Do you want to find a book title when you can only remember the plot? It’s easy when you know how.
Sometimes you remember a book you read by its jacket. Sometimes by the actions of an obscure character. However, there are times when you can’t even remember the author or title. Everyone has book amnesia at times, so expect to see (or ask) a question like this one day:
“What was that book which had something about a puppet master as a murderer?”
In the old days, you could have asked the librarian. Today, you can go online and use these tips to find a book when you don’t know the title or author.
How to Find a Book With a Google Search
When you can’t (or even if you can) remember the name of a book, author, or the characters in it, Google or another search engine should be your first port of call.
What is true for any generic search is true when trying to find a book without knowing the name and the author too. Use any details you remember from the book as keywords.
In case of a forgotten title or author, you have to remember anything you can use from the book. It could be the name of a character, a line of dialog, or even basic plot points. The more specific the phrase, the better the result.
All rules of a normal search apply (for instance, for exact searches put it in quotes). Google auto-suggestions will also tell you if you are on the right track.
Tip: The search for a long-lost book is a good way to master advanced Google Search skills . For example, you can include or exclude specific keywords, search with an exact phrase, or use the wildcard operator to guess the name of a character.
Try Google Books Search
The massive Google Books Library Project was the largest book cataloging project of its kind. It scanned millions of books and set off Google Books Search which works just like Google Search.
The difference is that the reference page displayed in the search results also contains extra information like various covers, tables of content, common terms and phrases, and popular passages from the book. You can view sample pages and check if this is the book you were searching for. Also, you can search within a book.
The number of search parameters at your disposal can help you even find books using a vague description.
Use the Advanced Google Search Page with filters like subject, publisher, language, publication date, or ISBN and ISSN numbers. However, you’re unlikely to remember these last two.
Experiment with keywords and wildcard operators to grab a clue. Even if you do not find the book you’re looking for, you might come across a reference which could then lead you to the answer.
The Best Online Catalogs to Find Any Book
There are some search engines that are more specialized for book searches.
BookFinder is an advanced search engine (Click on Show more options) that taps into the inventories of over 100,000 booksellers worldwide. Try a keyword search, or, if you can recall it, restrict your query by the publication year.
The advanced search fields on BookFinder can help you find books that are out of print or their first editions. It’s also a popular site for finding the cheapest textbooks.
WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. You can search the worldwide database of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries. Search for a book and then locate it at a nearby library. Membership of the library allows you to check out the item online.
Try the Advanced Search with unique filters like Audience and Languages.
Peek into WorldCat Genres (or Fictional Finder) which helps you browse through fiction genres for hundreds of titles, authors, subjects, characters, locations, and more, ranked by popularity in the world’s libraries.
The Library of Congress (LOC) is the world’s largest library and today it also hosts a huge digital collection. An online book search through its catalog of 167 million items—including books, serials, manuscripts, maps, music, recordings, images, and electronic resources—shouldn’t take too long.
To top it all, the LOC has a friendly Ask A Librarian form for queries.
Use Amazon Search to Find the Name of a Book
Amazon started life as an online bookstore. Books remain the leading category by sales with millions of titles in stock at any one time. If Amazon doesn’t sell the book you are looking for, then it’s probably no longer available or a fuzzier memory than you think.
You can start with the basic search bar and a keyword to name a book. But the real spadework can be done by Amazon’s Advanced Book Search.
Amazon does not have an official list of advanced search operators. But it does display a few search tips on the above page. The API documentation also lists a few power searches you can try out for your book.
Go through the documentation by clicking on “Next”. For instance, experimenting with the [title-begins] keyword could help you name books quickly.
And if all fails, do a site search with Google. You might just get lucky. For example:
“Rachel Childs”+journalist site:amazon.com
Use Amazon’s Look Inside to Search Inside the Book
Amazon not only matches your keywords to titles and authors but also on every word inside a book. You can discover if this is the exact book you are looking for by clicking the Look Inside link and going through the preview pages. Use the Search Inside This Book field to look for sentences, key phrases, and even citations.
Ask for Help From Online Book Communities
Any website which helps you discover your next book will have an online community behind it. Tap into the collective memory of book lovers on these recommended book platforms.
Goodreads is an Amazon subsidiary. As such, you can expect the knowledge base to be just as vast. This social network for book nerds has discussion boards on a variety of topics.
You can go to any genre-specific group and ask for help. But it might be worth trying these two first:
2. Abe Books: BookSleuth
Want to find a romance novel description? Or that thriller you read in your childhood? The appropriately named BookSleuth is another good hunting ground for forgotten titles. Use the community forum that is organized by genre, and provide as many details as you can for the members to help you out.
LibraryThing is a less hip, more cerebral alternative to Goodreads. Start a new topic for your specific search in this community group and enter all of the book details you can remember.
Ask Your Social Networks to Name That Book
By now, you should have got either the book or your memory back. If not, your search has probably reached a frustrating hurdle because the book-loving masses haven’t been able to rescue you yet. It’s time to broaden your scope with an SOS on your social network of choice.
The social network isn’t only for finding long lost friends. You can also call upon the wisdom of the crowd to help you find that elusive book. Your own social circle might be too limited, so broaden your search using book clubs.
Mark Zuckerberg started A Year of Books, and now it has close to 800,000 followers. Even smaller public groups like the Andrew Luck Book Club and Friday Reads are worth a try. Some book clubs follow a niche genre too.
Start with a Twitter search. Hashtags are what makes micro-blogging work, but a generic #books or #bibliophile hashtag might be too broad. Try to plug the specific genre into a hashtag search (e.g. #DarkFantasy or #UrbanFantasy) to narrow your results, and/or when you ask for help.
The Q&A site could be the largest gathering of “experts” outside Facebook and Twitter. The best thing about Quora is that you can expect a quality response. Take the answer in the screenshot for example.
A potpourri of 168 Q&A communities makes up Stack Exchange. Stack Overflow might be the most popular with programmers but there are niche communities for Ebooks and Literature. Then, you can also go into a genre-specific community and drop a question. Sci-Fi and Fantasy is popular.
You couldn’t have thought of a better name for a subreddit on books than Tip of My Tongue. Just scan your eyes down the solved answers with the green tag to understand the power of collective memory. Also, try other subreddits like What’s That Book, Books, and printSF when you can only remember the cover.
Help Others Find Forgotten Books Too
The internet relies on the kindness of strangers. The good thing is that book lovers are everywhere and the fraternity is amazingly co-operative. So, the next time you ask yourself “what was that book?”, try to recall any tiny detail of the book.
Even a little detail is a clue. For instance, any physical feature or illustration. Try to bring up some associated memories: What were you doing when you were reading that book? How old were you? Was it a gift or did you borrow it?