Magazine article Information Today

Let the Internet Choose Your Reading

Magazine article Information Today

Let the Internet Choose Your Reading

Article excerpt


My husband is a serial monogamist. He falls passionately in love with an author and reads all of his or her works, and then moves on to an equally passionate love affair with another author. Recently, he worked his way through the oeuvres of W. G. Sebald and Ursula Hegi. Now he's reading his second Alan Furst.

His Sunday dog-walking buddy, an even more compulsive reader, set out many years ago to read the great books in alphabetical order by author. He purchased the entire Modern Library series of the "world's best books" in hardcover, now republished and expanded in paperback. (Go to modernlibrary/pbclassics.html for more information.) We could always tell what- he'd read next-the book to the right of the space on his shelf.

Many years ago, another friend, with more eclectic and modern tastes, figured he couldn't go wrong by signing up for the Book of the Month Club (http:// and accepting every main selection as it arrived. He had to move several times to have libraries or dens with built-in bookshelves large enough to accommodate his collection. Fortunately, he was in the home-construction business!

My 34-year-old son, who is writing a novel set in ancient Rome, has read just about every ancient Greek classic in translation and is now working his way chronologically through Roman history and philosophy.

These avid readers never consulted any of the more than 5,000 book-related Internet sites to help them select what to read. But clearly, many people must be doing so.

So Many Books, So Little Time

In 2001, more than 114,000 books were published in the U.S. alone, according to figures compiled by R.R. Bowker. More than 15,000 of them are works of fiction. Regardless of one's areas of interest, there are just too many books! By helping us select and process what we do read, and by giving us some exposure to writings well never have the time to even scan, the Internet is performing an important role, even as it adds to our information overload.

The traditional publishing industry's gateway function is beginning to give way to newer, more open publishing systems facilitated by the Internet. This means we have even more reading material from which to choose, but newer, online-only literature is harder to find. The filtering systems we relied on for so long-the neighborhood bookseller and the librarian down the block-no longer know our individual interests the way they used to. To stay in "business," these institutions must cater to popular tastes, which are heavily influenced by the enormous amounts of money publishers spend on marketing and promotion.

How can we avoid succumbing to rampant commercialization?

Let the Experts Guide You

With so many book review sites online, it's easy to check in with experts in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry who are asked to review books in their field. Any book reviewed at the following sites, even one with a bad review, might be worth your time: * The New York Times Book Review

( books/review/index.html)

* Village Voice Literary Supplement


* The Book World

( wp-dyn/style/books)

Some of the sites also offer libraries of first chapters ( firstchapters.htm) for you to scan.

Books-only newspapers and magazines have burgeoned in recent years. The New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks .com) was founded during the New York newspaper printers' strike of 1963 and is still going strong. Popular in academic circles, this journal offers long, erudite reviews by recognized leaders in their fields. Often, a "review" will actually be an essay comparing and contrasting several books on the same subject. Its 1979 offshoot, the London Review of Books ( has similar stature and has been published independently since May 1980. …

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