Tackling the TBR: A Review of Book Recommendation Websites

Pretty Books by Erin KurupA case of What Do I Read Next can ruin the last chapter of whatever you’re currently trying to enjoy. Some of us rely on the advice of other readers or bloggers when picking our next read, others consult Very Important Bookish Publications. Then there are the made-up methods (like the one where I tip all the unread books on my shelf down, find the shelf with the most tipped books and read something from that shelf). There’s reading the book that’s been on your TBR the longest. There’s reading whatever new release is topping the best-seller list. And then there are the websites.

I’ve noticed an upsurge in the number of websites that help you select what to read next based on other reader recommendations or via complicated algorithms. I’ve tested a handful of them in order to compare ease of use and offer my opinion of the results. I used Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad as my test book.

What Should I Read Next?
This one is easy enough to navigate. Just enter the title of the book in the search box on the homepage, select the book that most closely matches what you’re looking for, and click it. When I enter A Visit From the Goon Squad, these are the top five results: The Tao of Pooh (I’m sorry, what?), Middlesex, An Object of Beauty, The Turn of the Screw, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Apparently this website thinks that people who read Egan are in desperate need of Eastern-Religion-Through-The Viewpoint-of-Western-Thingies. The Eugenides and Martin I understand- all three are on the Indie Bestseller list. What’s the deal with the Henry James? If I had to pick a classic author to recommend to an Egan fan, it would not be him. When you click a recommendation, it takes you to the Amazon search page for that book- I’ve never found Amazon reviews very helpful (too full of “I hate this cover ONE STAR EERGH”). I give What Should I Read Next a 2.5/5.

Your Next Read
This interface is a bit more interactive than the first. You can enter a book and search for related options, or select from any of their reading lists. When I enter the Egan, the top five results I get are The Book Thief, The Tiger’s Wife, Middlesex, The Imperfectionists, and Water For Elephants. These results are much more relevant- they’re all modern literary bestsellers (though The Book Thief could be considered Young Adult, depending on who you ask). Your Next Read also has a nifty feature where you can link with your Goodreads account and import your shelves. The site will then generate a map of your books, showing connections between various reads based on recommendations from other users (this feature is still in Beta, so it can be a little buggy). You can also refine your search results by selecting/deselecting the genres present. I give Your Next Read a 4/5. It’s more accurate than the first and has more options.

Literature Map
Another super-easy interface. Just type in the name of the author you last read and enjoyed, and it pulls up a map of related authors, with the most relevant results being closer to the center. I entered our selected author and the five closest results were Eugenides, Elizabeth Mccracken, Tea Obreht, Helen Zahavi and Chris Cleave. If you look farther out in the map the results become a little more questionable- Eugenides is repeated, and there’s Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot (er, no), and Maggie Stiefvater (I’ve never read her, but she writes about werewolves and kissing, which I don’t think is really related to Egan but I could be wrong). Clicking on an author you’re interested in takes you to THEIR map as opposed to giving you any information about that author’s work or life, so you have to open another window and Google until you figure out whether you want to read him or her at all. I give Literature Map a 3/5- the initial results are relevant but the site doesn’t give you any additional information, so if you aren’t already familiar with the results you won’t know where to go.

There are other book recommendation websites out there, of course. Whichbook allows you to search for books based on your mood, the level of violence, the gender of the protagonist, setting, whether there’s lots of sexy times or no sexy times, length, level of positivity, etc. This is a fantastic tool if you’re very self aware, but I can rarely say with any positivity that I want to read something set in North America with a male protagonist and an optimistic outlook, or…whatever. But that site doesn’t give you recommendations based on what books you know you loved, so I skipped it. Seems like Your Next Read is my winner!

Did I miss your favorite book recommendation website?

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