Antibooks

Since some of the other cool kids are looking at LibraryThing’s Unsuggester, I thought I’d add a few comments.

I think John Emerson is basically right that it has to do with the peculiar sample at LibraryThing in the first place. I’ve basically observed from my own catalog that there are three very strong subsets of LibraryThing cataloguers, with a fourth minor variant.

The three major groupings that I can see are: SF/fantasy, political theory and philosophy (usually leftish), and Christian (whose catalogs are also often documents of their homeschooling projects). The fourth smaller category are academic book collections, though a lot of the academics who catalog there tend to do a couple of hundred books out of what are probably larger collections and stop there. (My own is still missing about 1,500 or more books from downstairs in our house.) There are also some collections which are very heavy on chick-lit and self-help books, I think.

So I’ve found, like John Holbo, if I enter almost any SF/fantasy title in the Unsuggester, almost all of the anti-books are theology and Christian-related. There are some curious exceptions. CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station fetches up a real dog’s breakfast of anti-books. Some Christian stuff, but also some chick-lit. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe not unexpectedly turns the mapping on its head: the top two anti-books for it are de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life and Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity.

You can find some non-genre works that different clusters of LT cataloguers all tend to own where the anti-books are really odd, where it is hard to make a lot of sense about the relationship. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the anti-book of works as diverse as Kevin Mitnick’s book on computer security, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, guides to Java programming, the Harry Potter books, and Nora Roberts novels. Marx’s Capital is the anti-book of works of historical fiction, fantasy, Stephen King novels, and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Works of humor, interestingly enough, tend to be anti-booked by Christian and theological writing just as much as fantasy and SF are. But then, so is Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Like John Emerson, I’m sure this is largely a function of how well walled-off various LibraryThing catalogs are from each other, not necessarily a good description of communities and practices of readership at large in American or global culture.

It’s also a function of the threshold of 75 owners for anti-book recommendations. I’m guessing that there are a lot of titles at LT that have 5-50 owners, that there is a “long tail” of books, some of them pretty notable, that somehow just aren’t heavily represented in the pre-existing clusters of motivated cataloguers.

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10 Responses to Antibooks

  1. withywindle says:

    There was discussion of politically partisan reading habits as based on the Amazon “Customers who bought this item” a while back. See:

    http://www.orgnet.com/divided.html
    http://www.orgnet.com/divided2.html

    Not entirely unrelated.

    But what about the divides within speculative fiction? Do people ominverously read everything from Hal Clement to Piers Anthony? Or can one detect the fractioning out of reading habits within the SF field?

  2. laurel says:

    Notably, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses doesn’t make the 75 cut-off.

  3. Doug says:

    And the whole business of paid vs unpaid members. I haven’t ponied up, which means that my collection stops at less than 300, well below half of just what I have in Germany. So I’m in with about 60 German-language titles, plus something like G-N (authors) in the non-mass-market part of the shelves.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, the Amazon findings are really interesting, I recall blogging about it a goodly while ago.

    It would be interesting to try and parse more precisely how many LT collections are fantasy-exclusive, how many are hard-SF exclusive, and so on. But I think there would have to be more heterogenity among the collections there–I think the highly motivated collectors there tend to be people with the most comprehensive and far-reaching collections of a particular sub-type (SF/fantasy, theology and religion, political philosophy, etc.)

  5. Endie says:

    I started off with Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, which is pretty representative of at least a chunk of mycollection, and found that I owned several of the unsuggestions (including Josephus, which I had entered in a different edition, two Lewis’s and a Calvin which I had yet to enter).

    Readers of Complicity, by Ian Banks, are apparently particularly unlikely to own the 9/11 Commission Report. Possibly a reflection on the Scottishness of the audience for his non-sci-fi work.

    But yep, you seem right that owners of, for instance, Scottish contemporary fiction don’t often seem to have large evangelical or bodice-ripping collections. Those two groups should get together and go drinking some time.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Or Ian Banks should write an evangelical bodice-ripper set in Scotland.

  7. Endie says:

    Actually, now I think about it, he sorta did. It’s called “Whit” and it’s the really rather funny story of the teenaged Elect Of God of a minor Scottish sect who travels to “Babylondon” to retreive an apostate. You probably can’t be a Scottish novelist for 20-odd books or so and not end up turning to Calvin or the Brethren for a storyline at some point.

  8. withywindle says:

    Silly Wizard, *The Parish of Dunkeld*

    Oh, what a parish, a terrible parish;
    Oh, what a parish is that o’ Dunkeld.
    They hangit their minister, droon’d their precentor,
    Dang doun the steeple and fuddled the bell.

    The steeple was doun but the kirk was still staunin’,
    They biggit a lum whaur the bell used to hang.
    A stell-pat they gat and they brewed Hielan’ whisky;
    On Sundays they drank it and ranted and sang.

    O, had you but seen how graceful it lookit,
    To see the crammed pews sae socially joined.
    MacDonald the piper stood up in the poopit,
    He made the pipes skirl out the music divine.

    Wi’ whiskey and beer they’d curse and they’d swear;
    They’d argue and fecht what ye daurna weel tell.
    Bout Geordie and Charlie they bothered fu’ rarely
    Wi’ whisky they’re worse than the devil himsel’.

    When the hairt-cheerin’ spirit had mounted their garret,
    Tae a ball on the green they a’ did adjourn.
    The maids wi’ coats kilted, they skippit and liltit,
    When tired they shook hands and then hame did return.

    If the kirks a’ owre Scotland held like social meetin’s
    Nae warnin’ ye’d need from a far-tinklin’ bell,
    For true love and friends wad draw ye thegither
    Far better than roarin’ the horrors o’ hell.

  9. Endie says:

    Bless me for a sky-taught ingenue, but I have to admit I actually rather liked that, withy! I’d never heard of Silly Wizard (had to turn to Wikipedia) nor of that song. I’ll send it to my father – the Revd of the family – with line 3 highlighted as a warning… :)

  10. john theibault says:

    Late to the game, but since you’ve touched on one of my mini-obsessions…

    I agree with you and John Emerson that the libaries on LT do tend to cluster in certain areas which strongly influences how the unsuggester operates. I think SF and Christian probably are overrepresented in comparison to, say, romance or mysteries in LT as a whole. But at the same time, unsuggester is probably right to identify SF and Christian clusters as more marginal than romance or mysteries as well and so more likely to be an anti-book.

    A fun parlor game from the unsuggester is to check for anti-book combinations that you hold in your own library. You mention one such combination for my own library: we have both The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (though we have our LWW in a box set which is probably not counted by the algorithm used by Unsuggester). I suspect that if you searched your catalog carefully, you could also come up with a anti-book combination that you have.

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