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Bookish's Dirty Little Secret

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Aside from their exclusive content, the signature feature of Bookish is its book search engine, which they call a "recommendation tool," whose poorly-documented operation may mystify users accustomed to all other search engines. 

"It's Never Been Easier to Find BOOKS YOU'LL LOVE," proclaims the big blue box surrounding the search window, which instructs you to "Type in a book you love or recently read . . ." I entered the title of my book, Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel, published in 2011, and nothing happened. There is no button to click on to initiate a search. Hitting the ENTER key on my keyboard did nothing.

I then typed in Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, Patrick McGilligan's 2011 biography of Ray. Still nothing happened. I typed in "Nicholas Ray." Bookish finally coughed up one result, the title "Nicholas Ray," with its authors' names, Bernard Eisenchitz, Tom Milne (Milne translated Eisenschitz's book into English) underneath. Clicking on "Nicholas Ray" produced a gallery of four recommended books: Jonathan Rosenbaum's Movies As Politics, Dennis O'Neil's The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, Ian Christie's Scorsese on Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Hell's In It: Conversations With Hollywood's Legendary Actors.

Those are pretty weak recommendations. The DC Comics Guide has no relevance to Nicholas Ray or the subject of movies. Even Christie's book is only relevant to a biography of Ray in the sense that Ray and Scorsese are both directors. Evidently, Bookish's search engine--er, recommendation tool--thinks that books about movies are all about the same. A competent recommendation engine should have recommended at least one biography of James Dean, the star of Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray's best-known film, as well as the two books written about the making of Rebel, both published in 2005.

At least at Amazon.com, the menu of books also bought by purchasers of McGilligan's biography of Ray turned up Eisenchitz's book, Michael Michaud's biography of Sal Mineo, and my biography of Dennis Hopper, both of whom acted in Rebel Without a Cause.

I soon discovered why Bookish's recommendations for me were off the mark. When I clicked on the button labeled DETAILS on the title bar above the recommended books, the cover of Eisenchitz's book popped out on the left. Glancing above it, I noticed that the search engined suddenly looked different. It now said, "RECOMMENDATIONSBETA," and "boasts 251,029 BOOKS AND ADDING MORE EVERY DAY." That's a terribly limited database to draw from. Unfortunately, more new books than that are published annually.
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Bookish also offers a conventional search engine, where users can search for a specific book by author, title, or keyword, which doesn't work quite as smoothly as Amazon's. Entering the full title of my book returned no results. Simply typing in "Dennis Hopper" produced a page for the e-book edition of my book (sans cover image) published by the Robson Press, my publisher in Britain and the UK. The second result Bookish provided turned up the domestic hardcover and e-book editions of my book. Both the US and British editions were out of stock at Bookish, which raises the question, "Why not just go to Amazon in the first place?"

For all their hoopla and the effort that went into its development, Bookish is little more than a promotional vehicle for books produced by the three publishers funding the site, with an underpowered book-recommendation engine that's not ready for prime time. As playwright Clifford Odets once wrote, "You're selling fish four days old."
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http://dennishopperbook.com
Peter Winkler is the author of Dennis Hopper: the Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel (Barricade Books, 2011). Filmmaker Philippe Mora says, "I knew Dennis Hopper in his wild days and his sober days. Winkler's deeply researched biography is the (more...)
 

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