Finding new books
March 7, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How do you discover new books and authors? Netflix tells me what I'd enjoy watching and Pandora helps me find new music. But beyond the slightly random "Amazon Recommends..." I depend on word of mouth to pick my next read. This is slow and unsatisfactory. What's a better way?
posted by TrashyRambo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (43 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
I've found LibraryThing to be pretty good at giving recommendations that work out well for me.
posted by Flunkie at 10:54 AM on March 7, 2009

Yeah, I've actually not been impressed by LibraryThing. From what I've seen, it mostly just recommends more books from authors I've already read.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2009

Yeah, I've actually not been impressed by LibraryThing. From what I've seen, it mostly just recommends more books from authors I've already read.
There is -- or at least there used to be -- or at least I am pretty sure there used to be -- a setting to tell it to only list recommendations by authors that you haven't read any books by.

I just briefly looked for it, and wasn't able to find it, so maybe they changed it, or maybe I'm hallucinating. But it might be in there somewhere.
posted by Flunkie at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2009

Ask your local library if they subscribe to NoveList.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:10 AM on March 7, 2009

I like the New York Times Book Review, Fresh Air, NPR, Daily Show. Sometimes the New York Review of Books, though those are often essays about the subject of the book, only occasionally giving a nod to the book under review. AskMe is a pretty good place to find good books. If you're looking for an algorithm I can't really say there's one I prefer.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:11 AM on March 7, 2009

The Front Table from Seminary Co-op is also pretty good, and the Powell's blog and Staff Picks page can also be interesting.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2009

I think you need to know what attracts you to certain books. If it's the subject matter then referrals like the ones Amazon makes may help you. But if you are searching for a style of writing or a level or erudition then you may have to search on your own. For example, I love John LeCarre because of the style and intelligence in his writing but recommendations for other "spy stories" aren't going to lead me to find other writers I like. Short answer: ask on Metafilter for recommendations.
posted by andreap at 11:21 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My public library has displays both of popular "readers choices" and selected "librarians picks." Those librarians have some pretty varied tastes. Strike up a conversation with a librarian.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:23 AM on March 7, 2009

I always hit the library and see what looks interesting on the new book rack, but part of the librarian's job is to help you find a book you might like. Just go up to one and tell them what kind of book you are looking for or what stuff you liked that you already read. They should be able to help you find a read-a-like. If your library has access to EBSCO, you can also look at NoveList.

Otherwise I see what looks interesting with other people I share an interest with, even if it's someone on a blog or from a magazine. I like watching The Daily Show to see what books are being promoted. The newspaper has a book section every week. Oh and I'll randomly wander around Barnes & Noble looking for things with fun titles or interesting covers. You can judge a book by its cover!
posted by CoralAmber at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2009

Librarians in public libraries are trained to do this sort of thing (called reader's advisory). Ask a few at your local library, or try a few of the chat services offered by libraries across the country.
posted by arco at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2009

I like to read the journals and letters of authors I already like and see what they love/hate, especially when it comes to older literature. Other times, I will trace allusions in books I love back to their sources and read about those works and see if I would like them.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 11:31 AM on March 7, 2009

I use the multitude of "I like to read X; please recommend more X-like things!" on AskMe, mostly.
posted by rtha at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

It ultimately boils down to what, or whose, opinion you trust. Whether it be best-seller lists, book seller web sites, or your local librarian, you have to develop a level of comfort with recommendations you have received from them previously. Personally, I have found this forum right here, AskMetafilter, to be trustworthy for this purpose. In the past couple months I have asked for recommendations of 21st Century Fiction and Interesting Biographies. I have not been disappointed.
posted by netbros at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually the NYT list provides me with at least one good book every few weeks, and ET, and some of the other other pop cult mags are also excellent. Of all the 'book clubs' I like Shelfari the best. I wish we had a metabook site, I mean officially.
posted by dawson at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2009

I use Amazon's customer-created lists (Listmania or "So You'd Like To..."). I go to a book that I loved and scroll down to the bottom of the page -- there you see lists on which that book appears. If someone is already recommending a book that I loved, odds are pretty good that they're recommending other books that suit my tastes as well! I like it bc it's not a computer generating set of recommendation - just real people's real suggestions. I piggyback off the lists, too (Book Description --> Listmania List on which Book appears--> Simiilar Listmania Lists).
posted by roundrock at 11:52 AM on March 7, 2009

I like browsing the new book shelf at the library. If the book jacket includes a positive review from the NY Times or some other large national or regional paper, and not too many reviews from magazines like Cosmo, I give it a try. This is after I've filtered out genres, etc.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:57 AM on March 7, 2009

Admittedly, the auto-generated recommendations on LibraryThing are awful, but the member recommendations are getting better. Have you tried hanging around in / reading through the LT 'Talk' forums at all? One of the groups I'm in has been simply terrible for my 'to read' list -- it's grown remarkably since the beginning of January.

Other than that, I've found a few book-review blogs [both professional and amateur] who seem to follow my general reading tastes and follow them via my RSS reader.
posted by alynnk at 11:58 AM on March 7, 2009

Alot of times, I find my future reads just by researching the background of a book/author I am currently reading and enjoying. You tend to learn about their influences/inspirations and many times there are real gems that you find that way.
posted by scarello at 12:10 PM on March 7, 2009

If you like contemporary literary fiction, The Millions: A Blog About Books might be of interest. I'm sure there are many other litblogs corresponding to various tastes.
posted by matildaben at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember what you did before pandora and Netflix?
You asked people about music and movies.
Why should this be any different? People understand you don't just want more things that fall into the tight categories that Amazon creates. People don't suggest based on algorithms. People will give you good answers, for the most part.
So where do you find people?
Everywhere, man. AskMe is a pretty good repository of helpful people, local public librarians are people with specialty knowledge about books (bonus!), your friends who read books are people, even that guy on the subway that's reading a book you read and liked is a person. So ask them.

this is not an indictment of pandora or netflix. Both are services I respect a lot, but as good as they are, they seem to make everyone forget that asking people for suggestions is still a (very good) option.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:20 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

aand I should have read the question a little better. Let me tailor that answer a little bit, then.

you have to actively ask people for suggestions. Waiting for the next rec from your friend who was an english major is too slow and inexact, so go ask more people, different people, c.f. my list above.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:26 PM on March 7, 2009
posted by Theloupgarou at 1:05 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My gf asked me the same question last weekend and is now using Gnooks which she loves.
posted by i_cola at 1:09 PM on March 7, 2009

I've found that the New York Times list of "New and Notable Paperbacks", now called "Paperback Row" is a good place to start. For one thing, once the book is in paperback it has most likely made it to the library or is more affordable in the bookstore. The descriptions are short and the selection is not so heavily laden with the friends of the reviewers.

I've also enjoyed reading books from the Man Booker Prize short and long lists. They may not be your cup of tea, but they're generally excellent literature.

I was born into a family of readers so I tend to talk to my family. I also for several years had access to an excellent university library. There aren't so many students trolling the stacks for fun things to read, but the faculty tend to ask for good books, so just picking things up and reading the first paragraph worked well for me.

One of my escapism techniques involves armchair travel books, I like the suggestions of the Globe Corner Bookstore staff.

I'll ditto the suggestion of Toekneesan for the Front Table from Seminary Co-op.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:21 PM on March 7, 2009

nthing your local library. check the new book section, take a couple to the reading area, browse the newspapers and periodicals and wander back into the stacks again.

of course, i'm semi- retired and like to hang out there.
posted by lemuel at 1:22 PM on March 7, 2009

What Should I Read Next?

I've found some interesting titles through this site.
posted by urbanette at 1:26 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I work in a library and yet I rely on chance for most of my fiction reading.

This may not work for you if you feel you must absolutely finish a book you don't like.

If your time is limited and you want to make every minute count, by all means seek out recommendations. But also consider when someone tells you "Read xyz, you'll love it!", how would they know that? Sometimes even you don't know you'd like something, until you've gone and read it.

Last year I challenged myself to read 500 short stories in 6 months, a genre I really knew nothing about. I discovered many authors I've been reading since. I did this because I was inspired by Heidi Pitlor who is the series editor of Best American Short Stories and reads 3000 stories in a year. I thought, by god, that's about 8 stories a day every day of the year--and in one of those years, Pitlor also wrote a novel and gave birth to twins!

One last word: sometimes the best way to get someone to read something is to actively discourage them. Really good authors do this all the time! I'm reading Gravity's Rainbow right now--only 200 more booby-trapped and obstacled pages to go!
posted by subatomiczoo at 1:36 PM on March 7, 2009

First chapters (NYT)

First chapters (WaPo)

Bloggingheads, a website with hour-or-so-long video conversations ("diavlogs"), occasionally has interviews with authors of notable books talking about them, e.g. this one about a Slate writer who read the whole Bible. While watching a diavlog, look at the upper-right side of the screen for relevant links, which should go to some info about any books they're talking about.

Watch talks from the TED conference -- they have a wide variety of intellectually stimulating topics, and a speaker who's prominent enough to be speaking there will very often have some kind of book having to do with their talk, e.g. Daniel Gilbert's excellent Stumbling on Happiness.

Above all: meander aimlessly through bookstores and use my method.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:40 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I feel your pain, but the internet is still pretty useful to track down other authors writing in your preferred style. I haven't checked out the recommended sites other people have suggest (they look neat, though) but here's my method. Let's pretend you got on a DeLillo kick:

-If you're currently going through a phase where you only read a certain style of writing, look up college syllabi. Professors teach classes on Harry Potter, Mary Higgins Clark and the Twilight series now, so don't discount your field as unworthy of academic attention. In DeLillo's case, this college syllabus points you to Kerouac.

-Do some quick research. This Wikipedia entry tells you that DeLillo's a contemporary of Pynchon and McCarthy and precursor to David Foster Wallace.

-Read the reviews of your favorite books. Critics love to make connection between contemporary writers and their predecessors, so you'll notice that a NYTimes review of DeLillo's Falling Man compares the book to Joan Didion's novel, "Play it as it Lays".

-And Dr. Bunsen is right: ask your friends who have similar (or better yet, wildly varying) preferences.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:13 PM on March 7, 2009

Just a suggestion that if you're going to use AskMe for book recommendations, a much easier way to do it than through tags is to use the awesome MetaWiki page called ReadMe. Makes it much quicker to find a book by type/subject when you're in the mood for something particular. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how up-to-date it's been kept since it was created...
posted by bibbit at 2:21 PM on March 7, 2009

Find an independent bookstore with a good selection and browse. Pick up books with interesting covers, read a page or two, and see what you think. It won't necessarily always work, but you might also discover something you'd never have happened upon otherwise, and it's a delightful process. Strike up conversations with the employees of the bookstore, or other customers. They might recommend something, or you might recommend something to them. It's difficult to browse at an enormous bookstore and almost impossible at a place like Barnes & Noble, but if you can find a small store where someone has chosen to stock each title, chances are most of them will be at least interesting.

Another thing I've found useful is to look at the books I have and find out if there are publishers who consistently put out work that I like. Then when I'm browsing, if I see one of their logos, I know there's a good change I'll dig the book.
posted by dizziest at 4:15 PM on March 7, 2009

I've found that the best way for me to find new authors of interest is to keep tabs on specific publishers--if Publisher X puts out one book I enjoy, it's likely that there will be others. Beyond that, I'm a great believer in shelfwalking (or, at least, bookstore front table-walking).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:56 PM on March 7, 2009

As dizziest also said, I see!
posted by thomas j wise at 5:57 PM on March 7, 2009

Find reader review blogs in the genres you enjoy.

I like reading romance and women's fiction, for example, so I follow blogs like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I find reader reviews much more enjoyable than traditional ones, and you usually get good discussions happening in the comments, too.
posted by Georgina at 6:08 PM on March 7, 2009

Head Butler
Flashlight Worthy Books (they're on Twitter too)

I also like the BookSense handout at independent bookstores -- actually they now call it the IndieNext List -- and I check out the top 10 fiction and nonfiction sellers and staff picks at the indie store too.
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The I Love Books message board hosts some pretty good literary discussions, and is where I turn if the AskMe archive mentioned above doesn't turn up anything interesting first.
posted by carsonb at 8:10 PM on March 7, 2009

I have found some good leads from The Morning News' Tournament of Books
posted by cotterpin at 5:21 AM on March 8, 2009

My public library has displays both of popular "readers choices" and selected "librarians picks." Those librarians have some pretty varied tastes. Strike up a conversation with a librarian.

That very same library also posts new book lists, with short reviews, and you can read them on their website or grab 'em via RSS. I used to find many new books that way (and reserve them online, AND I could have ordered them for home delivery if I'd wanted to pay a few extra bucks).

My girlfriend recommends using LibraryThing, but not their recommender; instead she suggests looking at your 'similar libraries' and seeing if there's anything interesting in those.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:44 AM on March 8, 2009

+1 for Librarything! It has two types of "recommenders" now: one is an algorithm based on the libraries people have entered (automatic recommendation) and one is where people actually say "if you like a, you'll love b!" (member recommendation). They even tell you what books in your library cause the recommendation.

Both of these tools are only as good as what others have put into it (i.e. if no one manually recommends books, or rates their books, then there are no results for the algorithms to use). I get more "different author" books under the member recommendation.

There's also the "Unsuggester" if you're looking for books you will not like. It's kind of fun to see what it thinks!
posted by cathoo at 5:52 AM on March 8, 2009
posted by sidr at 2:34 PM on March 8, 2009

I had no idea the GNOD engine was working on a literature map! I hereby change my recommendation; I've always loved the music map so I imagine the literature map is awesome as well.
posted by carsonb at 6:14 PM on March 8, 2009

GoodReads sends out an email about my friends' reading behavior, which is generally good enough for me.
posted by k7lim at 11:33 PM on March 8, 2009

Thirding GoodReads -- even browsing compatible friends' lists provides me with lots of ideas.
posted by fantine at 11:54 AM on March 9, 2009

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