the tags under each book (i.e. families/England/social life and customs), which is a nice way to quickly evaluate if the book is a good fit.
  4. Whichbook– the main page of this site is a little different, instead of searching an author or title, you select an ideal description.  For instance, if you are looking for an unusual/sad/short book, you can select these descriptions.  There is also a range between two extremes- so you can select a kind of short book, that is a little sad and very unusual. There are also book lists, such as “laugh your pants off” and “weird and wonderful.” According to the about section of the site, the overall goal is to expose people to lesser known books based on unique classifications (mood, emotion, etc.).
  5. Riffle– another site that requires a login and an extensive registration process, which includes the opportunity to follow authors or local bookstores. This was my least favorite site, it’s more a social community with book reviews and lists, than a site that provides helpful recommendations. I used History of Love again in my search and it recommended a similar book (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer) but also Oedipus by Sophocles and Great Poems for American Women, an Anthology.  While all 3 of these books share themes, namely love and tragedy, I loved History of Love but the other 2 suggestions are a little too highbrow for me.

This review is by no means exhaustive and these sites are constantly changing how they look and how they operate.  However, these 5 sites do represent the diverse offering out there: Goodreads & LibraryThing are vast communities of readers, What Should I Read Next provides a quick recommendation, Whichbook lets you pick a novel based on mood and other quirky categories, and Riffle is a good choice for finding books that might be out of your comfort zone.




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