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Finding The Monstrumologist

I’ve had my Kindle for about a year now, and lately have been paying attention to how my reading habits have changed.  Used to be, I found new books by wandering around a big book store or a library.  Some of my favorite books came to me that way — I, Claudius I found in the middle school library, and I found A Wrinkle in Time at a used book store in Manhattan.

But, alas, I don’t get time to wander around book stores and libraries very much any more (unless you count 15 minute expeditions to the kid’s section).  My browsing happens online, and for the first time I’m getting books based on word of mouth.  In my younger years, sad to say, I didn’t talk books with many people I knew.  Watership Down, one of my favorite books ever, is a glaring exception to that — a friend of mine loved it, and we read it and re-read it together.  That was wonderful.

But now I hear about books in my wandering around the Internet (which I also don’t have time to do, but do anyway :-)  ).  And, since I’ve gotten my Kindle, I get recommendations from Amazon too.

Scary, but those recs are often really helpful.  Take The Monstrumologist.  I’ve never seen this book in a store, not even during my strategic strikes on the kid sections.  Never heard a peep anywhere on the internet about it, either.  But Amazon recommended it, and linked it to my book Lady Lazarus, and I weakened then bought it.

And you know, it’s fantastic!  Very dark and creepy, with haunted but wonderful characters, in a sweeping historical setting (end of 19th century NYC).  Not done with it yet, but loving this evocative story so far.

So how does Amazon manage this feat? Here is a very technical but fascinating discussion of the mechanics of the Amazon recommendation algorithm, and Netflix’s too.

Do you ever think about this stuff?  As a reader, I’m always on the hunt for stuff off the beaten track (why?  I don’t know, perverse reader I guess).  And as a writer, I’m always curious to know how people find my books.  Whenever a book of mine comes out I have a sightings contest, and it’s been fascinating to me to see where people are looking.  My first few books were all reported in book stores and big box stores.  Lady Lazarus – almost all the entrants reported online sales.

We’re in the middle of a sea change in how people read and publish.  I love thinking about the implications as both a reader and a writer.  Like some of my writing, it keeps me up at night, too…


  1. Valere says:

    This is really interesting. I’ve never thought about it, but now, after reading this, I am.

    I usually get recommendations from amazon via email as I don’t have a kindle. And of course, I get lots of author newsletters which give me all the latest news too.

    in Germany

    • admin says:

      The change sneaked up on me, Val…I used to get my print books from the bookstore until quite recently, and used to get frustrated at how long it took me to get to the story, and the lack of availability of my favorite titles when I got there. I got this Kindle about a year ago, and at first I used it to download books I would have gotten from the library or bookstore anyway. But now it’s starting to influence my buying choices. A little spooky, but any way I find new books is great. It reminds me a lot of when I first discovered e-books, but I didn’t have a dedicated reading device and tended to buy the books in print when they came out. Having a reader has made a big difference…I’ve developed quite a fondness for this Kindle! I also read on my phone, but like the Kindle more.

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