The Cool Web of Words
by Stevan Alburty

From The Net
November 1996

1996 by Stevan Alburty

All rights reserved.




There's a cool web of language winds us in
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear.

      - Robert Graves, "The Cool Web" (1927)

The minor nineteenth-century French philosopher Jean Baptise Bordas-Demoulins spent most of his impoverished life attempting to forge Great Thoughts. Yet if he is remembered by history at all, it is not for his thinking, but for his last purchasing decision.

What meager income Bordas-Demoulins earned, he spent on books. One evening he took the few francs he had and left his garret to buy food. Passing a bookstore, his attention was apprehended by a small volume in the window. A philosophical dilemma, indeed - Book or Food, Book or Food. "He hesitated not one instant," wrote his biographer, Albert Cim, but bought the book with his last coins and retired "peacefully to his attic, from which he was not to leave except to go to the hospital and die."

If Bordas-Demoulins had had a dial-up connection to the Internet, he could have indulged his obsession for books and saved his sous for some Cheez Doodles. The web is sustenance indeed for victims of "bibliomania," the insatiable desire for books. Here are just a few of the exhaustive Internet resources available on the Internet for those of us who admire the sensuous charms of a shapely sentence and a well-heeled word.


Loyal fans have constructed hundreds of web sites dedicated to their favorite wordsmiths. Browse through biographies, bibliographies, photos - even maps of the lands, both real and imaginary, featured in their works. When you get to write an article for The Net, you can list your favorite authors. `Til then, here are mine ...

F. Scott Fitzgerald

If he hadn't plotzed from a heart attack in his mistress' living room in 1940, he'd be the first this year to pour himself a drink and toast his own 100th birthday. "There are no second acts in American lives," wrote the author of The Great Gatsby. Ah, but you do get a website, and this one is as dazzling as the Jazz Age Fitzgerald's work embodied.

Hope you found the green light, Scott.

Anne Lamott

Her Operating Instructions gave new mothers stretch marks from laughter. Her wildly funny Bird by Bird has kept many a frustrated writer from throwing their keyboard out the window with its sage advice on the agonies of authorship. The webmistress here is frequent Net contributor, Crystal Waters.

J.D. Salinger

Odd. When I went to visit this site a second time, I got the message "The requested URL was not found on this server." Somehow I think this most reclusive of authors would want it that way.

Herman Melville

Ok, so your teacher made you read Moby Dick and you squirmed through every page, but you're all grown up now and it's time you re-discovered the quintessential American novel. Subscribe to a mailing list of Melville's admirers called ... Ishmail. (Get it? Oh Herman, you just crack me up.)

A Celebration of Women Writers

An exhaustive collection of links, biographical sketches, texts, criticism and bibliographies honoring the enormous and often unrecognized contribution of women writers throughout history. Case in point: Anne Finch's Miscellany Poems (1713), out of print for over 100 years.

Banned Books

Hey, Senator Exon, remember the good old days when only books were smutty? Leopold and Molly do it online in James Joyce's Ulysses. There's an awful lot of talk about "lonely pistols" in D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. And find out why two California high schools banned Little Red Riding Hood in 1989.

Book Stores

A wider selection than even your local book supermegastore, plus no coffee bars and no yuppies. Open 24 hours, so feel free to shop in your bathrobe. Bring your credit card to Amazon ( or Book Stacks Unlimited ( Staff recommendations, customer reviews, contests, discounts and fast shipping make these sites irresistibly dangerous.

When I die, would somebody please bury me in Berkeley's Cody's Books? Support your independent bookstore and this Bay Area institution at

Come out, come out, wherever you are. Stuck in the sticks and still trying to figure out why that Playboy in the barbershop doesn't lift your Levis? The collection of gay and lesbian fiction, history and commentary at A Different Light Bookstore ( is absolutely fabulous, sweety-darling.

Blackwell's ( is a superb chain of British bookstores. It's Oxford branch is as famous as the deer at Magdalen College. Titles not available in the U.S., plus the reading lists of famous authors.

As long as you've got your browser set towards the U.K., visit Stiltjack (, a dealer in rare first editions. Looking for an uncorrected proof of Aldo Busi's The Standard Life of a Temporary Pantyhose Salesman and don't mind if it has a long tear across the front panel? (The book, not the pantyhose.) You've found it.

The Canon

Kicking yourself for not majoring in English Lit? Create your own College of One with these lists which show you what everybody who is smarter than you are is reading.

The Master Works of Western Civilization ( and The Great Books of Western Literature ( should keep you busy for the next 40 years.

Online Books

The great library of Alexandria vanished without a trace, its 400,000 papyrus scrolls consumed by mystery and the Egyptian sands. Several aggressive initiatives are now underway to electronically preserve some of Western culture's finest literature, making sure more books don't byte the dust.

Hundreds of public domain works - from the Aeneid (your choice of English or Latin) to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg ( The Online Books Page ( at Carnegie-Mellon University has its own repository, as well as pointers to other electrical collections. The accent is on presentation at Columbia University's attractively-designed Project Bartleby (, named after Melville's unflappable scrivener.

The Kitchen Sink

Several sites have attempted to chronicle all of the Internet sources for readers. Be sure to visit the definitive Reader's Index ( and Jack Lynch's Literary Resources on the Net (

Happy reading!