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February 5, 2013 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Bookish is a nifty new book recommendation engine.
posted by Chrysostom (38 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Been reading about Bookish today, and find this quote (from here) fascinating:

The data scientist in charge of the recommendation engine, Karen Sun, used to spend an hour or two every day trying to find new books to read to feed a book-a-day reading habit, which has since been cut down to just two or three a week due to her position at Bookish. When it came to finding books, “Amazon wasn’t good enough,” she said.

... because man, I've got the exact opposite problem. I've got way more books in my queue than I've got time, to the point that I don't like looking at Amazon for fear of seeing something else that I will feel bad about not getting to yet.
posted by jbickers at 12:03 PM on February 5, 2013 [23 favorites]

I'm with you, jbickers.
posted by dontoine at 12:14 PM on February 5, 2013

So far the recommendations for me have been interesting and varied. It was nice to see Jonathan Carroll come up based on an obscure Jonathan Lethem title, for instance; and even though i don't normally read stories collections, George Saunders seems to be popping up fro everything I enter...hmmmmm.
Count me among those whose TR pile is too large, but who impulse buys nonetheless.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:16 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A timely reminder! I was going to check this out.

Karen Sun is absolutely correct and I must make her mine. Amazon REALLY isn't good enough--the recommended books are frequently the newest and most hyped books, and I have zero interest in those. I plugged in names of authors I want to read but rarely find in bookstores (including used and indie) and they came up on Bookish! Awesome, awesome, awesome.
posted by peripathetic at 12:16 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Couldn't find anything on "Book of the New Sun" or "Shadow and Claw" or "Shadow of the Torturer" so that was disappointing. Then I typed in "Labyrinths" (by Borges) and got recommendations for J.G. Ballard, Italo Calvino, and Julio Cortazar, so that was cool.

But in the end this is all silly because if I really, really need a book recommendation I'm going to ask the demonstrably superior hivemind.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Adding four different books does not seem to work very well if all of the books are in very different genres. I put Cosmicomics, Stoner, Left Hand of Darkness and Endurance... and it apparently only noticed the last one and gave me eight more books about icy boat voyages. Darn.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:18 PM on February 5, 2013

But in the end this is all silly because if I really, really need a book recommendation I'm going to ask the demonstrably superior hivemind.

Ditto. If I need (well, okay, need is the wrong word since the last thing I "need" is more unread stuff) a recommendation for a book, the first place I go these days is the askme archives. Still, though, I'm probably going to spend a bunch of time on Bookish now and somehow my list of books to read will grow evermore. Sigh.
posted by rtha at 12:24 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Weird. The suggestion part of it isn't working for me.
posted by Kitteh at 12:25 PM on February 5, 2013

Input: Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm's 1911 Oxford satire.
Output: Hot Blooded: Four Sexy, Original Stories of Sensual Predators who Come by Night.
posted by Iridic at 12:29 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

needs work. I checked one author and they only listed two of her four published novels. whatever database they're mining is incomplete.
and I like to get my recommendations from my friends, in person, face to face, and the people at the independent bookstores I frequent, like Vroman's or Skylight Books.
posted by TMezz at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2013

Note that a portion of the recommendation magic comes from Librarything.

I always find with these sites (Librarything, Goodreads, etc) that I am intensely interested in them for a few weeks, but I ultimately find that cataloging my books and getting recommendations turns out not to actually be that useful. A lot of it is that, like jbickers, I have pretty much hit to-read list bankruptcy.
posted by selfnoise at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Couldn't find anything on "Book of the New Sun" or "Shadow and Claw" or "Shadow of the Torturer"

Here it is.
posted by Iridic at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2013

Doleful Creature: "But in the end this is all silly because if I really, really need a book recommendation I'm going to ask the demonstrably superior hivemind."

This is what I keep coming back to. Bookish looks slick and does come up with some interesting recommendations, it's true... but nothing beats the collected wisdom of a bunch of meatbags. I'm sticking with AskMe and Goodreads myself, for the simple reason that I can compare and contrast with what my friends and colleagues are reading and reviewing. That's worth more to me than any algorithm. I'll definitely keep this in my bag of tricks, though.
posted by 40 Watt at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2013

I find I've been able to make out pretty well with my book-generation procedure.

Do I want to get a new book? Why not …

- Ask my mother, or, if I'm at her house, just ask her if I can have any of her many, many books?
- Ask any of my other dependably bookish friends?
- Wander around a good bookstore? I'll probably find something by an author that I'd forgotten about, or an author that I just wasn't thinking of, or perhaps even an author I'd never heard of. In the latter case, I can consult the publisher and even "look inside" the book by picking it up.
- Consult the websites of known good small publishers?
- See what else an author I like has written?
- Consult any of several places where professionals review books?

Who needs an engine?
posted by kenko at 12:47 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

To be fair, a recommendation engine - whether it's a thing like this or an askme question - can be a really great shortcut if what you're looking for is "I read [foo] and would like to read more like it; what is like it?" or "I want to learn more about [subject] and would like those things to fit [particular parameters]."

When I worked in brick-and-mortar bookstores, this was basically my job.
posted by rtha at 12:56 PM on February 5, 2013

Who needs an engine?

- My parents don't read much and live in another country.
- Dependably bookish friends have varying tastes. Or basically read the same books.
- I prefer British authors and even American indie bookstores fall short. The closest bookstore to me is an abysmal Barnes and Noble.
- Do that already, find it a bit inefficient.
- Duh.
- Ditto above.

To answer your question, I do.
posted by peripathetic at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

The recommendations I got seemed pretty random & useless. Just one typical example: I entered "Gravity's Rainbow" and was given a pointer to a supermarket-astrology book.

But why would anyone with any human friends want a computer's book recommendations anyway?
posted by yinchiao at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The recommendation engine (and the book-related original content) are more or less meant to generate interest around what is fundamentally a way for several of the biggest publishers to market books directly to readers.
Bookish LLC was founded by Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group (USA) and Simon & Schuster.
I thought PaidContent's take on the launch yesterday summed it up:
Bookish has the opportunity to shape book discovery and offers publishers a chance to directly engage with readers. It also allows them to tiptoe into direct sales. I’m less intrigued by the original editorial content: I’m not sure it differentiates itself enough from other book-related content on the web to draw users to the site for the first time. Once those users make their way to the site, though, they’ll find a clean, easy-to-use design, and an algorithm that may well find them their next book — even though it’s limited to less than a quarter of the books on the site for now.
posted by notyou at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I signed up and spent a few minutes clicking around, and... meh. I like the idea of social recommendation sites but they always seem to disappoint, as though whatever it is that speaks to me about a particular book or album is not what everyone else likes about it. I feel like I'd have to spend a whole weekend combing my bookshelves and rating stuff I've already read to build enough of a corpus to get any reliable recommendations. And yeah - I have way too many books in my 'to read' pile already.
posted by usonian at 1:13 PM on February 5, 2013

Weird. The suggestion part of it isn't working for me.

Same here. Using Chrome. I thought it might be AdBlock, but no, even with it disabled it won't recommend anything.
posted by Foosnark at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2013

Though like others have said here, I have a huge pile of books to be read and it will grow faster than I put a dent in it. The upcoming library book sale, if nothing else, will guarantee that.
posted by Foosnark at 1:19 PM on February 5, 2013

The full book database doesn't seem to be populated with the same data as the recommendation engine, also there are odd gaps in author bibliographies. For example Snowcrash is missing from the Neal Stephenson list of books.

I like the site UI (at least on an iPad I haven't looked at the desktop version), and when it works it does seem like a good engine, I am just not sure it s significantly better than pre-existing recommendation engines out there.

I too have a large teetering bookcase full of books I have yet to read, so perhaps I am not the target market for a site like this.

As the site seems skewed towards newer titles, I guess it is a good way for publishers to directly connect to their customers, but all the voracious readers I know already keep tabs on new titles from their favourite authors / publishers.
posted by Faintdreams at 1:39 PM on February 5, 2013

One of my reading interests is really excellent boxing biographies and sportswriting. I loved Will Haygood's bio of Sugar Ray Robinson, Sweet Thunder. So I put that in the recommendation engine to see what I've missed in this genre. This was the first recommendation I got. Looks like they have some work to do.
posted by .kobayashi. at 1:41 PM on February 5, 2013

They don't really seem to be set up to allow self published writers to add their books to the database, unless I'm missing something, which, frankly, just seems so last decade to me.
posted by webmutant at 2:17 PM on February 5, 2013

I'm sorry - but equating The Phantom Tollbooth with a book about a brother who comes back from Afghanistan with a nasty case of PTSD makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. FAIL.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:23 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, and I never thought I'd say this, but this site makes look brilliant by comparison. Don't think i'll be back to browse in the near future.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2013

Generally I just use Goodreads to organize the books I'm looking for at bookstores and track my progress on my books. I can get recommendations pretty much anywhere.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:47 PM on February 5, 2013

Being a Lit Snob I typed in my favorite book Finnegans Wake. I got Gravity's Rainbow which kind of makes sense as it is also a deep, overwrought, and complex novel. ReJoyce by Burgess. Obvious. A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake. Obvious. And From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. Huh? There must be another realm of literature that I am not aware of...
posted by njohnson23 at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2013

There is also another service with the same name,, which is pretty much like a cloud-book shelf. I used to use it to read ePubs on my netbook. Then I got a Kindle like normal people.
posted by cihan at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2013

This is interesting. It seems like a Pandora for books (in that both are powered by humans classifying in the end). Amusingly, when I typed in "Grapes of Wrath," the only recommendation was "The Wayward Bus," also by John Steinbeck.

I will still be awaiting anxiously the day when we can have computers analyze books heuristically and determine what sort of structure/prose/story I might like.
posted by jyc at 5:00 PM on February 5, 2013

I kind of like It's pretty good at suggesting books that aren't obvious but still have some sort of subtle or essential similarity.
posted by threeants at 5:14 PM on February 5, 2013

Yes, I am kind of underwhelmed. To the people above who are saying the recommendation didn't work at all - it didn't work on the front page for me either. I had to click over to the recommendation tab - and that only worked twice. When I clicked away and back again, nothing. Anyway, in my brief window of workingness, I discovered that their database doesn't include Josephine Tey (in a moment of wild synchronicity, I actually started reading The Daughter of Time the day before the Richard III news; clearly, there are arcane influences at work and also maybe I am a missing Plantagenet or something since, I mean, why not?) I tried Getting Stoned with Savages and got a guidebook to Fiji, which, okay, is geographically correct but. And then I tried Anathem and it gave me Michael Crichton and oh well, that's that. You'd think they could do better for the missing Queen of England.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:19 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I asked for recommendations based on two highbrow-ish novels and the first thing it gave me back was a cookbook about beans. Fail seconded.
posted by RogerB at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Who needs an engine?

I got me an engine. What I need is fuel.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:57 PM on February 5, 2013

Right, pick 4 books. So I entered Gravity's Rainbow, Eifelheim, Gormenghast, and Diary of a Madman. It has given me a list containing nothing but recent science fiction. Does not compute.
posted by sfenders at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2013

So, I typed "The Great Gatsby" into the "Enter a Book" box. This generates "Critical Studies: The Great Gatsby." No, that's not what I was looking for.
posted by synecdoche at 8:22 PM on February 5, 2013

Hm. I think maybe it's a bit buggy or non-intuitive in some ways because I'm able to get actual sensical recommendations from a couple that you guys have noted as returning wacky stuff, but you need to try to get the "auto-fill" version of the book you are looking for, because otherwise I think it might be keying on different books/authors... but sometimes it takes a couple of tries, so it's not reliable at the moment for quickly typing (actually I had quite a bit of trouble getting results when I pasted in a title) a book title. But these did work, once I got an auto-fill suggestion with book name + author:

For "Zuleika Dobson" I'm getting recommendations for: The Ambassadors By Henry James; The Good Soldier By Ford Madox Ford; The Wapshot Chronicle By John Cheever; Diario de un don nadie By George Grossmith.

For "Sweet Thunder," I'm getting The Profiler By Pat Brown; Begin Again By Kenneth Silverman; A Neutral Corner By A. J. Liebling; The Bridge By David Remnick; Teaching the Pig to Dance By Fred Thompson. Some of those are biography, but following the boxing one leads to more recommendations for boxing books, etc.

I had to go to the author page for John Steinbeck and then click "Grapes of Wrath" to get actual recommendations for that, but no luck with "The Great Gatsby" or going to the F. Scott Fitzgerald author page and clicking on the book from there. So, yeah, buggy, for sure.

Still, interesting. I did get some recommendations that look intriguing, and I'll be checking out, but I do think they'll need to smooth out a lot of rough edges. Also be aware of books that may be titled differently between, say, a UK version and a US version (I hate when publishers do that); I found one I was looking for only under the US title (though it's by a British author, and originally published in the UK).
posted by taz at 3:20 AM on February 6, 2013

The recommendation engine must be fairly dynamic, taz, because I ran "Sweet Thunder" again, and got entirely different books than you did. None of them were boxing books. Bios this time of Barack Obama, John Cage, and a wealthy pre-Castro-era Cuban. So, no, none of them Liebling, but at the same time I guess they're at the very least better recommendations than the one for the biography of Kathy Griffin's mom.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:37 PM on February 6, 2013

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