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How To Find Books About Anything

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Tuesday, January 3rd.

This post originally ran August 30, 2016.

 I run two blogs about queer women lit, and in the years since I started them, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for very specific books. About once a week, I get a question asking if I know any, say, Italian lesbian books. Or queer women magical realism. Or wlw high fantasy novels. I like doing the research to answer these, and in doing so I’ve developed some strategies to finding obscure topics, so I thought I’d share what’s worked for me.

1) Google

This is always the first place I look, but it only works for the more general and common subgenres. For example, if someone messaged me asking if I knew a bisexual book partly inspired by The X-Files, googling “bisexual x-files book” doesn’t come up with much, but I know that at least one exists: Adaptation by Malinda Lo. So it’s always the first step, but it’s not the best.

2) LibraryThing Tagmash

My favourite tool is the tagmash! You have to have a LibraryThing account, but it’s free and quick to set up. Tagmash shows books that are tagged with multiple tags. One of their examples is the tagmash for books that have been tagged both “zombies” and “erotica” (71 books), whereas 0 books were tagged “zombie erotica”. These listings aren’t always accurate, but they give you some titles to check out and see if they fit exactly what you’re looking for.

3) Amazon

When I’m looking for books about specific topics, I usually find that Amazon is a better search engine than Google. Like tagmash, you do get false positives, but this is usually where I’ve found books that I wasn’t able to dig up any other way.

4) Publishers and Blogs

If you’re looking for a subject that combines two things (lesbian fiction + spy novels, for instance), you can sometimes find a publisher that specializes in half of that (lesbian fiction) and search their website for the other half. Or you can find websites that do the same thing. So if you’re looking for SFF works in translation, you can find a blog that covers works in translation and search for SFF keywords. (That bisexual X-Files book? If I search Bisexual Books for “x-files,” Adaptation immediately pops up.)

5) Goodreads Lists

I make Goodreads lists for any posts like this that I do, so that other people wanting the answer to that specific question can find them later, and so people can add and vote for their favourites. Unfortunately, I’ve found these often don’t show up on Google, so it’s worth searching Goodreads directly.

6) Just Find One

Sometimes it’s just a matter of hitting on the exact right keywords. For example, when someone was on twitter looking for lesbian romances with an age gap, I pointed them towards the Goodreads May/December list. Once you know those are called “May/December,” they’re easy to turn up. One way to find these keywords it to stumble on to one book that fits the bill. Say you’re looking for lesbo-Victorian romps. Well, you know that Tipping the Velvet is one, so you can look that up on Goodreads, Amazon, and even your library to see what’s recommended as a similar book, what’s on the same lists, and what it’s been tagged and categorized as. Sometimes even searching TV Tropes with those keywords can turn up books (and other media) with similar themes.

7) The Twitter Hive Mind

If all else fails, ask twitter. I’ve spent hours trying to track down books about a certain topic, only to have a dozen suggestions on twitter five minutes after asking about it. The trick is having a good network of book people and @ing key people who will pass it on to the people who will know.

[EDITED TO ADD: Or better yet, ask a librarian! I can’t believe I forgot to mention this most obvious step! They have skills I couldn’t even dream of.]

Mostly I just spend a lot of time sifting through search results and refining my keywords, but sometimes these strategies can save time. Do you have any tricks for finding books on specific topics? What’s your genre kryptonite that you’re always looking for more of?