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Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Anatomy

Today there are lots of readers' advisory websites and databases out there, like EBSCO's NoveList, a popular subscription service for librarians. And of course, many people make use of the comments and recommendation suggestions on bookstore websites like A fairly new option on this front is BookLamp, marketed as "The Book Genome Project." This service breaks novels down into "Story DNA" components to help readers "find books with similar themes and writing style to books you've enjoyed in the past - comparing elements like Description, Pacing, Density, Perspective, and Dialog - while at the same time allowing you to specify details like... more Medieval Weapons.

This is brilliant, because I've always wanted a way to look up books based on Medieval weaponry.

But joking aside, it really is a neat program, and one that the creators have clearly put a lot of work into. As well as providing the usual information like genre/subject listing and plot summaries, each entry rates the book's writing and story content. A book's language is broken down into motion, density, pacing, dialog, and description categories, which are used to help readers predict the author's linguistic style and practical things like if the book will be a lengthy read or a short one. And to characterize the plot of a novel, BookLamp describes Story DNA with labels like: Medieval Weapons & Armor, Features of the Body, Horses / Ranching / Horse Care, Physical Injury / Exertion & Physiology, Military Campaign / Siege / Historic Combat, Nature / Fields / Hills, Expressions of Emotion, Castles / Towers / Kingdoms, and Nonverbal Communication, which are each also scaled on a sort of bar graph. (That particular list, by the way, comes from the entry for A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin.)

The site is very open to feedback, and designers are quite enthusiastic about having reader opinions play a role not just in which books are connected, but how the individual books themselves are defined within the database. I'm a big fan of sites and programs that incorporate user comments and opinions; the Internet audience can be a great resource for companies willing to listen to it. BookLamp has also actively incorporated librarians and teachers into their research division.

BookLamp's approachable attitude and sense of humor can also be seen in their use of the FAQ page to include questions like "What happens when BookLamp's engine goes insane?"

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