Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2013 Issue

A Site That May Help You Find New Books to Read

Booklamplogo

Here is a story that isn't news, or if it is news, it's old news, which sounds like an oxymoron to me. However, it was new to me, and probably will be to many of you, so here it goes, two years late. There is, or was around two years ago, a new website created to help you choose books to read. It's called BookLamp, and it uses a different algorithm than the standard list of more books by the same author or in the same genre. How well it works I can't tell, but it's fun to see and who knows, maybe you will find some books you otherwise would have missed.

 

Rather than relying on reader recommendations, BookLamp uses something it calls the book's genome. What is a book's genome? As their site explains, “It’s complicated and technical... To go into it in detail would take a great deal of time.” Okay. If it's confusing for even them to explain, what are the chances I can understand it, or explain it to you? What are the odds I can do both? Rather than waste each other's time, I'll just say it tries to take into account various features of the book. It can include basic category descriptions, but, as their website says, it may look into frequency of appearance of such things as dragons and horses. If you like one book about dragons, maybe you'll like another. If you read a book to master your skills at parimutual betting on horse racing, maybe you'll like Black Beauty. And why not? Maybe it would be good to take your mind off gambling for awhile and read a nice story like Black Beauty.

BookLamp does provide a little more explanation. Factors considered include the amount of motion in a book, the degree of descriptive language used, the book's pacing, density of text (not exactly sure what this means), and amount of dialog. In other words, it's not just the type or subject of a book that is considered, but the writing style of the author. You might enjoy a book on a subject you normally wouldn't consider if it is written in a way you like.

 

I went to the BookLamp site to give it a try. I don't read a lot of modern books. I don't much go for fluff. So, I tried a book of major importance. I entered “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” I got a bunch of matches. Were they good matches? I don't know. BookLamp describes itself as a Pandora for books. For those who don't know Pandora, it's a music matching site. You enter a song you like and it plays some songs it thinks are similar. It works very well. However, it takes two and a half minutes to listen to a song. You can test for accuracy quickly. It takes me two and a half weeks to read a book. I can't go out and test this for you. You will have to see for yourself.

 

I hadn't read the matches it provided for Uncle Tom's Cabin. Most I hadn't heard of. Then there was one I knew... Zorba the Greek. Is Zorba the Greek like Uncle Tom's Cabin? It never occurred to me there was a similarity, but I can't say for certain. In all honesty, I never read Zorba the Greek. But... I did see the movie. I remember someone who looked like Aristotle Onassis dancing around a lot. Zorba was one of those Mediterranean characters, “full of life” as they say. That differs from we Americans who hole up behind our fences and security gates and avoid each other at all costs. Stay out of my space. Zorba wouldn't understand this. That's about all I remember about the movie. It was 40 years ago. It was a good movie as I recall, but not so earth-shaking that I could remember much 40 years later. Maybe I need to read the book. Perhaps I will find some similarities with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Perhaps it is the style. Or maybe Zorba freed the Greeks from some sort of enslavement. He was a man of the people, as I recall.

 

Anyway, I love new ideas, even if they are a couple of years old. BookLamp is a neat idea which may or may not work for you, but there's nothing to lose in trying it. It's free. Anything that opens new doors, or the covers of new books, is worth a try. So go ahead. You can find BookLamp at booklamp.org/index.php.

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