Sunday, February 8, 2009

iHCPL Books, Readers and Beyond: #52 What to Read Exercise 1

How do you find a read-alike? Pick a title by one of your favorite authors. Search Novelist Plus to find a read-alike. Now perform the same search using two of the other sites listed above. Were the results the same? Compare the two searches and the results in your blog post.

I decided to find a read-alike for Margaret Drabble’s 1996 novel The witch of Exmoor. I went to the NoveList Plus database and started with a Browse search under · Adults · Author Read-alikes, then to the Authors C-D category. Alas, Drabble was not one of the profiled authors. So I went back to the home page Search function and entered the book title. This took me to a review of the book.

The reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus gave good summaries of the novel and the link to the First Chapter gave a good sample of the author’s style. But, obviously, I would need to go to another source for read-alikes.

I next tried What Should I Read Next? I entered author and title in the search boxes, and got a somewhat curious result. The database picked up the author’s first husband (they were divorced in 1975) as a co-author.

Nevertheless, I clicked ahead. The result was a very curious list.

Last on the list was the author’s own novel, The radiant way, an obvious read-alike, but one that did not fulfill the requirements of the exercise, and not one that a person would need to consult a database to find. At the top of the list was a most interesting recommendation. The Pine Barrens by John McPhee, a non-fiction profile of the Pine Barrens wilderness area in New Jersey first published in 1968. Did the database connect term: Sparsely Populated Wilderness Area (United State : coastal area : New Jersey) = Sparsely Populated Wilderness Area (United Kingdom : coastal area : Exmoor)? I don’t think so. I believe that they are associated on the list because, as I was working on this exercise, I also used The Pine Barrens as a non-fiction text to see how the various sources would work on a non-fiction title. And I expect that a few other fans of Ms. Drabble had also done searches for titles like Celt And Saxon and How to Read a Church: A Guide to Symbols and Images in Churches and Cathedrals coincidentally with their search for a read like The witch of Exmoor. It’s the downside of crowd-sourcing. When your crowd is very small peculiar tastes lead to peculiar results.The list was interesting, but not one I would feel good about handing over to a customer.

I next tried a site from The Librarian in Black’s list, Gnooks because it followed by the intriguing annotation, “My students either love this or hate it.” I went to the Map of literature and entered “Margaret Drabble.” The result was a very twitchy graphic. I say twitchy, because the names kept twitching around like a swarm of nervous insects. The static screen capture below does not do it justice.

Margaret Drabble is center screen. Penelope Lively and Kate Atkinson are closest to her on the screen. Kate Atkinson looks very promising. A quick peek at some sample pages from Behind the scenes at the museum on Amazon confirms that she could indeed be a Drabble read-alike, with her rapid fire details of domestic life from an unorthodox metafictional point of view, in this case a freshly formed zygote within her mother's womb.

Penelope Lively also appears to be a good fit. Once again the subject headings in our catalog confirm that her method for her adult titles is psychological fiction and her settings domestic. Once again the first six pages of The Photograph courtesy of Mr. Bezos’s online reading emporium and Kindle store confirms a similar style.

I was also interested to see Richard Price on the screen, since I’m currently listening to an audio version of Lush Life, and my family is a big fan of the television series, “The Wire.” Price is a writer for the series. "The Wire" is a gritty cops and robbers, actually, cops and drug dealers drama set in Baltimore. Price has a very rich and detailed prose style and a sense of how a person’s social class and economic circumstances greatly affect his or her life. These could also characterize Drabble’s work, but his American urban police procedurals are not read-alikes for her English domestic fiction.

Interestingly, Margaret Drabble’s sister A.S. Byatt who appeared in the lower right-hand corner of the screen when I first entered Drabble’s name had twitched off the display when I clicked back returned from investigating Price.

It’s too soon to count myself as one of Gnooks lovers, but, as of this posting, I am infatuated.

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