Tuesday Thingers: On Recommendations

July 22, 2008

TuesdayThingers!I participate in LibraryThing’s Tuesday Thingers group — a weekly blogging exercise. This week’s question:

Recommendations. Do you use LT’s recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the “special sauce” recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?

Every few weeks, I click into LibraryThing’s recommendations areas and I am, sadly, usually not inspired. I don’t think anybody–not even mega-companies with hordes of mad scientists on the task day and night–has nailed the ability to do machine-created recommendations. It just isn’t there yet; there is no good enough algorithm. I mean, look at how piss-poor Amazon’s recommendations are, for a start.

What does have greater value is LibraryThing’s recently-added feature that allows you to personally recommend books based on another book. I have definitely added a few of those recommendations and found that some that I have seen from others have had merit.

As for figuring out what to read next, let’s just say I “have my sources.” Well, OK, they are, for the most part:

  • The New York Times Book Review
  • Powell’s Books, which I visit, in person, at least monthly. And wander around.
  • Various book lists online that say what books a well-read person should read.
  • Award-winners. These are easily tracked by the handy-dandy free Powell’s bookmarks you can get with them listed. Booker Prize, Pulitzer, National Book Award, Nobel Prize. Et cetera.
  • Book clubs. Sometimes they tell me what I’m going to read.
  • Personal recommendations from people I trust. Though I find, alpha reader that I am, that I spend more time giving these out than receiving them.
  • Personal interest. Sometimes I want to read about the scientific revolution. Or linguistics.
  • The Oregonian‘s Sunday book section, though it could be stronger.
  • Podcasts: NPR Book podcast, NYT book podcast, New Yorker podcasts.
  • OCCCCCcccccccccassionally, I have to admit that Amazon has my number. They send me a spamail and it is actually a book I find I must must buy and read (e.g. Lief Enger’s So Young, Brave and Handsome).
  • Other bookstores. If I see one, especially when traveling, there’s no keeping me out of it.
  • Amazon.com’s “Best of the month” book pages. Often the books they think are good, well, frankly, they are.

Boy, howdy, that’s a longer list than I expected!


  1. “Personal recommendations from people I trust. Though I find, alpha reader that I am, that I spend more time giving these out than receiving them. ”

    I have the same problem. Getting ARCs, I’m always saying, “Watch out in August! Such-n-Such book is coming out, and it’s a great book!” People just ask, “Read any good books lately?” so they can feel like they have some control in the conversation. :-D

  2. tODD says:

    Lyza, allow me to be brutally honest for a moment. You totally can’t drag out a word by extending its consonants — at least, not its stops (fricatives, maybe, and I know you know what I mean, because you read them fancy linguistics books). No, really, try it. “OCCCCCcccccccccassionally”? I’m sorry, but it’s properly spelled “Ooocaaaaaaaassionally” — look it up in Webster’s Dictionary of Unabridged Words*. You’ll see.

    *Chicago style also allows it to be capitalized “OoocAAAaaaaassionally” to emphasize emphasis.

  3. Mara Collins says:

    My recommendations list is a lot like yours… with the addition of my college alumni mailing list, where in there are lots of people who read prolifically and make many recommendations. And now I have been turning to your blog, too, which is what finally got me to read In the Woods even though it had been on my list from an NPR review a year ago, which makes me ask if you are going to read The Likeness?

    Also, can I add? That when tODD leaves a comment like that I get a little annoyed he doesn’t blog more regularly because I need to laugh more often.

  4. Ruth says:

    I wished I lived close enough to visit Powell’s that frequently! Oh, heck, let’s be honest: I wish I could live in Powell’s.

    I love it when friends recommend books to me. I have two friends who, while their tastes vary widely from mine, can always recommend something I’ll love.

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