Friday, April 27, 2007

The Printed World

Library Thing, the site that brought us the "Unsuggester," contains a link to a fascinating, if less interactive, book-related Web page: Matthew Gray's Earth Viewed from Books. As most of my readers know, Google is in the midst of a multi-year project to digitize every printed book in the world. As part of that project, the digitizers are generating maps of all the place names mentioned in each volume. Matt Gray, a software engineer and Google employee, has taken this a step further: he has plotted all of these place-name references onto a map of the world. Furthermore, he has prepared several historical maps showing the gradual spread of place-name references from books published between 1800 and 1900, graphically demonstrating the growing Western awareness of North America, India, Japan, and Australasia. He also shows that Patagonia, the Sahara, most of Australia, and most of the former Soviet Union still lie outside of the world's literary consciousness, either because they are lightly populated or because they are too isolated to draw writers' attention. True "globalization" is apparently still years away.

It would be interesting to extend Mr. Gray's historical maps back into the eighteenth, or even the sixteenth century, and to watch as Europeans gradually learned about (and wrote about) the Americas and East Asia. For now, though, he has produced some food for thought - or at least a few intellectual hors d'oeuvres.

Friday, April 20, 2007

You Probably Won't Like...

Amazon's book-recommendation service now has an opposite number: LibraryThing's "UnSuggester," which you can use to find out which books you probably don't want to read. Examples:

If you liked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami,
you probably won't like Basics of Biblical Greek by William D. Mounce

If you liked Parliament of Whores by P.J. O'Rourke,
you probably won't like A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

If you liked Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee,
you probably won't like V by Thomas Pynchon

If you liked Phenomenology of Mind by Georg Hegel (and who doesn't?),
you probably won't like Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

And so forth. The program is based on the personal libraries of the site's registered members; after you type in the title of a book, it scans the collections of LibraryThing members who own the same book, then calculates which other books those members are least likely to own. Of course, the same program can also determine which books you might actually like to read, but that's not nearly as entertaining.