What’s that Book?
People often come to the Library and ask if we can help them find a certain book or two. Generally, we can. If we don’t have the books you want, we can usually order them from another Ohio library, and you’ll get them in a week or two. But what if they’re forgotten books, where you can’t remember their titles or authors? Sometimes, “The big red book in the children’s section” will help. Sometimes, you need more. If you come to me, I’m going to ask you if you remember any of the characters’ names or any words at all from the book’s title. Where did the plot take place? When? Was it a children’s book? When did you read it? Was it part of a series?
If you’re lucky, you can just do a Google search, as I did below:
Forgotten Books Problem 1
“Old book where one sister borrows another one’s dress without asking and spills tea on it. Then she dyes the whole dress ecru, with tea.”
I got lucky right away with this forgotten book. I typed the sentences above into the Google search box and found my charming children’s book, All-Of-a-Kind Family, by Sidney Taylor. Even though I didn’t remember the author, title, or any character names, I remembered a little bit about the plot and the unusual word “ecru.” That was enough for Google!
Forgotten Books Problem 2
“Family with children named Vanessa, Rosemary, Andrew, and Melissa. Other characters named Richard and Frankie.”
This one took more time because it turned out my memory had failed me. The character I thought was named Vanessa was really Lavinia. I finally used Google Books, a search engine that peruses the text of more than 25 million online digitized books. You’ll often get enough information from a Google Books search to find the title you’re looking for.
Here, after it occurred to me that I might be wrong about the names, I went to Google Books and typed in the names I was sure of (e.g. Rosemary Andrew Frankie). Then, I discovered the book I wanted: Family Secrets, by Rona Jaffe. Typing in the most unusual character or place names you remember will help you narrow down your search. Finally, Using the Freading eBook platform, I immersed myself in the problems of the family members in this still-engrossing multi-generational drama.
Forgotten Books Problem 3
“Characters named Richard, Dorothy, Wimsey, and Jeannie. Grouchy German housekeeper. ”
This is a similar but more difficult problem to the one in Problem 2. I used Google Books again, but finding the answer was less straightforward. First, “Richard Dorothy Wimsey” didn’t work well because I kept getting references to Dorothy Sayers and Peter Wimsey. So I eliminated the Sayers references by using the search terms “Richard Dorothy Wimsey -Sayers -Peter.” (The minus sign before”Sayers” and “Peter” ensures that my search will eliminate those words.) The “grouchy German housekeeper” reference got me nowhere, so I removed her, too.
Eliminating Sayers didn’t solve my problem, but finally it occurred to me that I might be misspelling “Wimsey.” Maybe the character didn’t have an “e” in her name? I changed my search to “Richard Dorothy Wimsy -Sayers -Peter” and was immediately flooded with references to Myron Kaufmann’s often funny bildungsroman, Remember Me to God.
So, my takeaway from this experiment is that if I can’t find the title easily using Google or Google Books, perhaps I’m remembering something about the book wrong. Here are some other ideas for finding that forgotten book:
- If you think the book might once have been a best-seller, try searching the Goodreads list of popular books. This site lets you choose the year you think the book might have been published, and you can skim through lists of the most popular books from that year.
- If you think someone might have reviewed your book in a scholarly publication, try Google Scholar.
- Fantastic Fiction is good for just about everything, including book-title searching.
Help from Crowd-Sourcing
You can also visit sites dedicated to helping people find those elusive books. Even if you’re not looking for a particular book, these sites are fun to visit because people’s descriptions of their half-remembered books can be so dreamily poetic:
I am looking for a book about a boy: his name might be Mike or Nick. He has a bear for a pet, or it might be another wild animal, but then the king wants to steal it because of its powers. I think it took place during World War II. They might have taken a train in the forest.
Try these sites for crowd-source help:
- Utne Reader Bookshelf
- AbeBooks.com Book Sleuth
- Stump the Bookseller
- The Biblio Blog (for long-lost children’s books)
The New York Public Library has created an excellent web page listing other useful web sites and offering a few other tips to help you find those mysterious titles. Good luck!