Any interest in a Frequently Recommended Books wiki page? January 31, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to create a MeFi Wiki page listing books that are frequently recommended in AskMe answers. Would anyone else be interested in such a resource and/or does anyone want to help out?

In the "Buying a Pony Off Amazon" MetaTalk thread I suggested that "A 'Books Frequently Recommended in AskMe' page sorted by topic/problem would be cool." Sys Rq pointed me to Read Me, which is nice, but I was thinking of something that just lists frequently recommended books (e.g. Feeling Good, Gift of Fear, etc.) instead of links to previous book recommendation threads because those threads require some wading through before you can determine which books are esteemed enough by MeFites to be recommended over and over again.

I'm actually interested enough in this to work on it myself. (I was already planning to add a list of books that I personally tend to recommend to my own profile page, but then I realized that a Wiki page aggregating everyone's book recommendations in one place would be far, far more useful.) Do I need permission from anyone to start a new Mefi Wiki page or can I just have at it?

At a minimum I'd like to sort the books by broad AskMe categories (e.g. "human relations", "work & money", etc.), but if it's not too difficult to implement I'd also like to include information about which specific sub-topics/tags/situations the book tends to be recommended for and also some indicator of how many times each book has been recommended (perhaps with links to the recommending comments for context).

If one of you clever tech wizards who actually grok the mysterious "infodump" could help me out, a list of links to the following would be a HUGE help to get me started:
- AskMe comments that contain links to Amazon
- AskMe posts and comments that contain the words "book", "books", "read", and "reading"
- And if the above could include information on what category the original question was posted in (and perhaps even which tags were assigned to the post) that would be even more awesome
- Is there any other data available in the info dump that could help automate/streamline the process of creating this proposed book recommendations list?

My personal interest is on problem-solving / how-to / self-help type books so I would be working on compiling lists of those types of recommendations first (and I might lose interest after I get through those categories), but if anyone else would like to pitch in to cover literature, academic topics, hobbies, etc., that would be awesome.

The list would include Amazon links with MetaFilter's affiliate code, and it sounds like including international Amazon affiliate links would also be appreciated (what are the top countries that AskMe readers come from?).

So, any community interest in this? Anyone else want to help work on it? And before the structure and content of the wiki page are set, any other requests for specific tricks that I should teach this pony I'm volunteering to train? :)
posted by Jacqueline to Feature Requests at 3:54 PM (42 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I'm going to side with Sys Rq and say ReadMe is the best thing for this, since books are recommended in context of discussion and your list would look like a list of "MeFi endorses...", when the site really shouldn't be endorsing anything per se. I like the fact that ReadMe points back to AskMe, rather than - as you suggest - having a list of book names on the wiki that point to Amazon. Bypassing MeFi or AskMe, even to the financial benefit of MeFi, doesn't really enhance this site, I don't think.
posted by crossoverman at 4:08 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I thought that it was that, no matter what book you'd actually like to be reading, you should be reading Cloud Atlas.
posted by fryman at 4:15 PM on January 31, 2011

I'm pretty sure someone did that a few years ago.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:17 PM on January 31, 2011

I like the idea generally but it would be an odd but workable fit for the wiki. Maybe ReadMe still exists for collating "what to read" lists but then there's another page that has like a FAQ of ReadMes. Could have links to Amazon but also links back to the original threads so it's outward and inward looking.

I am not the InfoDumpMaster so cortex would have to chime on on that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:18 PM on January 31, 2011

This is the project by the guy who did it earlier. Not for the wiki, just his own deal.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:26 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I should clarify that I'm suggesting a complement to, not a replacement of, the existing Read Me page.

It appears that the MetaFilter Wiki is running on MediaWiki, which has some powerful sortable table and relational database features that I think would make this pretty doable in the wiki.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:30 PM on January 31, 2011

The Infodump doesn't have that link info in it, but I could look into doing a one-off dump of amazon urls that have appeared. How useful the result would be, I don't know.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

@jessamyn: Thanks, I MeMailed philosophistry and asked him if he would be interested in collaborating on something more comprehensive for the wiki or if he had any advice to share about his methods.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2011

I was thinking of something that just lists frequently recommended books (e.g. Feeling Good, Gift of Fear, etc.) instead of links to previous book recommendation threads...

We've already made that list.
posted by John Cohen at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

@John Cohen: Awesome! I'd still like to organize them by category on a wiki page, but your link is a huge big help to getting started on compiling the list.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:40 PM on January 31, 2011

@Cortex: If it isn't too much of a bother for you to run the query, I would really appreciate it!
posted by Jacqueline at 4:42 PM on January 31, 2011

How useful the result would be, I don't know.

Damn it, lack of utility is never an impediment to datawankery!
posted by FishBike at 4:55 PM on January 31, 2011 [12 favorites]

I have forgotten the face of my father.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:05 PM on January 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

posted by loquacious at 5:55 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thank god for that gigantic Costco pack of TP.
posted by gman at 5:57 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on putting together ReadMe (which I hope to update this summer) you will want to do a lot of examination and editing to get something good. It sounds fun, but grad school, new job, new baby. So maybe this summer if you are still at it.
posted by shothotbot at 6:37 PM on January 31, 2011

Okie doke, here we go:

A list of things linked to on Amazon in AskMe comments. 7MB html file.


- As far as I can tell, amazon products are identified by a ten-digit alphanumeric string. I searched for links that contained "amazon" and a string matching "/[A-Z0-9]/". Hopefully, this caught all the legit product links while excluding chaff like search results and such.

- I didn't do anything clever like check these against the Amazon API to figure out what's books and what aren't, so there are presumably some non-book things in here. However, if the interest is in multiply-linked books that shouldn't be a big hurdle since it'll be plainly obvious from the link text if you're looking at a book vs. something else, and it also seems likely to me that the vast majority of things linked to several times will be books.

- file is sorted by number of mentions, in ascending order; I preface each set of product links with the ten-digit product id and a count of the number of cites listed.

- links are presented exactly as they were in the comment; link text is the same except for having html formatting stripped (mostly just to deal with some stupid unclosed tags); multiple links to the same product may have somewhat different urls and/or link text, which is why I sorted this stuff by product id.

- In some cases folks have recommended the same overall book/product but linked to different versions, so you'll need to keep an eye out for multiple variants of the same title and collate those if you're trying to build a definitive list.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:50 PM on January 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also, if there's a specific alternate format for this that would be more useful, let me know and I can re-run it accordingly. This just seemed like pretty accessible way to get at the raw-ish data without any special skills or tools.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:54 PM on January 31, 2011

Also, if there's a specific alternate format

Maybe a little friendlier to put the most popular one on top?
posted by shothotbot at 6:58 PM on January 31, 2011

Huh. I did not expect A Pattern Language to be so high on the list. It always seemed like a niche book to me.
posted by wayland at 7:30 PM on January 31, 2011

Yeah, the ascending order thing is a bit silly, but the script generating this hammers the hell out of the server and was producing some timeouts. I'll wait till I'm about ready for bed to re-run it sorting the other way, site will be quieter then and I'll be annoying fewer people.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:57 PM on January 31, 2011

@hal_c_on: Hang on while I order a book... (LOL!!!)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:22 PM on January 31, 2011

I thought that it was that, no matter what book you'd actually like to be reading, you should be reading Cloud Atlas.

Well, by now you should have moved on to the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel.
posted by salvia at 11:01 PM on January 31, 2011

Okay, list is now in descending order by frequency.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:06 PM on January 31, 2011

1. Context is good. Could it link back to the comment itself, so we can see the context? If it's an answer to What's the crappiest piece of crap you've ever got a whiff of?, that might be worth knowing.

2. Frequency is nice, but seeing actual popularity would be a whole bunch more useful. Is something actually very popular among a wide base, or is there just one dude who keeps recommending it over and over? Is it possible to include recommenders' usernames, and/or delete duplicates from the counts, and/or something like that?

3. Maybe just link to Amazon via the item number; currently, each listing thereunder goes to the same page, which is sort of weird.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mefites love "Starting Strength" and "How to Cook Everything."
posted by caddis at 4:27 AM on February 1, 2011

That list is pretty interesting. I have a lot of the books, the nifty fifty lens, and the headphones. I never thought I needed a Mr. Bento until looking at that list.
posted by ambrosia at 7:16 AM on February 1, 2011

Fascinating list.

In theory some nice additional info could be...

- tags used for the question
- number of favorites

But maybe there aren't enough books for any given tag for it to be worth the bother.

Also it pleases me to see Godel, Escher and Bach and Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman riding so high in the list.

But... I must remember to actually finish Godel, Escher & Bach someday. I've had it for... what... nearly 30 years now. Scary.
posted by philipy at 8:03 AM on February 1, 2011

Mefites love "Starting Strength" and "How to Cook Everything."

Makes sense. Those are decent generic answers to the very common questions of "How do I work out" and "How do I cook".
posted by smackfu at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2011

Reading cortex's list reminded me of the experience of meeting a new friend or dating a new person and, the first time you visit their house, reading their bookshelves to see what they are all about. Reading the list definitely provides the experience of what it would be like if you were dating MeFi, and went home with them for the first time.
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know what I can't stand? Book jackets on hardcovers. Not a jacket-design thing, I appreciate the aesthetic angle, but the things are just annoying when I'm trying to actually read. I pretty much take those off and chuck 'em. Is this a thing?
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:13 AM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is this a thing?

It is definitely a thing. Or perhaps it's a schism, between book jacket keepers and book jacket throwers-away. We had arguments about this in my family.

The other side's preposterous claim was that the jacket should be kept on the book to keep the actual hardcover looking nice. And never mind that it means you never see the nice hardcover because it has that hideous, beat-up paper jacket over it. It's enough to know that it would look nice if you could ever see it.
posted by FishBike at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2011

Sipping my glass of wine while MeFi sautees garlic and onions to prepare our dinner, I browse MeFi's bookshelves. Are we simpatico? Slowly, a picture emerges. Clearly, my friend MeFi...

-is a pretty serious cook and baker, with judiciously selected gadgets, an adventurous palate, and a willingness to try complicated projects like brewing and canning

-is mostly a vegetarian

-has a few food issues, like binging on comfort food, cake and Ben & Jerry's, but tries to keep it under control by planning a generally healthy diet and taking up running. S/he's actually planning a marathon!

-is into personal growth and self-help; has had some emotional challenges in life, including episodes of depression and insecurity stemming from family stuff, but is proactive about learning to cope and getting therapy

-is somewhat socially awkward and introverted, but really enjoys people with whom s/he has something in common

-is a little confused about career direction, but...

-is also frugal, and responsible with money, working on correcting past financial mistakes and planning for the long term by educating themselves about finance

-likes fiction, especially the science kind, pop science, a good intrigue-thriller-mystery, and also gripping historical narratives

-finds these kinds of writing a productive way to both attempt to understand, and temporoarily escape from, the mushy complexities of real-life human relations

-is scared of zombies

-is a skeptic, but kind of spiritual and sort of a seeker

-is good at trivia and word games

-rides a bike

-loves animals

-enjoys travel, but mainly off the beaten path; might want to live abroad one day

-likes to get the 'real story' of history, the seamy undersides hidden by whitewash

-is a bit of a lefty

-married and divorced in the past, and has some kids or tried to have some kids

-has spent time exploring their sexuality

-wasn't stellar at math and science while in school, but as an adult is interested in the more abstract concepts

-worked their way up from a front-line to a managerial role in their career, and at times has felt they could use a few pointers

-sort of into design and decor

-considers themselves a writer

-has a satirical and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor

-likes to know how things tick, so is a sucker for books with titles like How [THING] Changed the World and How [THING] Works and The Surprising History of [THING]

-dabbles in various hobbies, like gardening, drawing, knitting, gaming, photography, and electronics

-has eclectic taste in music, from classical to old soul and rootsy field recordings

No wonder I love you, MeFi. ARE me. Tell you like pina coladas?
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2011 [11 favorites]

I pretty much take those off and chuck 'em. Is this a thing?

I take them off while I'm reading them, but replace them before putting on shelves. I like that it's there to protect the binding.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I take off but keep covers, too! This totally compensates for the fact that I own neither Starting Strength nor Feeling Good, right?

(I feel like MetaFilter ought to have its own LibraryThing account, so I can finally see whether I'm more like MeFi or Tupac in my reading habits.)
posted by SMPA at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2011

You know what I can't stand? Book jackets on hardcovers. [...] Is this a thing?

No, that's not a thing. Now, this is a thing.

assuming by "thing" you mean borderline obsessive-compulsive habit
posted by RogerB at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2011

I remove my dust jackets (although I don't do it until I'm done reading; the flaps make handy bookmarks).

Now my hardcovers look all classy, but the paperbacks just look like a crazy random mess of colours on the shelf. Gross.

And another thing: Sometimes, an author's oeuvre will have similarly-styled dust jackets, but the hardcovers underneath won't match at all. I'm looking at you, Sarah Vowell.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:50 AM on February 1, 2011

On a related note: Is there any interest in arranging some kind of loan pool of these books? I have collected a small pile of them and would be happy to share.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2011

I wonder if its cheaper to borrow them via mail or buy them used on Amazon...
posted by smackfu at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2011 is one of the social apps that you can add in your profiles. I've found it's really useful for getting/sending books I only sort of want, and you can "friend" MeFites there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:15 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a shame that of the five more recommended books, only two have Kindle editions.
posted by Memo at 3:43 PM on February 1, 2011

Mefites love ...

Makes sense. Those are decent generic answers to the very common questions ...

Okay, I'll say it. Quality of the books aside, "decent" is sometimes a good descriptor to use for a lot of those answers. Straight out "bad" is another, being that one person is easily responsible for the bulk of links to one specific book for most every question that involved(s) weight training.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2011

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