As an avid book lover, this is a problem I have been beset with more often than I can care to remember. Devouring books by the dozen, since my wonder years, has alas filled up the memory chip in my brain. I have to really wrack my brain sometimes to remember a book or to cite a quote from some book I had read. Believe me, it’s one of the tip of the tongue moments I hate.
In the good ol’ days we could only depend on eureka moments, when the bulb flashed and we got the name right. Well these are better days because we need not wait for the bulb to light up anymore. We have instant recall in the form of the World Wide Web. The Internet is an information sponge that has even your local librarian beat.
A visit to the local library isn’t such a bad idea but if you can’t wait for it open then plug into the web. It’s open 24 hours a day. By the way, a lot of libraries now also have online catalogs.
Let’s start with our friendly normal search engine
When we don’t remember (and even if we do) the name of book, author, or the characters in it, the search engine is usually the first port of call. What is true for any generic search is true to finding a book without knowing the name and the author too – it’s called keywords.
In case of a forgotten title or author, we have to remember and go back to anything we can use from the book. It could be the name of a character, a line of dialog he said, or any opening lines. More specific the phrase, the better would be the result. All rules of a normal search apply (for instance, for exact searches put it in quotes).
Let’s move on to Google Book Search
Google Books has scanned and indexed entire books (7 million till November 2008) using OCR in its database and now presents it for online viewing. The Advanced Search Page is a powerful tool to get to an obscure title.
From keyword search to using filters like subject, publisher, language, publication date, ISBN and ISSN numbers (you aren’t going to remember these two!), the ways are many. With the search, you will get results with the keywords. Click on the on the link or thumbnail to access an entire copy or a limited preview.
Even if you do not get the book, you might come across a reference which may lead you to the answer.
Other search engines of note
WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. You can search the database of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. You can search for a book and then locate it at a nearby library. Membership of the library allows you to check out the item online.
BookFinder : try the advanced search engine of this website which indexes 150 million new, old, rare and out of print books. The advanced search options have a search by keyword field.
A9: the Amazon powered search engine has an open search and an A9 Product Search which queries the thousands of products available with Amazon worldwide. Also, A9.com powers the search behind Amazon’s ground-breaking Search Inside! book service. To find an obscure book, Amazon is a good place to head for.
Rummage around in Amazon
Not exactly”¦you don’t have to search haphazardly as Amazon has a basic search and an advanced search which can give you the book you are looking for. After all, if the world’s largest online retailer doesn’t sell it then who else will?
The basic search is actually not basic. Amazon calls it Search Inside! â„¢. Search Inside! returns results by comparing the query with the inside text of each and every book in its database. Search Inside! results are combined with results that match the title and/or author of the book. It works pretty much similar to a phrase search we use with search engines. Type in your remembered clue and click Go.
For each match, Amazon displays the page number and a selection where it has struck your search phrase. Click this page number link to view the actual pages where the result occurs using the Amazon Online Reader (a sign-in is required to use the reader).
To dig deeper you can use the Search Inside This Book field box.
Amazon’s Advanced Search is similar to Google’s advanced book search. But you get a lot more additional filters like Reader Age and Publication Date.
Ask and Answers Websites
This is a great way to tap into the collective memory of the large internet population. Most well intentioned book sites have forums or book clubs. Apart from getting recommendations, one can use this to jog each other’s brain cells about a forgotten title.
We return to another Amazon service, a community site where one can ask and get answers in discussion boards centered around lots of topics. Books, are of course one. And if you are there, please help out others with similar points and garner some experience points. If you want to ask or answer a question, you will need to register (for free) or use your Amazon login.
Barnes & Noble has a comprehensive community board centered on books. One particular community is on Lost Books. Create a free account and fire away your query.
As of 2008, the Q&A service has nearly 135 million users and 500 million answers worldwide and it’s growing at a rate of 11 million new answers per month just in the U.S. There’s a category on Books & Authors. The process is – login with your Yahoo ID – Click on Ask to frame your question – Categorize your question from the suggestions – Preview your question and submit. For an answer notification, you can select Email me when I receive a new answer or Add this question to my messenger status.
There are of course many other ways to search for a book without a title or author. We can try out social media search. Even do a Twitter search. The good thing is book lovers abound everywhere and the fraternity is amazingly co-operative. We can always find them closeted together in some group or community. Facebook alone has over 500 groups within the common interest groups for books.
Will’s post on 4 Great Sites to Do a Book Search by Plot or Subject is also worth a bookmark for the four book recommendation sites he mentions.
With due apologies to the authors, sometimes we do forget their names or even the titles. But it’s a credit to these wordsmiths that we remember some snippets. Memories may dull but the web is there to sharpen it for us again. And usually discovering a long lost book is sometimes like recovering a lost treasure.
Do you have such hair tearing moments when the book’s title or author escapes you? How do you get what’s lost in memory back?
Image Credit: Ninha Morandini