Have you ever tried to find a book you read years ago, only to discover that you have no recollection of the book’s title or author?

Unfortunately, books are not categorized by storylines or characters (you know, the things that we CAN easily remember). They are categorized by the titles and authors— the very things that we cannot seem to recall.

So, how can you find a book without knowing the title or author?

Here are a few great tips from the New York Public Library that can help solve this book finding dilemma:

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 New York Public Library 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.)

Crowdsourcing

  • 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 archives of past questions, answered by an intense book-ish community, or subscribe and post a new one. 
  • 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)

More Suggestions

  • If you can remember just one word, 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, is also be helpful.
  • For recently published books, the reviews in Booklist Online are broken down by detailed genre.

How to Move On

Sometimes, it’s just not going to happen, and you can’t find that elusive book you’ve been searching for. It’s okay! Great news: The world is full of great books!

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