How do you find new books?

November 23, 2007

It should be easier than ever to find great new books to read, but I find that finding great new books is almost hit or miss. I’ve stumbled upon too many good books on the recommendation of someone I’ve sat next to on an airplane, or because I read a comment on a website somewhere.

I’ve found as many good books from Amazon.com‘s recommendation engines and related lists as I have anywhere else. I’m lukewarm on computer generated recommendations, though. They always seem to point me to books I already know about and for good reason have chosen not to read, not to books that I don’t know about and should. Amazon does keep lists of bestsellers, award winners, and editor’s picks, and these are always great things to mine for the next good thing. The lists that the readers make are also quite good, and have often been a good way to explore a new author or topic.

LibraryThing is clearly trying to fill this space, but seems like a waste of time to me: like Amazon’s automatic recommendations, but more difficult, since I have to enter in all of my books by hand.

I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, and the book review section is always the first thing I read. I never really find any books I’m dying to read from its pages, though. There are a few exceptions: I heard of The Road months before Oprah did. But most of the time it just focuses on Important Books, like some new biography of Truman, and not books that anyone ever reads. Ditto and more so for the New York Review of Books. I have as many intellectual pretensions as the next man, but, really, snore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of my local library. Through their web site I subscribe to several booklists that are managed by DearReader. New Fiction, New SciFi, Hot Picks, etc.

Two of the magazines I make time for are Paste and The Week. Both have very good book review sections, and editors who don’t try to be too clever. I found Raw Shark Texts through Paste, and a number of others, including The Ruins and The Keep, through The Week.

But it seems to me that a real opportunity is being lost. I’m a web2.0 kind of guy, but the way I find books are very 1980-ish. Why isn’t there a reddit type web2.0 site for books, where people can vote up books they like? Or something. There has to be some way to connect people with the books they want to read, doesn’t there?

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7 Responses to “How do you find new books?”

  1. Lina Says:

    I don’t really have a system to find new books. I do get many choices through my bookstore, but mostly I read within one genre for a while or listen to advice from customers and friends. I might try what you’ve been doing and broaden my literary horizons. šŸ™‚


  2. Lina, like I said, that’s mostly my system as well. I’m just a little dissatisfied with it. I get this feeling that there are hundreds of amazing books out there that I’m missing. Why didn’t I read Pratchett until I was 35? Why didn’t I read the Raw Shark Texts until yesterday? There has to be a better way to do this.

  3. lee Says:

    look in a fundamentalist’s fireplace

  4. oilwinwar Says:

    Just go to the nearest library or bookstore and you should find something that interests you. I have a few suggestions: Chasing Vermmer by Blue Balliet and harry potter never hurt anyone………..

  5. Craig Says:

    I agree, a reddit style of website with book listings seems to be an ideal concept for finding out about good novels. That being said, I can recommend to you one now that is definitely worth a read: “Two Pounds” Although the plot involves marijuana use and there are political references by the characters, I think you could find it enlightening and entertaining. This excellent novel can be found at: http://www.lulu.com/content/820972. The story left me feeling good about the world and hoping for a sequel…


  6. I use a trick I learned while doing my thesis: Find a book I like, go to the library and look at the 3 or 4 books on either side of it. While they all are in the same topic, they do make for interesting reading as well. I also look up the author’s I like and see what books reference them, or what they have written about.

    Of course this theory goes down the tubes when you are in a library that sorts by author’s last name….


  7. Great comments, everyone. Thanks for leaving them.

    Harry Potter was great. I read a lot of young adult literature, since I like to see what’s grabbing the next generation of readers.

    I’ll track down Chasing Vermeer. Couldn’t find Two Pounds at Lulu.

    And I love the trick of searching adjacent bookshelves on the library. I’ve now gotten good enough at my own library that I can find most books, even the nonfiction, without looking up the reference numbers. ‘course it’s just a small branch.


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