Contextual book review sites?
July 4, 2012 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Another question about book review sites: I've seen the other questions here about a rottentomatoes-type site for book reviews, but they're a few years old. Has anything changed lately?

For most of my life I judged books by their covers. By that, I mean I'd go into my favorite local bookstores and browse through the sections that I was interested in. I could tell a lot about books from their covers, as I'm sure you all could, too. Did it have good design? Quality printing? A decent publisher? I could skim through the book and tell right off if I'd enjoy it. I still made bad decisions from time to time, but on the whole my decision-making was pretty quick and painless.

But now I read almost everything in ebook format or I listen on Audible, and I feel like I have to spend a lot more time researching books than I used to. If I find the book by browsing (rather than by reading a review or from a personal recommendation) I then have to go through what feels like a time-consuming process, searching amazon and goodreads and librarything for reviews (while trying to avoid spoilers!). And then I'm still just really getting reader reviews.

I guess that without the tactile feedback of a physical book, I feel like I need the critic's opinion. Not so much that I need someone to tell me what to think about the book, but more that I'd like some context: how is the book regarded in its genre or subgenre, does it sound interesting and people are reading it, but basically it ends up being a "Twilight" or "50 Shades of Grey" kind of thing? Basically I love genre fiction, and I'm getting too old to waste time and money on junk.

What is your own review process? What do you use to determine what to read? Thanks in advance!
posted by clone boulevard to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Both of your links mention Metacritic used to do this, so I'll add that SFFMeta still tries to do it for SF/F.

I've done a good bit of Goodreads data-mining and self-experimentation on this topic just for fun, e.g. calculating correlations between the scores I give to books and the overall Goodreads rating, trying to read 40+ books in a year rated over 4.0 on Goodreads, calculating the value of particular "shelves" for large sets of books to determine genre/sub-genre coefficients, calculating Bayesian rankings for large sets of books instead of the straight averages on Goodreads, etc. And I've done similar things with RottenTomatoes, e.g. comparing the 'meta' scores there with the scores given by IMDB users.

I also follow around 75 book / book review blogs daily in Google Reader.

And for myself at least, I have to say no, I don't think there's an equivalent to RottenTomatoes for books. SFFMeta, Goodreads scores, and the blogs I follow seem to be relatively poor predictors of what books I'll appreciate, whereas RottenTomatoes is pretty reliable for movies--largely a subset of what's popular on IMDB but almost always suggesting things that are popular on IMDB (and with me) also. My guess is it can't be helped: movies are shorter; there are fewer of them each year (a lot fewer that have big names attached and big budgets); and they have larger audiences. That all amounts to a much better situation for ratings sites trying to address an 'average' viewer's interests.

If you're lucky enough to have well-read friends who understand your personal preferences really well, that is far and away the best way to find things to read.

I've found the next best thing is keeping a long wishlist of everything almost anyone recommends (but especially other people whose preferences I understand) and taking the time occasionally to read the complete sample text at Amazon and float some possibilities to the top.

But if you do think Goodreads scores work OK for you, I can tell you that the annual SF Site Readers' Choice lists generally have better aggregate Goodreads scores than the major SF awards (Hugo and Nebula), and they have a better hit rate for me as well.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:11 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I read literary fiction, not genre fiction, but maybe this will help:

Personally, I try to perfect my Amazon recommendations. It was pretty time-consuming initially to go through years of random non-book Amazon purchases and designate them as not to be used for recommendations, but it was worth it. They've also made it harder now to rate books without reviewing them.. so I just decided to review every book I read. Now, Amazon's recommendation system is working really well. The Goodreads recommendation system is broken (seriously, you have to ask an employee on the support forum to refresh your recommendations because they stopped doing it automatically).

For new books, I pay attention to the recommendations of a couple trusted sources: Kevin Nguyen (now at Grantland, formerly at Thought Catalog) recommends a reasonable 3-4 books per month, and NPR books, which frequently publishes short lists of books built around a theme. I generally ignore the fancier book reviews until after I've finished reading a book. Personally, it's easier to judge if I'll enjoy a book by reading a paragraph or two, not a full-blown review. I also visit The Millions because they compile big previews of upcoming releases.
posted by acidic at 11:34 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The recommendations & suggestions engine at LibraryThing are quite good. Check out a few items you know well and see how they work:
posted by wenestvedt at 9:59 AM on July 5, 2012

I'm with acidic on recommendation of NPR. Great reviews.
posted by 3dd at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2012

Best answer: I just read this Lifehacker piece which reminded me of your question:
iDreamBooks is a new webapp designed to help you find the best books to read, by aggregating book reviews by professional critics. Self-dubbed "the Rotten Tomatoes" of books, iDreamBooks makes finding your next read pretty simple.

While there are lots of other ways to get book recommendations, many of those rely on users' preferences and reviews. If you put more stock in professional book reviews from the Washington Post or A.V. Club, for example, iDreamBooks is a useful site.

The web app recommends books that have 70% or more of critics giving them a positive rating—these are identified with smiley cloud icons. You can sort books by genre, bestsellers, recent, and more (although, unfortunately, there's not a quick "must reads" filter that shows only those highest-rated books).

Clicking through on a book title shows excerpts and links to all the critics' reviews.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:02 AM on July 13, 2012

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