We live in a world where we can find out pretty much anything at the click of a mouse. All we have to do is simply type our query into Google’s search engine, and a plethora of information is right there in front of our eyes.
But every now and then, a quick Google search doesn’t quite cut it; for example, when you’re trying to work out the name of a book without knowing the name of the author, the protagonist, or any of the main characters. The title has completely escaped you, and without this information, you don’t even know what to type into the search bar.
Thankfully, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of tracking down a long-forgotten book. Even if you can only remember a couple of details about the plot, or a vague description of a character, you’re still in with a shot of finding the elusive book title with the following methods.
Step 1: Write Down the Details
Whichever other methods you choose to use from this list, always start with this one.
Grab a pen and paper, and list everything you can remember about the book in question. Seemingly insignificant details could be key when you’re trying to find a book without a title. Ask yourself the questions below (you may remember more than you think).
- What was the genre of the book?
For example, was it a romance, a thriller, or a sci-fi book? If you’re pretty confident about the genre, can you narrow it down even more to a sub-genre?
- At what age were you when you read it?
Even if you can’t remember exactly how old you were when you read it, try to think about where you were in your life at that time, and go from there. What school were you attending, or where did you live? Use these key memories to estimate what year you read the book. At the very least, you’ll be able to figure out the decade, and you can rule out any titles that were published after that.
- What were the key plot features?
Even if you can’t fully recall anything major from the plot, write down everything that you can recall, no matter how vague. Sometimes, when you begin to list the things you can remember, you end up uncovering more memories of the book, and you’re able to fill in some important blanks.
- What about the characters?
Try to think of as many details as you can about the character in the book, their defining features, and their personality traits. Any character names you can think of at all will be helpful, even if they only played a minor role in the story.
- Can you remember any lines or quotes?
Some people are better at recalling exact lines than others, but if you can recall any direct quotes from the book, this can be super helpful in finding your elusive title. Even if you’re not 100% sure it’s word-for-word accurate, it’s always worth noting it down and typing it into a search engine in case you get a match.
Also read: 100 Best Book Quotes of All Time
- What did the book cover look like?
Can you remember the color and the font of the book cover? Or the image that was used? Was the title in large print, or the author’s name? Any of these details can make a big difference when it comes to searching for your mystery book. Even if a search doesn’t pull anything up from a description of the cover, you’ll be able to recognize it by sight when you do finally (hopefully) stumble across it.
- Did anything else stand out about the book?
For example, were there any scenes or concepts that have stuck in your mind? Or can you remember any other story-related details, such as the name of a city or a high school, or the name of any landmarks that were featured?
Step 2: Use Google (or another search engine)
You can now use all of the information you gathered above to search in google or your preferred search engine. If you follow step 1, you’ll be much more likely to find what you’re looking for than if you just head straight to google with only a few vague phrases or questions.
After all, there are a vast amount of books with similar plot themes, character names, and settings. Then there’s the fact that everyone is competing with various SEO tactics, all fighting for that place at the top of the search results page. So if your book is even slightly obscure, you’re going to struggle to find it through a simple Google search.
For example, if you search for “a book about a teen vampire who attends an American high school,” the first few pages of Google’s search results will be the likes of Twighlight, Vampire Academy, and Marked (all super popular titles in the vampire sub-genre) but the more obscure titles by lesser-known authors will be tens, if not hundreds of pages back.
So that’s why you have to be a little clever when it comes to how you search. Try to include variations of all the different details you came up with in Step 1, and use them alongside Google’s numerous search functions. Try the following techniques:
- Use quotations
If you remember an exact quote or phrase from the book in question, use quotation marks at the beginning and the end. These tell Google that you’re looking for an exact match, rather than a jumble of those words. With this method, you’ll only receive search results that contain that exact phrase in the exact word order.
- Try the Advanced Google Search Page
This contains various filters, such as the language, the region, the publisher, the publication date, and the subject. It’s a more in-depth and organized search function compared with just typing into the regular search bar.
An Advanced Google Search also helps to exclude any search terms that you don’t want to appear. Such as, to use the same example as before, if you’re searching for a novel about vampires set in an American high school. You can tell Google Advanced Search to omit any results containing the terms Twighlight, Vampire Academy, or Marked. That way, you’re more likely to find the more obscure books on this topic, and hopefully, one of them will be yours!
- Try using Google Images
If you’ve checked all the top results on the regular “All” google search, and the Advanced Search feature has given you no joy, then head over to images and scroll through to see if a book cover rings any bells.
You never know; you could stumble across the exact book that you recognize simply by the cover. If not, you may still find a very similar looking book cover, which you can then run through a Reverse Image Search and see if that yields any results.
- Use Google Books
If Google, or another search engine, doesn’t produce the goods, then you can try searching specifically within Googe Books. This helps to rule out other media publications such as movies, graphic novels, TV shows, etc., that might clog up your search results.
It also allows you to type in words or phrases that you think may have appeared in the text. Google Books will then search and scan every single page of every book in their database (and that a whole lot of books!) to find a match to that text.
Step 3: Consult Reddit
You don’t have to be familiar with Reddit to use it to your advantage on your book search; it’s simple to use and can yield amazing results!
On Reddit, groups are organized into ‘subreddits,’ which are categorized by interests. There are two subreddits in particular that are excellent resources for finding long lost books with only a vague description. They are r/whatsthatbook and r/tipofmytongue.
‘Whatsthatbook’ is full of self-confessed book nerds who love helping others to track down the title of a book using only a vague description.
And ‘Tipofmytongue’ is another fantastic subreddit that’s great for finding help with not just books, but pretty much anything, from movies and tv shows to songs, news events, and famous people.
Before you make a post on either of these two groups, be sure to read the rules and guidelines (most subreddits have these at the top of the main page) to make sure your question is in line with their community standards—that way, there’s no risk of it being deleted by the moderators.
Fingers crossed, someone in these helpful communities will be able to locate the correct book using the information you gathered in Step 1.
Step 4: Ask Your Social Media Circle
If you’re active on social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, etc., it’s worth putting out a post to see if you can jog anyone else’s memory about the book in question. This is a particularly great option if you have a lot of followers, as plenty of people will see your post, but even if that’s not the case, it’s still worth a shot.
Another option is to reach out to specific people who were in your life at the time you read the book. For example, if you’re sure you found this book in your school library around the age of 12, then you can try reaching out to your old classmates from that era to see if they can remember the title you’re thinking of.
It’s even better if you’re connected to any of your old teachers. Even if they can’t help you with your particular book query, they’ll likely enjoy a chance to reconnect with an old student.
Step 5: Ask a librarian
If you’ve tried all the advice above and you’ve still not solved the case of the mysterious forgotten book, then your last resort may be to ask a librarian. They are the professionals, after all, and most tend to love helping out with book-related queries.
So take a trip to your local library armed with all the information you’ve written down in Step 1, and ask if they might be able to help. They see thousands of books every week, so if anyone has a shot at figuring out the title of the book in question, it’s your local librarian.
If All Else Fails
If you’ve tried everything I’ve suggested and you’ve still not found the title of the book you were looking for, then at the very least, I can suggest some great new reads for you. Check out my post on the best books to read in 2021.