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“Small Demons,” Big Rewards for Inquisitive Readers

Have you ever read a book and found that you needed to keep your computer close at hand because you just had to keep looking up all of the people, places, and things that were referenced in it? But not like looking up words in a dictionary, just trying to understand an item in context–no, I’m talking about enjoying a book so much that you want to learn even more about all of the things your favorite characters love and hate, use and destroy, sell and covet. You want to literally walk in their shoes as they trot around the globe and learn about all of the places they frequent or vacation to. You want to learn more about that 18th century philosopher that inspired their own passions, or the 21st century rock musician that gets them dancing in the kitchen while they’re cooking pasta for a hot date.

Lucky for us, the folks behind the awesome website Small Demons are just as obsessed with the same literary details that we are. And even better than that, they revel in the connections between all of the bits of information introduced in our favorite books and probably dig even deeper than we ever do. Small Demons is a Los Angeles-based company that “believes powerful and interesting things can happen when you connect all the details of books.” The site does require free registration, but once you’re registered, be warned: you could lose yourself for hours playing around on this site.

You can search the site by entering any book title, product name, place name, item, etc. into the search box. There are also ways to browse information by the same categories. As an example, you might want to click on the “Books” menu to browse by “Award Winners,” then “Young Adults.” If you’re just checking out the site for the first time, a good search–just to see the broad range of information/details that can be represented for a single book–would be something like Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. When you pull up the entry for Twilight (the book), you’ll find some of the following information:

  • Other popular books that reference Twilight (including the literal quote from that book showing how Twilight was referenced)
  • People mentioned in the book, like Shakespeare and Debussy (including the literal quotes, with page numbers, where those people were mentioned in Twilight)
  • Places mentioned in the book, like Forks (including a Google map with place markers, information about the place, and a representative quote from the book mentioning the place)
  • Also Music, Food & Drinks, Periodicals, Stage Performances, and Vehicles (each section again pointing to reference quotes from the book itself)

Another good search to test out the site would be a book like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. If you do this search in addition to Twilight, you’ll see something interesting. While they share many of the same categories of information (people mentioned in the book, places mentioned, etc.), there are some categories unique to American Gods. For example, information categories labeled Art & Documents, Gadgets, Clothing & Accessories, Events, Tobacco & Drugs, and Everything Else.

A book can have a few categories of information, many categories, or even none. But even books that don’t have a lot of popular references (you’ll be hard pressed to find tons of popular references in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings)–even those books/searches will at least give the eager searcher information about the searched book itself, as well as the author.

And just suppose you happen to consider yourself an authority on all things Twilight (I know there are some pretty devout “Twihards” out there), you can apply to become a contributor or a curator on the site. That aspect of the site has a Wikipedia feel. Small Demons recognizes that there may be even more details from our favorite books that weren’t captured on the site, so they encourage visitors to send them feedback, details, pokes, and prods to help them improve the content base.

A small word of warning. The site is still young and as such, not every book we love has made it onto the site. As an example, I searched for Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now, a book I LOVED and one that forced me to obsessively keep a computer at hand to see visuals for all of the Audobon bird paintings referenced. Sadly, this book was not even on the site. So maybe I’ll do my part and give the team at Small Demons a poke to see if they can add it.

To sum up, this site is beyond cool. And it will keep growing, have no doubt. And if anything I said doesn’t make sense, watch the brief introduction video below that I borrowed directly from the Small Demons site. Do yourself a favor and play around on this site for a while!

— Nicole Dolat, currently reading Sorta Like a Rock Star

3 Comments

  1. We’re so honored you’ve written about our site! Goodness, very exciting. OK, on the issue of missing books. Yes, we know and we’re sorry. We’ve about 3,000 books on the site right now, and we’re adding at a rate of 1,500-2,000 a month. What is amazing, and rather thrilling to note about the richness of books is that those 3,000 books produce MILLIONS of references.

    In terms of JUV titles in particular, we do have the additional hurdle of figuring out which to include. You see, we can automatically ingest FIC, HIS, BIO since we know those will be text-heavy books aimed at a 13+ audience. But we can’t make that assumption around JUV. In order to ensure that we would get access to the books we want, we have a fairly publisher-oriented ingestion system, so the process of filtering for inclusion would need to work with the publishers’ ONIX metadata. We’d welcome advice on how we could potentially automate selecting the right JUV titles using the publishers’ metadata?

    FYI, what we’re looking for in terms of inclusion is titles that are narrative (fiction or nonfiction) and with enough text that there would be a sufficiently rich selection of references. So anyone with advice, you can email me directly at richard@smalldemons.com And feel free to post this on the listserv too: we want all the YA librarian feedback we can get!

    Regarding the curatorial/Wikipedia side of things: that’s still a number of months away, sadly.

    Also, we are going to be at ALA in Anaheim. Swing by our booth to pick up a literary map of Los Angeles (Anaheim reference on the map is Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) and LALit bookmarks. And get an invite to our SaturdayNightCap drinks at a bar to be determined.

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      Thank you for the terrific response to my post, Richard! I wouldn’t be surprised if you get some emails from our blog readers :) Sadly, I won’t be off to Anaheim, but I hope others visit your booth and check out that literary map of L.A.!

  2. Joel Bruns Joel Bruns

    I love Small Demons because it helps me find even more books to read and great music to listen to. They should make playlists in Spotify. That would be great.

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