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NET Review: The Ultimate Bookworm

By the time most students reach college, Web sites like SparkNotes.com and PinkMonkey.com are more familiar than family. Still, let’s face it: not everything students read is an academic classic. Where does one turn for information on the more obscure books?

For some, the answer may be the Complete Review, a Web site dedicated to reviewing books. Named by Time magazine as one of the 50 Coolest Web Sites in 2005, the Complete Review covered 1,488 titles as of September.

While the site leaves out a number of classics - I searched for “Moby-Dick," “Wuthering Heights," “Stranger in a Strange Land," “The Cherry Orchard" and “Death of a Salesman" without results - it provides dated lists and reviews of bestsellers since April 1999. It also features new publications and editorial picks, as well as a number of books that fall under the categories of literary fiction, or stories about literature, and foreign titles.

“We still have huge gaps in our coverage, especially among the classics; the main reason for this is that I prefer to focus on books that are new to me, and therefore the old standards get skipped over," said Michael Orthofer, managing editor of the Complete Review. “I actually don’t feel that bad about that, because there tends to be a lot of information already available about these books, so our two cents are not necessarily needed."

The Complete Review began in the spring of 1999 after about four months of planning. Orthofer simply set his mind to the task, wrote a few reviews, purchased some Web space and began playing with HTML code.

“I’ve always read a lot and been interested in literature, and I was interested in exploring the possibilities of the Internet," Orthofer said. “It struck me that while there were a lot of sites…offering book reviews, practically no one was linking to other reviews of the same book, so that’s what I set out to do."

Each review on the site contains different sections of information about the book, beginning with the basic publication facts. The review then offers links to sites that sell various versions of the book, even copies in foreign languages.

Listed below the information on the books are quotes from and links to reviews on other sites, including the New York Times and weblogs, a full analysis by Complete Review, a letter grade for the piece in review, links to related works and excerpts from the book.

The interface is easy to use, with a simple layout and clear sidebar. However, the site possesses an unprofessional and unpolished look: bland colors, mismatched fonts and unsophisticated banners take away from the actual content.

Still, this look serves to warn users about the content of the site, which, as the disclaimer reads, is colored by the bias and personal opinions of the reviewers.

The Complete Review also includes a weblog of literary happenings, a quarterly e-newsletter and an experiment in collaborative fiction writing called crFiction.


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