Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Top Five Books of 2017

Every December, LT staff members compile a list of our top five favorite books we’ve read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing members’ favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2017, but the best of the best. What were your top five for this year? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2017—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

» List: Top Five Books of 2017—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


Hunger by Roxane Gay
This memoir is both baldly honest and achingly human. Gay writes in her forthright manner about her lifelong relationship with her body and soul, pointing her incisive lens on how fat women experience a deeply prejudiced world.

Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
Combining two of the world’s great storytelling cultures, Gilligan’s book about Jewish people in Ireland in the 20th century, told through three intertwining stories, strikes a unique and heartfelt note.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
This collection of connected short stories really nails the unique interpersonal conflicts of small town Maine better than any book I’ve ever read, except perhaps a couple Stephen King novels.

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
This author’s first book (he’s better known for his second, The Queen of the Night), which details the fallout from a sexually abusive choir conductor, contains the spectrum of human emotions in spare, wrenching prose, and some lush descriptions of Maine landscapes as well.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The book I have been physically pressing upon every woman in my life who has ever been called “kinda intense.” Machado’s short story collection uses the format of gothic tales to interrogate the daily visceral horrors of women living under a patriarchy which is both distant and intimate at the same time. My favorite? “Eight Bites,” a.k.a. the answer to the question: “where does the fat go after bariatric surgery?”

KJ’s honorable mentions:
Honorable mentions go to the fantasy books that helped me through the hard parts of this year: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Note from Abby: this book is utterly charming, the perfect balm to the insanity of 2017), The City of Brass, and The Queen’s Thief series.


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
I read the entirety of Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy this year, back-to-back-to-back, and if I’m being 100% honest, those three books would all be in my Top Five. But I wanted to give a special nod to the second installment, for knocking my socks off where other middle-of-the-trilogy books often fall short. If you like inventive fantasy, with rich, unique worlds, or if you just like rocks, definitely give her work a shot.

Touch by Claire North
This was one of the most fun, compelling books I read all year. A sci-fi thriller about a centuries-old entity that can take over a person’s body via touch, and who finds theirself being hunted down.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Smart, well-written, hard sci-fi set around China’s Cultural Revolution. Full of wonderfully complex characters and a unique premise—once you figure out what’s really going on.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan
If a 1980s girl gang of newspaper deliverers + time travel doesn’t sound like an awesome, wild ride, then this probably isn’t the comic for you. If it does…

Injection by Warren Ellis
My favorite creepy, weird comic about a group of geniuses who unleash an AI onto the Internet, and what it does once it settles in.

Loranne’s dishonorable mentions:

  • Armada by Ernest Cline: Meet “All the pop culture references that couldn’t be crammed into Ready Player One: The Novel”. I’m not much of an RPO fan to begin with, but attempting to read this one (my only DNF this year!) makes me actively dislike RPO in retrospect.
  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: A big ol’ NOPE. What a slog that amounted to nothing.


Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
A fantasy world with gay spies and smugglers in an eerily prescient fascist state.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
A fantastic but somewhat quiet character study of astronauts during a simulation of a mission to Mars. (Note from KJ: cosigned from the resident company space opera nerd.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This book has everything. It’s an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist, with magic, and with maps in the front. (I’m a sucker for a book with a map in the front.)

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Murder mystery + theater students who are both incredibly pretentious and undeniably human + so much Shakespeare. Glorious.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore
This book is smart, and heartbreaking. If your motto is like mine, “get wrecked by literature,” read this.

Abby’s honorable mentions:

  • The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone: The amazing story of Elizabeth Friedman, one of the first code-breakers, whose achievements are buried in history behind those of her husband.


Honestly, I would have an easier time of listing the five books I disliked most this year (I’m looking at you, Lincoln in the Bardo). Turns out 2017 was difficult for a lot of folks! Add a newborn and a toddler to the mix and my year in reading was less than stellar. I did, however, read every single children’s book published, so here’s my top five in children’s literature:

Supertruck by Stephen Savage
We love all of Savage’s books, but my son especially loves this one. And the dedication definitely didn’t* make me cry.
(*it did)

Dog on a Frog? by Kes Gray
Silly rhymes, which led to lots of laughs.

Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio
A cute book that challenges what it means to fit in, complete with great illustrations, and dialogue which necessitated my horrid, exaggerated french accent which made my son howl with laughter. Plus dogs!

Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery by David Gordon
My sons is crazy about trucks—to the point that we’ve exhausted our library’s vehicle-centric kids’ collection. This one popped up a few weeks ago and he loved it: animals, trucks, and a sneaky lesson about forgiveness.

Everyone by Christopher Silas Neal
Sparse and beautifully illustrated, my son had LOTS to say about this one.

Kate’s honorable mentions:


When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
I had no idea when I started this book that it would be one I consider potentially life-changing YA. Featuring protagonists with intersectional identities; questions of culture, gender, sexuality, and family; a healthy dose of magical realism and unique prose, I wish it had been around 20 years ago for teenage Kirsten to read.

The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune
Look, I’ve boiled this down to a simple pitch: it is at once the raunchiest and most wholesome thing I’ve ever read. This book has everything: wizards, a royal family, sexually aggressive dragons, a hornless gay unicorn—need I go on?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Listened to this on audio—Bahni Turpin’s pacing probably isn’t for everyone, but her delivery was perfect throughout. This is a very accessible story about police brutality, race relations between classes, and living one’s truth. Recommend to absolutely everyone.

The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr
Yep, more MM romance fantasy, because 2017. I loved the characters in this one, as well as Derr’s decision to center a linguist as necessary to successful governance. Another fun romp, a bit less absurd than the Klune, but no less enjoyable.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Beautifully told stories of intricately interwoven lives, over seven generations of a family. Do recommend looking up the family chart if you listen to it on audio.

Kirsten’s honorable mentions:


Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Lockwood by turns dazzles and drives me nuts. Either way, I’m sure to remember the characters that inhabit her breakthrough memoir—the strangest and most interesting of whom may be the author. The next State of the Thing newsletter will include my interview with her.

The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Silence made my list last year, in anticipation of the Scorcese movie. Samurai is a much “larger” book, and might have made a more successful movie.

A History of Britain by Simon Schama
Especially volume three (1776–2000). Help me, I’m turning into my Dad. Schama was one of a number of British history books I read this year. Also memorable—and even more of a Dad-read—was Lukacs’s The Duel: The 80-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler.

John W. O’Malley The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present and St. Ignatius Loyola and the Remarkable History of the First Jesuits.
After Georgetown, devouring a raft of “Jesuits in Space” novels, and experiencing the first Jesuit Pope, it was time to do a deep dive into Ignatius and his order.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
I read and/or listened to a number of books with my eleven year-old son this year. Hatchet was one of the stand-outs.

Tim’s dishonorable mentions:
This year was marked by as many duds as successes. A few deserve special mention.

  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: What a terrible follow-up to Sapiens—or rather, a magnification of everything flip and cliched in Sapiens, without any of its interest.
  • The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: Dreher is asking some of the right questions, and he started a necessary conversation. But his answers are mostly wrongheaded—and frequently gross.
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: How on earth did this win the Nebula? If this is the best, why bother?
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Now and then I like to read a celebrated YA book. This one’s a stinker.


Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
This sensuous historical romance chronicles the evolution of Nancy Astley, an oyster girl who follows her beloved male impersonator to the theatres of London. The abrupt end to their romance is just the beginning for “Nan King,” who discovers other parts of herself—and other lovers—in Victorian England.

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
Incredible tale of an orphan from Loango who flees to Pointe-Noire at 13, and experiences a myriad of adventures, trials, and tribulations.

The High House by James Stoddard
High fantasy starring the newest steward of Evenmere mansion. Evenmere holds the power to the universe, quite literally, and our hero must protect it from those who seek to endr reality as we know it.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
A creepy thriller! A young couple’s relationship—and sanity—is tested after moving into their new and suspiciously cheap home in small-town Wisconsin.

In the Woods by Tana French
Det. Ryan returns to the woods of his Dublin hometown to investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The case resembles one in 1984, where Ryan and two friends went missing: he was found with no memory of what happened. Now, he must try to remember…

Chris C.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
I found this oldie but goodie absolutely fascinating and eye-opening. Offers an insightful history of the world’s cultures from a variety of different angles.

Stranges in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
An account of a writer’s journey to understand a part of the US she doesn’t personally “get.”

Numbers and the Making of Us by Caleb Everett
A fascinating look at the way numbers have shaped societies and human development from a technological and linguistic point of view. I particularly loved the linguistic aspects.

Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew Edwards
A tour through Sicily from a literary point of view, visiting important Sicilian writers’ towns and explaining some of Sicily’s variety through a history of it’s literature.

Agile Data Science by Russell Jurney
An introduction to a set of tools and practices for processing large amounts of data and producing visualizations and/or predictions from that data.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Radical Candor by Kim Scott Malone

The Weekly Coaching Conversation by Brian Souza


Tell us about your favorites for 2017 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Top Five Books of 2014

It’s become a LibraryThing tradition: as the year draws to a close, LT staff members list of their top five reads (you can see 2013’s list here)—this is our fourth year running!

We also want all members to get in on the fun, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’d like to see not just the most read books of 2014, but the best of the best. What were your five favorite reads of 2014? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily released in 2014. These are just the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

» List: Top Five Books of 2014 — Add your own.

Without further ado, here’s the wordier breakdown of the staff’s favorites, including some honorable (and dishonorable) mentions:


The Quick by Lauren Owen

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Abby’s honorable mentions:


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This space opera won lots of awards in the last year, and with good reason. It’s not only good sci-fi, but it poses interesting questions about AI, the self, and identity. Well worth a read.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
A sci-fi/fantasy mish-mosh that revolves around an interplanetary civil war, this one finally convinced me to start reading comics regularly.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
I first picked this up a couple years ago, but couldn’t get into it until this year. It’s a bit slow to start, and is as obtuse as any Murakami novel, but I really enjoyed it. If the intersection of “melancholy” and “bizarre” sounds appealing, you should check it out.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Imagined text conversations between characters and authors of the classics. I still find myself quoting Ortberg’s version of Achilles sometimes.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
It was an interesting look into the mind of a woman whose career I greatly admire, and that made it worthwhile for me. I laughed, I cried.

Loranne’s dishonorable mentions:

  • The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty: This skewed a little more YA than my tastes typically lean, so perhaps I should have known better. But, I picked it up for book club and was just kind of disappointed. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Another selection for book club. If I have to read one more book by a male author in which the curves of an inanimate object are likened to those of a woman’s body (either specific or general), I will light something on fire. Aside from that, it wasn’t a bad book, per se, just very much not my thing.


The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


The books that really stand out, however, read to or with my eight year-old son, Liam. Reading is always a big part of our life, but it was especially so during the two periods when my wife was away at a writing colony. We had a lot of lengthy drives listening to audiobooks, and sometimes even listened to audiobooks during dinner. We’re running out of stuff to read!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Read it with my son. I had never read it before. It’s a ripping yarn, and it’s main character, Long John Silver, remains a cultural touchstone.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Audiobooked with my son. It’s a classic that appears to have slipped off the classics shelf. That’s too bad. Despite having virtually no action, my son adored it.

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
Audiobooked with my son. I have a soft spot for this imperfect juvenile, and we were on a Robinsonade kick. The “let down” (with strong messages about adolescence) were his first exposure to such an ending—and not well received. has a good post about it, “Beware of stobor!”.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Hadn’t read it since I was a teenager. It’s better than I remember.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Hugely enjoyable account of an astronaut stranded on Mars. (I’ve audiobooked it three times.) I interviewed the author for our newsletter.

Tim’s dishonorable mentions:

  • The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka: Not three but sixteen books about three travelleing friends. They’re fine—many steps up from that execrable Magic Tree House series—and I’m glad my son got what amounts to a tour of history. But I hope to never read another sentence by Jon Scieszka.
  • The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt: Why do I bother reading science fiction?
  • The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham*: See above. Boringly sexist too.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: It’s pure gold, and doing it by audiobook left me swimming in Dostoyevsky-prose for weeks. But I left off reading in the middle and have to start again; I can’t read something unless I’m fully “up” on it—unless I feel like I’m holding the whole thing in my mind. Maybe next year…

*Perhaps a better question is “Why do I bother reading John Wyndham?” considering The Midwich Cuckoos made Tim’s “dishonorable mentions” last year…


The Secret Place by Tana French
Tana French is always worth the wait. This book did not disappoint.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
More Cormoran Strike, please. Vying with French’s Dublin Murder Squad as my favorite series.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I love an unreliable narrator and already regret giving my copy of this book away.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Biggest surprise of the year for me, especially considering how much I was looking forward to Amy Poehler’s debut, which I’m finally brave enough to say I straight-up hated.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
Thanks to Abby Blachly for the recommendation.

Chris H.

The Last Lion, Vol. 1: Winston Churchill, Visions of Glory by William Manchester

Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of K-129 by Norman Polmar

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
This is both really long and really sad. I loved it, but it’s hard to recommend to people.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
NOT over-hyped. In a sea of post-apocalyptic throwaway books, this literary novel brought art back to humanity, even after the “end of the world.”

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner
As a Mainer who loves Shakespeare, I was the perfect audience for this take on King Lear. I shoved it on anyone in my tiny fishing town who would stand still long enough.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
Everyone loves lady pirates, blowing up the unethical opium trade, and lavish descriptions of food preparation. Everyone.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes
Always here for queering Shakespeare texts.

KJ’s honorable mentions:


Faithful Place by Tana French

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

While You’re Here, Doc by Bradford B. Brown

The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

Organic Chemistry I As a Second Language by David R. Klein


What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman

The Life of Corgnelius and Stumphrey by Susie Brooks

Chris C.

Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick

Doing Data Science by Rachel Schutt

Statistical Inference for Everyone by Brian S. Blais

Machine Learning with R by Brett Lantz

Unity 4.x Game Development by Example by Ryan Henson Creighton


No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is such a great writer for those who practice the philosophies of Buddhism. His writing is simple, reflective, and he repeats a lot of the same lessons over so you can internalize those lessons much easier.

Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels
This one was a re-read; the illustrations are beautiful! You’ll never look at a New England landscape the same again after reading this book.

Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Spaces by Anni Kelsey
I read this book after buying my first home and taking a permaculture course online. This is a great guide for designing your perennial/permaculture garden! I can’t wait to build my garden at home!

The Elements of Style (Illustrated) by William Strunk
I was recommended this book from a colleague when I asked for good books to improve my writing skills! A great book for the foundations of the English language and writing.

The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health by Robert O. Young
I have continued to read this book over the last year or two, as a way to improve my health and reduce/eliminate my digestive issues. Following the pH diet principles has saved my health!


JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford

Code Complete by Steve McConnell

Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought by Drew Neil

Rework by Jason Fried

The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt


Tell us about your favorites for 2014 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

June Early Reviewers–free books!

The June 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 62 books this month, and a grand total of 1350 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please please please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

Some highlights: The new Mary Roach, Packing for Mars. Ridley Pearson’s In Harm’s Way. Tom Standage’s new An Edible History of Humanity. And we’re especially excited by Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus!

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, June 25th at 6PM EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the many different countries. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Henry Holt and Company Bond Street Books Canongate Books
Tundra Books The Permanent Press Doubleday Books
W.W. Norton Ballantine Books Small Beer Press
Zest Books Speir Publishing Bloomsbury
Bell Bridge Books Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Dutton
Hesperus Press Chalice Press DAW Books
Putnam Books Beacon Press Santa Fe Writer’s Project
St. Martin’s Griffin Orca Book Publishers Doubleday Canada
House of Anansi Press PublicAffairs Menasha Ridge Press
Clerisy Press The Penguin Press William Morrow
The History Press

Labels: early reviewers

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Book pile winner

Sorry for the delay in posting this, I was trying to give the job posting as much time as possible on top. So go read it again. Forward to your friends and get $1,000 worth of books. Come work with us, we’re fun.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto business.

Once upon a time, LibraryThing had a bad couple of days. Bad for everything, it seems, except book piles. We got a *huge* response to our impromptu contest to find a new book pile to grace what we call “the down page”—what becomes the homepage when the site is down, for whatever reason.

The sheer number of entries was astounding. Clearly the lesson to be learned here is that you all have a lot of free time on your hands when you can’t be on LT. Logically, we should bring the site down everytime we do a book pile contest in the future. Right? :)

Without further ado, the winning pile, which will now live on our down page—here’s hoping we rarely see it!

The Paradox of LibraryThing by adamallen

A few other favorites, ranging from philosophy to dispair…

The poignant Wish You Were Here by Lilithcat
Oh so subtle
From Blue Screen to Death Notes…
Fix-it by Staffordcastle (let’s just hope that home plumbing never comes into it).
A Series of Unfortunate Events
And if there was ever doubt that a picture is worth a thousand words…

You can see the rest of the incredible photos here:, and a colorful selection of them in this blog post.

Make sure to check out past winners in the book pile archive. We’ll announce the next contest soon..

Labels: book pile

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Winners of the March bookpile contest

Finally! Sorry for the delay in posting the winners to March’s bookpile contests*. The challenge was a pile to do with spring, Women’s History Month, or Small Press Month. And trust me, I needed the extra time, it was hard to pick from all the incredible pictures!

And without further delay, the winner (who gets a $50 gift certificate to Abebooks) is…**

Goodsoul (Flickr user PhotoSensate) wins for this mother-inspired book pile. It’s fantastic. I say no more, you must go read the description yourselves.

The runners up, who each receive an annual membershp to LibraryThing, are:

Runner up one. How could you not love Pesky Library’s contribution: Spring Chicks dig Chick Lit!

For runner up number two, by vonlafin I loved this spring greenhouse photo—and nothing says spring like dirt!

I’ve added a third runner-up, just for this last photo, about all the projects planned for spring, from dieting to gardening to learning Italian to reading in a hammock. I love it.

There were just too many good entries to display just the winners, so here are a few more favorites.

HerStory was very creative, and full of history!

“What we call women” by roseread is a really neat look at book titles…

And lastly, a shout-out to our only submission featuring small press books, by leennnadine.

See most of the entries here, and the rest are linked to in the comments to this blog post.

Be watching for our next contest, which is a big one…

*I was dealing with my own personal book-piling (rather, piling boxes of books), since I spent the last week moving into a new apartment.
**All winners, please email me so I can pass along the prizes! ( Actually, if I’ve posted a picture of your bookpile, email me with your LT user name, so I can include it in the blog post!

Labels: book pile

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Abebooks does the LibraryThing

Abebook’s new email newsletter The Avid Collector includes a “collector profile” interview with me (yay!) in its Spring 2006, issue. You can read it by clicking on the links I just gave, or sign up for the newsletter by clicking this graphic I stole from them.

Talking about one’s books is even more fun than talking about oneself, so I was glad for the opportunity. And, of course, I got to drop the name of certain book-cataloging website and show off another picture of my dog, Axel. The newsletter also includes a collecting Q&A and good piece by Allan Stypeck of NPR’s The Book Guys and owner of Second Story Books, in DC (a favorite haunt when I lived there).

Classical noodling: Abe hyperlinked some of my books to searches on their site, including Palaephatus’ “On Incredible Tales” (Peri Apiston). The search gives no results because, as often happens with Greek and Latin works, the English title is quicksand—the only available English-language edition being Bolchazy-Carducci’s text/translation titled “On Unbelievable Tales.” Try this Abebooks search for Palaephatus instead, which nets a couple copies of that edition, and also throws in Aldus Manutius’ 1505 first-ever printing of the text (together with Hyginus, Aratus, etc.) for a cool $2,750.

I found out it was the editio princeps from the Wikipedia article, lifted wholesale from my site,, which reprints William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870). The Abebooks entry, from a bookstore in Culver City, CA, doesn’t mention that it’s the editio princeps, however, so maybe it’s more valuable than they realize. Which reminds me, I should have signed up to be an Abebooks associate when they asked me to do the interview. Generally I’ve been very lax about signing up for such programs—LibraryThing’s focus is not on “getting people out the door” to buy stuff. But that would be one sweet commission!

Labels: 1

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Welcome Loranne

As Tim wrote earlier today, LibraryThing’s epic search for a “new Jeremy,” ended by deciding we’d take things up a notch and hire TWO people!

Hi, everyone, I’m Loranne Nasir (LT member lorannen)! I’m joining Tim, KJ, and Matt at LTHQ here in Portland. Along with Matt, I’m taking over for Jeremy, as Member Support and Social Media Librarian.

Originally from a small town in Missouri, I went to the University of Chicago, and recently completed a MSLIS at Syracuse University, where I studied everything from cataloging to information visualization. My social media experience includes helping Barbara Stripling with her successful campaign to become President of the American Library Association.

My hobbies include photography, swordplay (épée), wordplay, reading, and gaming. Among my favorite authors are Ursula K. Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, and Haruki Murakami.

I’m very excited to be joining the LibraryThing team and moving to Portland all at once. Going forward, I’ll be handling Early Reviewers, contests and games (really looking forward to Edible Books come April!), as well as official Facebook and Twitter accounts.  I was drawn to LibraryThing by the outstanding community here, and while I’ve got big shoes to fill, I look forward to working with and for all of you!

Come say hi and welcome me and Matt on Talk.

Labels: employees

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Goodbye Jeremy

Jeremy wins one.

Tim and Jeremy lose one.

Yesterday LibraryThing turned eight, and today we say goodbye to Jeremy Dibbell (jbd1), LibraryThing’s social-media guy and all-around LibraryThing soul.

After nearly three years at LibraryThing, Jeremy is moving on. Next week he begins work as Director of Communications and Outreach at Rare Book School, located at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. We’ve loaned him to Rare Book School each summer he’s worked for us. He’s looking forward to joining the team there full time.

Jeremy is a long-time and much-loved member of the team. He was an early adopter, and became LibraryThing’s official-unofficial head of the Legacy Library project long before he came to work for us formally. Most members probably know him from the newsletter, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, from member-help emails, and for his Talk posts, helping new members and laying out his vision for LibraryThing’s development.

We aren’t going to lose him completely. Jeremy will continue on for a few weeks helping us where he can and giving his successor(1) some tips. And he will continue as head of the Legacy Library project. Indeed, as he says, he’ll have more time for it now. I suspect he’ll make his views about the site known too. I doubt he could help it.

It’s not easy to summarize everything Jeremy has done for us. Some highlights include:

  • Sending 10,600 emails, not counting those that came from He saved us from drowning, and far exceeded what a run-of-the-mill “social media” manager could have done.
  • Growing the size of the Early Reviewers program from around 1,200 books/month to today’s 3,500 or 4,000/month.
  • Helping to design, troubleshooting and discussing every major new feature in the last three years.
  • Continued growth of the Legacy Libraries program (see an overview here), including the new landing page, most of the Libraries of Early America (1,500+), and a number of wonderful LL flashmobs.
  • Special events, like our edible books contests, and book spine poetry.
  • Playing Santa for SantaThings 2010 (the Book Depocalypse), 2011 and 2012.

Jeremy moved to Portland to take this job, living only a block away from my house and the office. (My wife and my son were particularly grieved to hear he was leaving.) Being in the office gave his advocacy for members and his vision for LibraryThing extra impact. He’s been at the center of every major decision–from features to hires–for some time now. He’d be harder to miss if his contribution was not more obvious in the culture he leaves behind.

Sad as we are, we’re also excited for him too. He’s been passionate about Rare Book School for years–continuing to help out there in the summer was a condition of his taking the job. Charlottesville is a beautiful place. It is also close by Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson built his library. When he left Jeremy gave my son Liam a children’s book about Monticello and Jefferson’s love of books. It is fitting that Jeremy is there now, with his Jefferson-sized library and bibliophilia.

So, from me and all the LibraryThing staff, thank you Jeremy.

1. In case you’re wondering, our social-media job is still open, but closing fast. See the job post.

Labels: employees, employment, jefferson, jeremy dibbell, jobs, legacy libraries

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

April Author Interviews!

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, is on its way to your inbox. You can also read it online. It includes a reminder about our Edible Books Contest and more!

For one of our author interviews this month, I talked to Elizabeth Little about her new book Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages, published this month by Walker & Company.

What was the most enjoyable moment in researching Trip of the Tongue? The worst?

My most enjoyable moment was, without a doubt, my first evening in Neah Bay, a tiny town on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I had just spent the past few days with friends in Tacoma, and I was loathe to leave their hospitality for what sounded like an uncomfortably rustic accommodation in the middle of nowhere. But then I discovered that I was staying in a cozy little cabin a stone’s throw away from this windswept gem of beach. That evening I walked along the sand in my bare feet as the sun set. Then I returned to my cabin to drink hot chocolate and read about language. A near-perfect evening.

My least enjoyable moment, on the other hand, was surely when I was in northern Maine, when I got caught in a snowstorm and had to battle all-day morning sickness. There’s a very good reason why that section didn’t make it into the book.

How did you end up deciding which particular languages to highlight in the book? Were there some that just barely didn’t make the cut that you’d like to tell us about?

The languages that made it into the book were those that really challenged my own assumptions about the history of language—or language itself—in the United States. I spent some time in San Francisco, for instance, but my background in Chinese language and culture made for a less than compelling narrative thread. It was a lot of “Oh, yes, I remember reading about that.” (Looking back on things now, I wish I had tried to look at Chinese language and culture in Old West frontier towns. Although that should probably be a book of its own.)

Some other sections had to be set aside because they led me down a very different path than the one I was trying to travel. The chapter that got cut at the very last minute was a chapter that looked at the impact of technological change—very particularly in transportation and manufacturing—on language communities in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Detroit. I loved my time in each of those cities – in Baltimore I met the loveliest and most helpful docent and historian at the city’s Jewish museum; in Cleveland I gorged on paprikash and learned about Hungarian girl scouts; and in Detroit I went to the Ford Rouge Factory, which turned out to be one of my favorite activities on the entire trip. Unfortunately, when I found myself compiling economic paper after economic paper for research purposes, I had to acknowledge that my focus was starting to drift.

In the final chapter of your book, you note that Trip of the Tongue didn’t end up being the book you thought it would be. How did you originally envision it, and how did your travels and experiences change the book into what it is?

At the beginning I envisioned that the book would be more of a romp: road-tripping high jinks with some linguistic data thrown in. What I ended up with, though, is something more like a meditation. On language, on discrimination, on my own preconceived notions. I first got an inkling of this in South Carolina, where I went to learn about Gullah. My very first day in Charleston, I learned about these spikes (called chevaux-de-frise) that some city residents put on their fences in the nineteenth century to protect themselves in the event of a slave rebellion. It was at that point that the desire to write anything resembling a romp died a swift death. The history of race and language and culture in the United States isn’t exactly rich in comedy. (Though I certainly tried to find it where I could.)

But I’m glad that I ended up somewhere very different than I’d intended. Because it’s not much of a journey of discovery if you only learn things you already knew.

Read the rest of our interview with Elizabeth Little.

I also talked to Diana Preston, the author of The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1839-1842, published earlier this year by Walker & Company.

For those who haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, give us a thumbnail synopsis of the First Anglo-Afghan War: how did the conflict come about, how long did it last, and what was the result?

The First Anglo-Afghan War in 1838-42 is one of Britain’s most notorious military catastrophes. The genesis of the war was British suspicion that imperialist and expansionist Russia was planning to advance through Afghanistan to invade India, Britain’s richest and most prized colonial possession. The Afghans resented the British presence, and the invasion was politically controversial at home. Barely two years after the British had occupied Kabul thousands of British and Indian troops, officials and their dependents suddenly found themselves besieged. A disastrous retreat to India under constant attack by the Afghan hill tribes left only one Briton and several Indian soldiers alive. When the news of the disaster reached Britain, it was greeted with anger and the British sent an army of retribution to punish the Afghans. Soon afterwards, the British withdrew from Afghanistan with their puppet king already murdered, allowing Dost Mohammed, who had surrendered to the British and been exiled by them, to return. The entire enterprise was a disaster that soured British-Afghan relations for many years.

How did you come to be interested in the conflict, and how long was the research process for The Dark Defile?

I’ve been interested in the conflict for a long time and in particular in some of the characters but the more I began delving into the sources the more I realized it is something of a cautionary tale. The Duke of Wellington (the conqueror of Napoleon at Waterloo and a former Prime Minister) predicted at the time—accurately as it turned out—that “The consequence of crossing the Indus once, to settle a government in Afghanistan, will be a perennial march into that country.” (British forces entered Afghanistan twice more over the subsequent 80 years, before doing so again as part of the current NATO-led force.) I became increasingly intrigued not only by what actually happened and the many vivid personal stories but also by the wider political and strategic issues surrounding the campaign.

Subsequent research in the UK and northern India took about two years.

I was struck by Lady Florentia Sale, whose diary of the war you draw on frequently in the book. Tell us how Lady Sale ended up in the middle of the conflict, and about her diary which recounts so vividly the events she witnessed.

Plain-speaking, fifty-year-old Florentia Sale arrived in Kabul to join her husband, a senior British officer nicknamed “Fighting Bob”. She devoted her early months to planting a flower garden but when the Afghans rose up she found herself trapped in Kabul without her husband who had left with his regiment for India. She commented acidly on subsequent British military incompetence and diplomatic vacillation, writing, “it appears a very strange circumstance that troops were not immediately sent into the city to quell the [rising] … but we seem to sit quietly with our hands folded and look on … General Elphinstone vacillates on every point. His own judgment appears to be good but he is swayed by the last speaker …”

She survived the early days of the British retreat, caring with her pregnant daughter for her dying son-in-law, a wounded British officer. She was then taken hostage by the Afghans. Her clear-eyed, unsentimental, occasionally humorous diary provides a detailed account of events, both previously in Kabul and then in her captivity and—unlike some of the other eyewitness accounts written with an eye to publication—rings true to the core. She describes how, as she and the other prisoners were bundled away by their Afghan captors, they passed naked starving people left behind by the retreating British column who were surviving “by feeding on their dead comrades.” She also wrote that she and the other prisoners quickly became verminous—”very few of us … are not covered with crawlers”—and learned to distinguish between lice which they called “infantry” and fleas which were “light cavalry”. She lived to be eventually reunited with her husband.

Read the rest of our interview with Diana Preston.

Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

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Labels: author interview, authors, state of the thing

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Better recommendations: Display

Over the next week or so we’ll be talking a lot about recommendations on LibraryThing and LibraryThing for Libraries. We’ve been doing a lot of work on this part of the site, and will be rolling out a number of improvements.

Today we’re debuting a new system for showing recommendations on works.

Check it out:

  1. Recommendations page for The Fault in Our Stars
  2. Recommendations page for Archaeology and Language
  3. Work page for Code Name Verity

And come talk about it on Talk.

Details. The first change is to the “brief” display on work pages. We have a new way of showing a “shelf,” with both cover and title. We think this is more appealing—to more users—than the previous text-only system.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.51.09

You can expand to “see more,” to get two more rows, then “see all” to get ten or more. The deeper you go the less confident we are that the recommendation is a good one. But our recommendations are often quite good deep.

If it’s not more appealing to you, you can see the recommendations as text, with series “tucked under.”

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.51.48

If you want to keep it that way, click the “edit” pencil. To keep the number of icons down, you’ll only get this if you click to change views. (Not everyone will like this. I do.)

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.54.27

Besides “covers” and “text” you can also choose to vote on recommendations, as before.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.55.46

The new way of seeing recommendations has transformed the “All recommendations” subpage. (Here’s the ugly, list-y thing it looked like before.) To the various recommendation types we’ve added “More by this author,” which sorts the authors books by their algorithmic similarity to the book in quesiton, and “‘Old’ Combined Recommendations” for members seeking to compare the old algorithms with the new.

As before, this page shows all the different elements that make up LibraryThing’s “main” (or “combined”) recommendations.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.58.44

And come talk about it on Talk.

A note on authors and repetition. Algorithmic recommendations are something between a science and an art. There’s a lot of math involved, some of it very complex indeed. But the mathematically “right” answer isn’t much good if it’s boring. So, mathematically, one James Patterson book is statistically most similar to two dozen other James Patterson books before and other author can contribute a book. But who wants to see row after row of that?

Turning math into something stimulating and diverse, yet credible, is complex process. In this case, the same-author problem is addressed not in the initial data, but “at display,” by limiting how many times an author may appear on a given line. You can see this, for example, in the recommendations for The Fault in Our Stars, which restrains John Green from taking over, or Horns, which restrains Joe Hill, but also Steven King, Justin Cronin and others.

Because of differences in screen size, members will now sometimes be presented with slightly different recommendations lists, as books get pushed between rows. We think the drawbacks there are outweighed by the visual benefits of not overloading members wih repetitive recommendations.

Labels: design, new feature, new features, recommendations, Uncategorized