I just recently learned about Lit Hub’s Book Marks, and personally think a successful book review aggregator is long overdue. From Salon, “Rotten Tomatoes, but for books: Old-school book critics get boost from new Book Marks site“:
“Book Marks collects reviews from The New York Times, The New Republic, and other (mostly) old guard publications … Whatever the flaws of old-school book reviewing for newspaper and magazines, critics are typically kept honest. A print book reviewer might be boring, but it’s hard for her to get very far if she is dishonest or corrupt.”
The Salon piece linked above does a good job of weighing the pros and cons of how the Book Marks approach might risk drawing the ire of media traditionalists on the one side as well as the more online book community populists on the either side. However, I do like what I see from Book Marks so far.
When you go to the LitHub Book Marks site, the Most Talked About Books category is a good place to start, and clicking a book brings you something like this:
I like the simple interface and clean design (and prefer it over what you find at GoodReads.com). One thing I noticed is that you tend to see the same sources for book reviews again and again — they are good sources after all, but variety can also be a good thing. The Similar Books feature at the bottom of the page has a lot of potential for improvement.
Book Marks is exactly the kind of site that would benefit from robust book discovery features. From the books that I’ve browsed so far, the recommendations are good, but can be better. The serendipity of book discovery is a secret sauce that I personally think nobody outside of Amazon has done especially well with.
People will debate the merits of this kind of aggregation approach to book reviews, and that debate is a healthy thing. Via Flavorwire (“Now There’s a Rotten Tomatoes for Books, and It’s Called Book Marks“) quoting the Lit Hub folks: “We understand it is difficult to summarize the nuance and complexity of a review into a letter grade … But we believe that Book Marks will lead more readers to reviews, and amplify critics’ voices.”
Now, we’ve definitely heard about this kind of thing before. Whether this site reaches that critical mass of users it needs to survive in the long run will remain to be seen, but so far I love the concept and hope this continues to be a thing. More options for book reviews online is something we should all want in the longterm. Certainly Amazon reviews have become a major point of entry for how we discover books — but that has become a topic of great controversy in recent years (for more on that topic, and perhaps take some of this with a mineral lick-sized grain of salt, but this was somewhat eyebrow-raising, via Cracked.com: “I Get Paid to Write Fake Reviews For Amazon“).