Finding a Book When You've Forgotten Its Title
This is an update of a previous post by Sharon Rickson.
It can be tough to remember the title and author of a book you read a long time ago—even if it was a book that was really important to you. Fiction is cataloged by author and title, not by subject or plot line, which makes identifying books by just their storyline difficult.
Readers often ask librarians for help finding these kinds of books. And we can’t figure out the mystery every single time, but we do have a few tricks to help find the answer.
First, pin down everything you can remember about the book, plot, character names, time period in which the book may have been published, genre, etc. All these details are clues in identifying the title and author of the book.
Online resources can help with your search for a half-remembered book, even if all you have is a basic plot line. Searching yourself is a good place to start; then, you can post to a listserv or discussion forum, where someone might recognize it. Or, last but not least, leave a comment on this post!
Before You Start
Try Google! Type in everything you can remember about the book — as in, “picture book rabbi animals advice yiddish” — and scroll through the results. (That’s a real-life example of a book a patron was asking for: It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach.)
You can also try googling one key detail you remember from a book. One of our librarians solved a book mystery by searching “USS You-Know-Who” — the name of a boat in the story that the patron happened to remember. (Another real-life example: She Flew No Flags by Joan Manley.)
What’s the Name of That Book?
A Goodreads group with searchable discussion posts and thousands of questions and answers.
Name That Book
A LibraryThing group of ~3K members — many of whom are librarians or library-adjacent — who help solve book mysteries via threaded discussions.
The Fiction_L listserv
Stumpers! Search extensive archives (1996-2016 or 2016-present) of past questions, answered by an intense book-ish community, or subscribe and post a new one. You can also browse booklists organized by subject, setting, character, etc.
Reddit’s whatsthatbook thread
A nearly endless thread of users trying to help other users remember book titles, including several frequently requested books. Especially good for science fiction and fantasy.
"Stump the Bookseller" blog
A cool indie bookstore in Ohio that maintains extensive, searchable archives — and offers a $4 service for personalized help. Lots of children’s books here.
Big Book Search
If you can only remember what the cover looks like, try this cover-search tool.
Library Databases (log in with your library card)
Try some search strategies for Half-Remembered Children’s Books from the Internet Public Library.
Goodreads’ browse-able lists of titles that readers have shelved in unique categories, such as authors’ professions or decades of publication, is also be helpful.
For recently published books, the reviews in Booklist Online are broken down by detailed genre.
Feel free to leave a comment and tell us about a book you’re trying to remember! Our library staff members will pop in and check it periodically, and readers of this post are welcome to make guesses and suggestions.