Friday, May 3, 2013

Booklamp, Goodreads, Amazon, and of course, subject headings and bibliographies.

I have a dear friend who remains grieved with me for not warning her about the sad content of a book I gave her. It is a very good book, well written, artistic, genuine...apparently so very well written that my friend still decries my lack of sensitivity to her reading sensibilities when the book or author is mentioned.

Deciding what to read next...there is a raft of bibliographic tools that I suspect will continue to be underutilized in this new era of Digital/Social. I myself was a rabid user of Goodreads for quite some time, but had to wean myself away from it when I realized just how much time I was simply reading descriptions of books instead of reading books. And when Goodreads would "remind" me I had been "reading" a certain book for a large number of days. There are books that I will never finish, either because to truly read them would take more days than I have in my life, or I can't bear to finish them and face the end, or because I got distracted by other books. Then this spring when the mega giant overload of commerce, Amazon, bought Goodreads, I thought about simply taking down the account. Fortunately, wise author Kate Messner came to my rescue and provides this valuable advice:

But knowing that my comments about books are going directly into the Amazone market research, no thanks. Besides, that "endless literary quiz" on Goodreads is a procrastinator's dream from which I need to stay far, far away.

But back to my topic about choosing what to read when you are on the hunt for a Good Book to Read. There are living authors that are good enough to grace us with new novels, and we loll about on Sunday mornings reading our favorite periodicals and note when we should be haunting the bookshop or the library for the latest Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, or Bailey White. (personal message to Ms. White: won't you please put together another collection of stories for your readers? Thank you.) If you've set aside goodreads, what do you do?

The Social Medias, in the form of ThatBook, brought to my attention something called BookLamp. It describes itself thusly, "Book Genome Project was created to identify, track, measure, and study the multitude of features that make up a book using computational tools."

I decided to test it out using a recent read of mine, Julie Otsuka's Buddha in the Attic. If you have read it, you know it is a deeply lyrical and clear eyed stare down of one of the darkest aspects of 20th Century American history, the internment of Japanese and Japanese American men, women, and children during World War II. No dry history book, Otsuka relates the group and individual experience of internees in lines and sections that alternate between a chorus type "we" and the rare "I" or named individual. This is a book you cannot put down once you start it, and feel as if you have traveled through centuries not just decades of history when you finish it. Like The Circuit and Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez, this is a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand the immense diversity of experience that populates American history. If you haven't read it, go to the publisher's description of Otsuka's book at to compare the description to how BookLamp "codes" it.

Now Booklamp, please don't be mad. You yourselves explain in detail the flaws of your methodology so I won't do that here. But I don't even get your codes for this:

When it comes to describing books, even my beloved LCSH is somewhat constrained by its own nature and the scope of its original intent: go to your library catalog and see what the subject headings are for Buddha in the Attic. Here's what my catalog gives:

These are correct, but someone searching for a fictionalized account of the experience of internment...would this get them to it?

So, let's think about the other ways books come into our lives. Browsing, be it library or bookstore. Reviews in newspapers and magazines. In classes or book groups. Passed from hand to hand by friends. But lest you think I'm concluding this minor screed without giving you a reference tool, you may pause and prepare yourself for...

LCSHeadings for annotated bibliographies of fiction!

For your searching pleasure, in the library catalog database of your choice:

Fiction -- Bibliography
Sequels (Literature) -- Bibliography.
Fiction genres -- Bibliography.

I should write a post for you about the delicious database called Novelist, but it is 4:30 on Friday and the members only pre-sale at the Los Altos library starts at 6:30, so there's just time enough for a quick dinner before it is time to go stand in line...

Happy Reading! The Bookcharmer


Lauren P. said...

OR by reading fabulous blogs. I just Link+'d "Mama Makes Up Her Mind" and "The Buddha In The Attic," thank you!

Tucky said...

No matter how many wonderful tools are out there to help you find what you want to read, I am not sure that I will ever truly trust fiction again.