Here’s this week’s CBC Web column…
Books make great Christmas presents…at least, the right book does. But with so many books out there, how do you find the good ones?
Well, the World Wide Web is a good place to start. There are hundreds of good book sites on the Web. In fact, there are scads of them. Mountains of them. Cascades of them…(to paraphrase Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast talking about the Beast’s library).
A good place to start is BookSpot, which is, in its own words, “a free resource center that simplifies the search for the best book-related content on the Web. Featured sites are hand-selected by BookSpot.com editors and organized into intuitive categories, such as bestseller lists, genres, book reviews, electronic texts, book news and more.”
Which means, of course, you could probably just go there and ignore the rest of this column. But I hope you won’t.
One of the basic features of most book sites is book reviews. Since I write science fiction, I spend a lot of time browsing sites that focus exclusively on science fiction and fantasy. Some of the best are individual blogs. One that’s both widely read and Canadian is Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (it gets around 1,300 visitors a day), run by a blogger named Patrick (he doesn’t give his last name on the blog) in Montreal. He’s become widely read enough that publishers send him advance copies, authors provide him with signed copies to give away, and he’s able to get interviews with many of the biggest names in the field.
Interestingly enough, I found it easier to find review sites that focus on so-called “genre fiction” (science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, westerns, horror, historical, romance, etc.) than on so-called “literary fiction” (which is just another genre as far as I’m concerned, but that’s a rant for a different day).
Take, for example, the highly irreverent Bookgasm, whose “About” page begins: “Hey, have you read the new Nora Roberts? Are you a member of Oprah’s Book Club? Do you enjoy stories about the struggles of the disenfranchised in our society? If you answered “no” to all those questions, we’d like to welcome you to Bookgasm, the site dedicated to reading material to get excited out.” They focus on the aforementioned “genre fiction,” plus “graphic novels, trashy paperbacks, cheap magazines and other things that much of America pretends to be ashamed of, for no good reason” and “celebrate these escapist efforts, through daily news, reviews, interviews and other things that don’t end in ‘-ews.’”
Of course, hard though it is for me to fathom, not everyone is interested in genre fiction. Fortunately, there are some sites devoted to literary fiction, too.
I’d recommend Complete Review. Although its primary area of interest is literary fiction, it also covers “non-fiction, biographies, poetry collections, dramas, philosophical tomes, works of literary criticism, and scientific works.” It also has a blog called the Literary Saloon that’s very readable and interesting.
If poetry is your interest, you might want to check out Tower Poetry, which “exists to encourage and challenge everyone who reads or writes poetry.” Funded by a bequest to Christ Church, Oxford, by a man named Christopher Tower, it states very worthwhile aims: “to stimulate an enjoyment and critical appreciation of poetry, particularly among young people in education, and to challenge people to write their own poetry.” Each month the “Poetry Matters” section of its website posts reviews of recent poetry books.
Before there were blogs, there were magazines about books. In fact, there still are–and many of their sites are well worth visiting. Anyone interested in the publishing business in Canada, for example, should be reading the print version of Quill and Quire; but even if you don’t, you’ll find lots of good information at the Quill and Quire site, which includes industry news, a good blog, and, yes, reviews.
The giant among book-related magazines, though, is Publishers Weekly, and it too has an extensive website, with publishing news and reviews, blogs and more.
Many other literary magazines writers’ magazines also have online presences. It should be noted, though, that many print magazines restrict some of their material to their print issues, so occasionally you may find a link to a story that you can’t access without subscribing—or buying the print edition.
There are many other book-related sites. One I like is called Overbooked, which describes itself as “a web site for ravenous and omnivorous readers.” One thing that’s cool about it is that Overbooked is a volunteer project undertaken by a single woman, Ann Chambers Theis, Collection Management Administrator at the Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia. She’s pulled together a huge collection of resources, including annotated lists of nonfiction, fiction and mystery books which received starred reviews, themed booklists, featured titles lists and hot lists of hard cover US fiction releases. Among other things, the site currently has a list of December notable titles (based on good reviews) in a variety of genres that might give you some gift-giving ideas.
There are two more huge overview sites I want to mention. BookWire offers reviews, booklists, interviews, links to hundreds of other sites, authors’ biographies and more. It should have a good handle on what books are being published, since it’s run by Bowker, the company that manages and assigns ISBN (International Standard Book Number) numbers in the U.S. (When you order a book from a bookstore, it’s the ISBN that makes sure you get the right one.)
And finally, there’s Bookreporter.com, which is just one of several sites run by the Book Report Network, which calls itself “the best place online to talk about your last great read—and find your next one,” and features book reviews, features, author profiles and interviews, excerpts of hot new releases, literary games and contests and more.
In fact, that site alone has so much going on you could probably spend all day on it.
Of course, then you wouldn’t have time to actually, you know, read a book…