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Discovery Discovery Newsletter December 1999 / January 2000

Main Page On the Web Patents Corner Featured Stories In Focus


On the Web
Finding a Good Read


by Jan Zauha

Surfing the Web to find a good novel or to read a poem seems an unlikely marriage of old and new. Far from signifying the demise of the book, however, the Web is playing an important role in the current renaissance of reading and writing. Whether readers are seeking traditional texts or nonlinear, multimedia experiences, the Web offers a wealth of options for new texts, reading guidance, critical response, and literary trivia.

The high profile of mega bookstores like Amazon [www.amazon.com] makes it seem as if shopping for books is the only literary activity the Web supports. This is definitely not the case. Non-commercial, avant-garde literary sites that deliver free access to original fiction and poetry are flourishing. New writing that capitalizes on the Web's rich intersection of technology and content is the specialty of these sites. To see how the form and flow of "text" are changing, see Alt-X Online Publishing Network, "where the digerati meet the literati." Or explore the marriage of media and poetry at the Electronic Poetry Center. This is not your mother's Emily Dickinson.

Genre aficionados have mounted extensive free Web guides for every category of fiction and literary trivia imaginable. Those readers who describe themselves as "avid" or "addicted" will find much pleasure on Web sites such as Overbooked, a public librarian's labor of love linking ravenous readers to lists of genre fiction, readers' advisory tools, and other book sites. Similarly, BookBrowser offers more genre reading lists, reviews, and author information. Mystery, science fiction, and other genre fans need never think they've reached the end of their reading list. Readers who need a daily dose of literary trivia can visit the Literary Calendar or have it delivered to their e-mail account automatically.

When quality rather than quantity is the highest priority, reviews, book lists, and awards sites offer assurance of critical acclaim or controversy. AwardWeb links readers to lists of past and present award- winning books. It focuses primarily on science fiction, but also delivers links to prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer, Booker, Newberry, and others, both domestic and international. The Modern Library's 100 Best Novels offers another controversial measure of quality. The full text of current book reviews are also free and abundant on the Web from quality publications like the Boston Globe and the London Review of Books. A list of other literary review sites is available from Arts and Letters Daily.

Electronic texts of classics can now be searched or read for free online on electronic text sites, such as Project Gutenberg and the American Verse Project" from the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative. If a phrase from the Tempest is elusive, search for key words from the full text of Shakespeare's play in the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts; then read them in context. E-texts are not perfect-the bowdlerized editions of Dickinson's poetry, for instance, are the only ones no longer under copyright and, therefore, the only ones available for free on the Web. This, too, is not your mother's Emily Dickinson, so readers must be critical at all times.

For help locating more information on this or other topics, call or stop in at the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at alijz@montana.edu.

JanZauha is a reference librarian and the Electronic Information Coordinator for the MSU Libraries.

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