Posted by: CerebralHelices on Jun 13, 2011
Lately I’ve been having a tough time finding good books to read, and after a few weeks of choosing duds from the library and book store, and getting book suggestions from friends and librarians of titles I’d already read, I moved my search online to see if book recommendation websites might be more helpful. Instead of helping me narrow down a list of books or authors I would want to check out, all this did was give me a huge list of online book recommendation sites to check out. After working my way through a number of them (not all though, there are too many!) I found that most sites, though grouped together under “book recommendation sites” actually have different purposes, each with their own pros and cons. I whittled them down to the websites that I think biblioholics should check out, depending on whether they simply want an online tool to catalogue and keep track of a personal library, a social network of readers to discuss books and interact with, or to easily browse and discover new reading material without having to register anywhere.
LibraryThing is an excellent highly customizable tool for cataloguing books, if you’re main purpose is to have a highly organised online library. After registering it offers a free service up to the addition of 200 books, after which a membership fee of $25 (lifetime), or $10 (yearly) has to be paid to continue adding books to your personal library. Most new members seems more than happy to pay this when the time comes and older members say they have no regrets, but personally I don’t think the site offers anything unique enough for me to want to pay a fee when there are other similar online tools which are free. The most useful thing about the site for someone simply browsing for new reading material and nothing more, is the Zeitgeist tab at the top of the page. Suggestions, based on the sites member activity, for books, authors, etc. are grouped together and can be seen at a glance, which can help you find older books you may have missed out on reading or recent authors/titles, if you have time to browse.
Shelfari is a simple book cataloguing and recommendation site, the major draw being its aesthetic appeal rather than its functionality. It’s a lightweight version of LibraryThing with integration of Amazon.com (I’ve never been fond of Amazon itself for book browsing, based on its site which I think messy and distracting), and you can browse without registering according to featured books, most popular, subjects, series and lists, tags (the tags on this site were, compared to the other sites, varied and very useful), authors, the New York Times bestsellers lists, Amazon.com best books of the month (you can filter here by month) and so on. I was partial to one aspect of it specifically – when a book is selected Shelfari offers a “More books like this” section at the bottom of each page. This cuts down on clicking and browsing through lists, so if you’re in a hurry at a library or bookstore, and stumped for what to take, just plug in a book you enjoyed in Shelfari on your phone and it’ll provide suggestions from different authors. I’d use it as a quick-consult option for casual browsing, rather than a site I’d register on and keep going back to.
YourNextRead is a straightforward book recommendation website geared to finding new books based on a title you have already enjoyed reading. It's fuss free with easy navigation and optional registration, but I thought the main search function limited. After entering a book title all it did was return every other title from the same author instead of helping to “discover new books” like it promises. Rather, the highlight of the site was the My Maps section, which, though initially confusing due to its network-like lay out, is sure to provide anyone with loads of new suggestions no matter what their reading tastes.
GoodReads is chiefly a social site aimed at readers, with polls, quizzes, favourite quotes and a type of Facebook-like news feed on your main page. It’s made up of a large community of readers so you’re ensured of getting recommendations and reviews are from a diverse pool as opposed to bottlenecked opinions from the same few active users. After registering, this site has a lot to explore apart from reviews and includes book giveaways, author interviews, a creative writing section and downloadable ebooks among its options. One of the best aspects of GoodReads is the Listopia section. Lists of books are not funnelled into the general Best Selling, Most reviewed, Popular Now etc. lists found on the majority of sites, but under headings like, Books That Should Be Made Into Movies, Books That Blew Me Away That I Still Think About, Best Utopian And Dystopian Fiction, among others, which mixes up titles a little and gives you a better chance of coming across new books or authors. GoodReads also lets you explore the people on the site and offers an option to sort by region. I was able to find registered South Africans and filter them via area, which is useful for connecting with readers in your city and arranging book swaps or say, discussing lesser known local book haunts where bargains can be picked up. The Bookswap option on the site is only available for the USA so this search function can help make the experience local. However in its effort to cover all its bases, GoodReads can feel cluttered, with pages full of links and boxes so if you’re interested in something similar but simpler aNobii might be a better option.
aNobii (the Latin word for bookworm) includes many of the essential GoodReads functions, but is cleaner and slicker in appearance. It cuts down on interaction and discussions, focusing more on discovering new books via what others are reading by automatically finding people similar to you based on the reading lists you define after registering. One unique aspect of aNobii is its Lending function, allowing users to keep a record of books they lend out (the date of the book loan, person lent too, and date of expected return) and even provides a reminder option where an automatic email is sent to whoever the book is loaned to on a specific date to remind them to return it (I don’t know if I would use this though!). A UK start up acquired this site in March (details here) and plans to implement a new version of the website, with additional tools, in the next few months. aNobii asked users via their Twitter page to suggest additions/improvements for the new site, so if you use aNobii and have suggestions to make you can do so there.
How do you find new books or authors to try out? Do you use the book sites mentioned above, and what do you like/don’t like about them? Do you use any other book recommendation/cataloguing sites that you can recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, I’d really like to hear them!