Lately I have been re-reading science fiction novels and stories I remember from my youth. But in some cases I remembered something about the plot or setting, and nothing of title or author. For example, a story where the alien said to the protagonist, “I trade with you my mind.” Atypically for me, I had a dim recollection that it was by Clifford Simak, but no idea of the title or if maybe it had been in a novel instead.
Where to turn? BookSleuth® to the rescue. This is a branch of the discussion forums run by used-bookseller abebooks.com. They have separate US and UK sites; each has its own forums and Booksleuth® section.
Here is the abebooks description of BookSleuthe®:
Is there a special book that you read, or perhaps had read to you, at some point in your life but you can’t remember the author and title? Perhaps you know the plot, or a character, or maybe even what the front cover looks like. BookSleuth® is here to help you find that book! Simply post a short description of what you can remember here on our board. Visitors from all over the world will read your post, and one of them is bound to know exactly what you’re talking about and post a response. Not missing anything? Why not see if you can help anyone else find their long-lost books?
Each of the two forums has some genre divisions: General, Children’s, Romance, Mystery, Non-fiction, Science Fiction. The members who answer questions are real enthusiasts with incredible memories (even for 40-year old short stories!), and their answers sometimes include valuable index-type websites where other such questions can be researched.
I have spent some time cruising questions and answers, even had a try at answering a few. I found that one frequent poster is a bookfinder for a library system, and I am sure she is not the only Booksleuther with such specialized skills.
When I wanted to find a British book, I posted my question in the UK forum. I had few details: it had to do with hand-production of daily objects in a small English village, lots about woodworking, I thought the author’s first name was George, and I read it in the early 70’s. (If you can’t give an approximate date of publication, at least you can narrow the field by saying when you encountered the book). I’d thought about this book for thirty years, longing to re-read it, and had done some searching on the web myself but never even came close. The folks on the UK BookSleuth® forum had an answer for me very soon: The Wheelwright’s Shop, by George Sturt–a book of some renown. Soon I had my very own copy courtesy of Amazon; I shared it with a friend who’s a sign painter immersed in fine hand-craftsmanship, he bought a copy and talked it up to friends, so we’ve got a mini-revival of Sturt’s masterpiece going on this side of the pond.
One tip: if you decide to post a query: use a descriptive title for your post, not “Help, looking for book title” or “Looking for old cookbook”.
Here a a few recent queries:
Kids lost in outback
American Civil War & female cat burglar
A Particular Jewish Cookbook
Children playing casting shadows 1950’s
Type 23 Frigate in an West African coup
Middle East Trucking
Suffragette Story for teen/child reader
Novel with storyline based around chess
Look out, though, cruising these forums is likely to have you adding more books to your future reading list!
And, the same day I posted my inquiry about the “I trade with you my mind” story, I had an answer: it is in the early pages of Simak’s novel Time is the Simplest Thing (1961), which I found in my local library system and am about to start reading.
Will it be as memorable as it was 40 years ago? I’ll get back to you on that. But I looked up some vintage covers of this title, from which I can predict absolutely nothing about the book. Typical of sf cover art!