Amazon FAIL, Match Book FTW

Match Book - QuestionlandBook Recommendations

You know the books you love. Don’t you wish you had another one of those? One of those books you savor and just can’t wait to get back to. They are a rare find despite, or perhaps because of,  the zillions of books in the world. Amazon pioneered book recommendations on a large scale, and it’s really not that bad (damned with faint praise). But it just doesn’t do the trick.

People are Plasma Bags of Contradictions

Some of my favorite things to read are true stories of submarine patrols, short poetry, Raymond Chandler, mysteries that take place in Nordic countries. I’d like more of these, but also I’d like to branch out bit. Amazon is stumped by this. Throw in the fact that I buy children’s books for friends, Google Analytics and that ilk for work, and toy helicopters for the fun of it; Amazon is understandably confused.

What Do All These Books Have in Common?

From looking at the list you, if you are well read, you might be able to discern that I like books that are relatively fast paced, have a definite plot but put a great emphasis on the mood and setting. Ideally they are clever and have a dry sense of humor. If you can’t figure it out, the good news is that I could just tell you. If you let me. Amazon doesn’t.

What’s the Right Recommendation?

The good news is that there are tons of “right” recommendations. The bad news is that Amazon couldn’t come close to suggesting something really new to me. If it did, it would be accidental. It can tell me other submarine books, it could tell me other Raymond Chandler books, at it’s best it could figure out the if I like Per Wahloo I’d probably also like Henning Mankell (I don’t). It’s helpful, but closed-minded.

The perfect recommendation, or one of them, would be: Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Series. Why? Because it takes place in Germany in the years before and after the war. It is based mostly in Berlin, which is not lacking in mood. The main character is a detective in the spirit of Chandler. It’s not outside the box, but it combines everything inside. To get outside the box, you need a human who is so well read it almost defies the imagination.

Problem solved. Match Book: Books in your inbox.

Match Book is a relatively new offering of The Stranger. Paul Constant, the Book Editor, had worked in bookstores earlier in his career and one if his favorite things to do was recommend books to people. He is now doing that for people on Questionland. You tell him what you like, don’t like, and he’ll tell you what to read next. The cool thing is that you ask the question on Questionland and your answer is delivered via email.

He is prolific and fast. His knowledge of books in encyclopedic. At this point he’s answered about 100 requests typically within 1-24 hours of being asked. His answers are nothing short of brilliant. He can keep you in the genre you like, but will also help you explore entirely new categories.

An Augmented Paul Constant

Paul does not exist in a vacuum, his questions are asked and answered on Questionland in the context of The Stranger community. When Paul answers a question, others can comment and jump in with their own recommendations. These often turn out to be people who have similar predilections and have a lot to add.

Is Paul Constant Scalable?

Despite the fact that he won the local spring roll eating contest, he is probably not scalable in and of himself. But what about Match Book? Well, yes, of course it is. At the moment all you can do is search for books you like and you’ll potentially get an answer that fits. Once the content has built up, which at his current pace won’t take long, the next evolution will be a simple matching algorithm based on the book lists. You’ll just jump from list to list discovering new treasure.

Personally, I can’t wait. If you can’t wait, you don’t have to, just go ask him a question.


You would have thought I’d have asked the book question before the post. But I asked it after. And I got the answer in my inbox this morning. So here’s what Paul suggested:


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