How to Find a Book When You Don’t Know the Title or Author

Tips to Find a Book When You Don’t Know the Title or Author

First, Wrack Your Brain for Book Memories

  • What did the cover look like? Do you only remember a fuzzy image that’s predominately one color? Even that is a clue! If you think hard, do you remember any elements on it? Was the author’s name in large print, or was the title large? Any of these details can be the difference between success or failure.
  • Can you remember a phrase, quote, or a particular paragraph of the book? Sometimes you can remember lines you felt were funny or meaningful or just plain weird. Write them down as best you can for your search. Odds are that same phrase may have stood out to someone else too.
  • What can you remember from the plot? Even if you’re not entirely confident, write down what you think you remember. You might find your memory looks something like “boy gets kidnapped. Girl best friend says she’ll find him. I think she becomes a detective at some point or runs into him later in life and they fall in love. The boy may be involved in drugs or something sketchy when she runs into him. I think at one point he wakes up in a dumpster.” Even though you’re not one hundred percent certain, you can try different searches with the elements you think are there and hopefully in one combination, you’ll get a hit. Or, hopefully your details will be close enough that someone else can piece the elements together.
  • Can you remember any characters’ names? Remembering one or two of the characters’ names will also be a huge help in your search. Even if they’re side characters and not main characters, write them down.
  • What genre was it? If it was fantasy, do you remember any details to narrow it down to a subcategory of fantasy?
  • Do you remember any other story-related details, like a city name, street, location, pet, era, etc.?
  • Do you remember any details related to publishing? Do you remember whether your school or library that you got the book from often bought books from a certain publisher? Do you remember when the book was published? For example, if it was a book you read from your childhood, then you know you can exclude any recent publications. Or, perhaps you remember that it was a new book that came out when you were in high school, then you’ll know to look for books published only in those few years. Do you remember any other similar authors that people seemed to also read if they liked the book you’re trying to remember?

Google and Other Search Engines

Google Books Search

  • Book Cave: This site has the unique feature of being able to search through a rated books database. So if you know a book was a children’s book, you can avoid any adult rated book. Or if you know it’s an adult rated book you can exclude anything milder.
  • The Library of Congress: This the biggest online library in the world and has a search engine capable of combining search parameters with keywords. There’s also an interesting option called “Ask a Librarian” where you can send an email and try asking for help in finding your book.
  • Worldcat: Worldcat is a catalog of over 70 thousand libraries in 160 countries. Here you can look for a specific keyword, and you’ll get a list of book titles in various languages. There’s also a “Fiction Finder” section where you can search for a book by a character or place in addition to a keyword.
  • Big Book Search: If you can only remember what the cover looks like, try this cover-search tool.
  • If you can remember just one word of the title, use the search function on Goodreads or Library Thing to find long lists of titles with a particular word.
  • Goodreads’ browse-able lists of titles that readers have shelved in unique categories, such as authors’ professions or decades of publication, may also be helpful.

Turn to Reddit or Other Popular Book Forums

  • Goodreads What’s the Name of That Book? is a group that will help solve your book mystery after you’ve done a valiant effort to first find it yourself.
  • LibraryThing’s Name That Book is another place where you can post about your forgotten novel. Just follow their instructions and try to wrack your brain for as many details as you can, and fellow readers will do what they can to find your book.
  • Stump the Bookseller is a blog run by a cool indie bookstore in Ohio that offers a $4 dollar service to help readers find lost books, specifically childhood books. Plus they have large searchable archives that you may find helpful as well.
  • The Fiction_L listserv is another place where you might be able to get some help, although they don’t seem to have a section dedicated exclusively to finding lost books.

Ask Your Own Social Network and Community

When All Else Fails

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