Curling Up with a Good Book Search Engine

Looking for an interesting read? These book search engines can help you find new titles and authors based on your personal tastes and preferences.

Back in the days when I had free time, I was a voracious reader. To find new books I'd constantly pester librarians and friends for recommendations, and devour publications like the New York Review of Books and Publishers Weekly.

These days, reading time is a scarce commodity, and I'm more selective about the books I choose to read. I'm also generally looking for a book I'm in the mood to read, often in some way related to a book I've previously enjoyed -- something like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, or Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine, for example.

Here are several search engines that offer really good suggestions based on personal, quirky factors.

AllReaders is a collection of book reviews contributed by "scholars" who essentially add metadata information about the book to enhance the review, and make it easy to find titles based on a wide range of criteria.

You've just got to love a site that employs technology called the Gordonator Precision Search Engine (GPSE). The GPSE is an advanced search engine that lets you select variations on plot, theme, character, and many other setting options to find precisely what you're looking for.

How precise? Depending on the category, you have up to a dozen options to narrow plot, main character, main adversary, setting, structural options and theme. Like Patrick O'Brian? Select a "water adventure" set in the 18th century with an eccentric/mental doctor who's fighting for freedom, etc... and you've just scratched the surface of available options, yet you've already narrowed the search to find close matches to the Aubrey/Maturin series.

This powerful searching capability comes with a price: a cluttered, somewhat confusing interface -- Google it ain't. But it's well worth the time to figure out how it works for the high-quality, precision results it provides -- and the wonderful discoveries it offers. works a lot like the MSN Music service reviewed in SearchDay last year. Rather than entering keywords, you use a series of sliders to select preferences for things like "happy vs. sad," "romantic vs. realist" or "conventional vs. weird."

Results are very short reviews, with several options including "more like this" and a link for an extract from the book. Results also include "Where next" suggestions if you've already read a particular title.

Book Lists and Bibliographies

If you'd rather browse than search, the Waterboro, Maine public library offers a comprehensive directory of recommended booklists available on the web. The Mostly Fiction! booklist (link above) is categorized by topic, but also includes a useful list of "if you like" sites that make recommendations based on author, character, or series. There are many other useful lists of links for book lovers on this library's site -- it's worth poking around and exploring what it has to offer.

Once you've found a book, how do you get your hands on a copy? If your local library or Amazon can't get it, here are two excellent search engines to help you locate books for sale via the web.

Book Finder is a one-stop search site that lets you view the collections of over 40,000 sellers of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books. According to the site, the forty million titles available comprise the largest book catalog available anywhere, either online or offline. It's definitely an impressive collection. is the brainchild of "Unsolicited Pundit" (and SearchDay reader) Glenn Fleishman. The site offers a quick way to compare the prices of any in-print and many out-of-print books at nine online bookstores. You can view the results with or without the shipping costs of a single book, and also find the fastest source for a book from ordering to delivery.

The next time you're looking for a good book, give these sites a whirl. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at what you end up finding.

New Search Developers Mailing List

Search Tools editor Avi Rappoport is moderating a new mailing list for search engine developers. Topics for discussion include open source code options, robot spidering and web crawling, index compression, file format conversion, metadata indexing and searching, Boolean and Intranet search operators, index speed and size, stopwords, relevance ranking algorithms, stemming, categorized search results, search form and results page user interfaces, search log analysis, security, peer-to-peer search, and anything else that interests the participants.

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