A Literature Wikipedia

A friend of mine, Ellen Pall, has started a website to address a pressing need: how to know, when approaching the works of an unfamiliar author, which are the good books to read and which are the ones to avoid. The content of the website will be contributed by users, and Ellen is looking for all willing participants. (I don’t know how she plans to monitor the cranks.) Below, she explains her mission far better than I could.

Dear Friend of Books,

I’m writing to invite you (okay, beg you) to visit a literary website I’m about to launch. As I may have told you, DebbiesIdea.com is intended to serve as “A Reader’s Guide to Unfamiliar Literature”-a resource to help an interested reader decide which book to try first of an author she or he has never read.

The idea for the site came from my late, lifelong, beloved friend Debbie Sankey, who pointed out that if you start with a weak or atypical work by even the most marvelous author, you will probably never read that author again. Yet there’s no reference book to suggest where to begin. In fact, such a reference book could scarcely exist, since the “right” place to start is almost always a matter of opinion.

That is why your spending a few minutes on the site would be such a favor to me.

My hope is that DebbiesIdea.com will grow to be a thriving (if narrowly focused) forum, a useful compendium of considered opinions. Right now, though, it’s only the bare bones of such a site. My web designer and I have entered a hundred or so authors’ names, a handful of book titles, and a few recommendations as to where to-or where not to-start.

I’m writing to ask you please (please) to go to the site in the next few days and put a few leaves on this skeletal tree, perhaps by adding an author, perhaps by recommending one or another work by a writer you especially like. If you could, if you would, add two authors, or ten, or twenty, I will be deeply beholden to you. If you ARE an author, could you please put yourself and your works in, if they are not there already?

Because the site is not yet live, you’ll have to type “debbiesidea.com” into your browser or use this link: www.debbiesidea.com to get there. 1(Searching for “Debbies Idea”-or “Debbie’s Idea”-will not work.) The site is simple and self-explanatory. Registration takes a few minutes. Your e-mail address remains private.

Many, many thanks for any time you can give this infant work of love.

Yours in the Fight for Literature,

Ellen

P.S. Please send me or the Webmaster word of any bugs/glitches/stupid oversights you notice, etc. so we can fix them. And please do pass this letter along to anyone you think might be interested!


James

Yet there's no reference book to suggest where to begin.

Although it's not a reference book, what about Amazon.com's ranking of each author's bestsellers and their average customer reviews? It works for me.

Automatic News

Debbie’s Idea is a Good One

A new literary wiki has opened up. The Idea is that a community of readers who comment on which of an author’s works is the best one to read before any other. It’s important to get off on the right foot with an author–if I had read S...

eric

James: I had the same reaction, but I see potential here because it solicits reader opinion in a very specific contect (i.e., the "knowing what you now, what book would you suggest to someone setting out to read a particular author" contect). Ideally, I could go to Debbie's Idea and look up John Steinbeck to get started, as opposed to reading Amazon reviews of every Steinbeck novel.

turbosaab

I like the idea and appreciate the work that you have put into making it happen, Ellen. The interface is good, and you are making progress on reaching the critical mass that makes such a site truely useful. I've made it a point to contribute a few of my favorite authors and books.

You may be interested in checking out LibraryThing.com Although your approaches differ somewhat, I think you will find that you have a similar audience. I have used LibraryThing to catalog my books, find other readers with similar interests, and find similar books.

Jason Scott

Stephen, I take issue with your characterization of Ellen's site as a "Wikipedia".

Even a short browse shows it to essentially be a web forum, with a much more defined subject matter (reading, author recommendations and reviews) than most. Users cannot undo other users' work, and they add to a section over time with suggestions and commentary that become more of that sub-forums's "subject".

And not to be, you know, mean, but this idea has been done before, in many different ways, and has had various levels of success.

There's no need for you to unfairly bundle in this web-forum site as being in any way a "Wiki", just because people can post on it; it smacks of buzz-wordism and slapdash marketing.

But hey, good luck!

zenofguitar

I feel a little unsettled about this new site. The reason being, I am a musician, and when I see the "typical" works of musicians recommended, it seems to lead to homogeneity or surprise.
For instance, somebody might recommend "Sheik Yerbouti" by Frank Zappa. If somebody checks that out, it's totally atypical of his work, but it is probably the most palatable harmonically.(which is a big determinant of whether somebody will like a musical piece).
So the person's gonna buy another album, say "Studio Tan", and get an unexpected result when they find a 22 minute long operetta about a pig named Greggary Peccary. It's an excellent piece, by the way.

I'd kinda like to see the weirder literature represented and have people deal with something they have to chew on.

Rabbit

Why is the book world so far behind? In music this is called a discography. Search for an artist on allmusic.com, then click Discography on their page. Every album they've made is listed in chronological order, with star ratings and a review available.

The problem with popular opinion is that the most mainstream stuff will get the most votes and rise to the top of the ratings. The problem with critics is they are typically jaded with the mainstream and have cultivated a taste for the eclectic that most people can't appreciate.

A review site needs to let the reader and the reviewer specify an expertise level or set of interests so they can find each other. This is the point of tags, social groups, users rating each others reviews, etc.

James

Yet there's no reference book to suggest where to begin.

Although it's not a reference book, what about Amazon.com's ranking of each author's bestsellers and their average customer reviews? It works for me.

Automatic News

Debbie’s Idea is a Good One

A new literary wiki has opened up. The Idea is that a community of readers who comment on which of an author’s works is the best one to read before any other. It’s important to get off on the right foot with an author–if I had read S...

eric

James: I had the same reaction, but I see potential here because it solicits reader opinion in a very specific contect (i.e., the "knowing what you now, what book would you suggest to someone setting out to read a particular author" contect). Ideally, I could go to Debbie's Idea and look up John Steinbeck to get started, as opposed to reading Amazon reviews of every Steinbeck novel.

turbosaab

I like the idea and appreciate the work that you have put into making it happen, Ellen. The interface is good, and you are making progress on reaching the critical mass that makes such a site truely useful. I've made it a point to contribute a few of my favorite authors and books.

You may be interested in checking out LibraryThing.com Although your approaches differ somewhat, I think you will find that you have a similar audience. I have used LibraryThing to catalog my books, find other readers with similar interests, and find similar books.

Jason Scott

Stephen, I take issue with your characterization of Ellen's site as a "Wikipedia".

Even a short browse shows it to essentially be a web forum, with a much more defined subject matter (reading, author recommendations and reviews) than most. Users cannot undo other users' work, and they add to a section over time with suggestions and commentary that become more of that sub-forums's "subject".

And not to be, you know, mean, but this idea has been done before, in many different ways, and has had various levels of success.

There's no need for you to unfairly bundle in this web-forum site as being in any way a "Wiki", just because people can post on it; it smacks of buzz-wordism and slapdash marketing.

But hey, good luck!

zenofguitar

I feel a little unsettled about this new site. The reason being, I am a musician, and when I see the "typical" works of musicians recommended, it seems to lead to homogeneity or surprise.
For instance, somebody might recommend "Sheik Yerbouti" by Frank Zappa. If somebody checks that out, it's totally atypical of his work, but it is probably the most palatable harmonically.(which is a big determinant of whether somebody will like a musical piece).
So the person's gonna buy another album, say "Studio Tan", and get an unexpected result when they find a 22 minute long operetta about a pig named Greggary Peccary. It's an excellent piece, by the way.

I'd kinda like to see the weirder literature represented and have people deal with something they have to chew on.

Rabbit

Why is the book world so far behind? In music this is called a discography. Search for an artist on allmusic.com, then click Discography on their page. Every album they've made is listed in chronological order, with star ratings and a review available.

The problem with popular opinion is that the most mainstream stuff will get the most votes and rise to the top of the ratings. The problem with critics is they are typically jaded with the mainstream and have cultivated a taste for the eclectic that most people can't appreciate.

A review site needs to let the reader and the reviewer specify an expertise level or set of interests so they can find each other. This is the point of tags, social groups, users rating each others reviews, etc.