The New York Times

July 3, 2003

Summer Reading Lists and Billy Bob


Summer Reading List

Everyone knows which books publishers are pushing this summer: expensive hardcovers so fat you dread lugging them in your beach bag (thank you, J. K. Rowling).

But there are many places online to find offbeat reading recommendations. One,, has British book lovers abuzz. Similar to, Whichbook lets you search for books based on plot, theme or character. But it also lets you browse by style and mood. For instance, you can indicate on a sliding scale whether you want a book that's safe or disturbing. The site focuses on contemporary fiction and poetry available in paperback and published since 1995.

The mood selector is particularly popular, according to Rachel Van Riel, the director of Whichbook. "People try to trip it up by putting in contradictory attributes," she said by e-mail. "And this is actually a great way to find some really complex contemporary writing. For example, put in very disgusting but no sex and an easy read and you'll get Magnus Mills's 'The Restraint of Beasts.' "

Then there is BookFinder's list of the most requested out-of-print titles across 10 genres (, based on searches carried out at the site in 2002. Two gems suggested by Anirvan Chatterjee, chief executive of BookFinder, are "I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie," a memoir by Pamela Des Barres, and "The Silver Pigs," a mystery by Lindsey Davis.

If you want to know what writers are reading, check out the Authors' Summer Reading Lists ( Who'd have guessed that Jan Karon was into survival literature? Similarly, if you want to know what books are being read online - make that discussed - there's the Weblog BookWatch (

Me and Billy Bob

There are countless celebrity fan sites, but few like The eerie site features 11 films, each under 20 seconds, in which Jillian Mcdonald, a Brooklyn video artist, has artfully inserted herself into scenes with the actor Billy Bob Thornton. The films seem to tell the story of a relationship that ends in heartbreak.

"I've always been fascinated by the idea of a crush, since I've never had one myself," Ms. Mcdonald said. "So I wanted to explore the idea of what loving someone you can't attain is like."

Ms. Mcdonald was only a casual fan of Mr. Thornton's when she began the project eight months ago. She selected him in part because she saw him as a rough-edged American, in contrast to herself, a "small, polite Canadian." She insists that her effort is not strictly a fan site but something "posing as a fan site."

"It's not about him; it's about us," she said.

Nevertheless, the project has resulted in her having something like a crush on the actor. "I've actually become a little bit obsessed,'' she said. "My friends call me in the middle of the night to tell me he has a new girlfriend, for example. He's become a real part of my life right now in a strange way."

Mr. Thornton's publicist did not have a comment about the site, saying only that the actor appreciates his fans.

Online Ark

Think of it as a Noah's ark for the Internet Age, but without those pesky humans.

A wildly ambitious new site,, sponsored by the Wildscreen Trust, a British conservation group, aims to create a digital archive of films, photos and recordings of all 11,000 animals and plants on the World Conservation Union's list of threatened species. The site currently covers 200 species, and that figure will grow to 500 by the end of the year. A separate area of the site will document Britain's natural heritage.

The goal is to offer an average of 10 minutes of moving images, 6 to 10 still photographs and, where appropriate, sound recordings, as well as detailed text information for each species. With the help of Hewlett-Packard, ARKive has also created a secure digital media vault where high-resolution copies of the materials will be kept. "We want to future-proof the site the best we can," said the project's manager, Harriet Nimmo.

Ms. Nimmo added that while reams of audiovisual material was available on "charismatic mammals" like elephants, ARKive has had to sleuth out documentation of many lesser-known species. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the site is a Most Wanted list of several hundred species for which no such material has been found. If you have any snapshots of the black shrew or the pink-headed duck, send them along.

On the Radar

SegPlay ( bills itself as paint-by-numbers for the digital age. Those who like competitive coloring can try to beat the clock. With help from, you will never again be caught without a biting comeback. is an online version of the silly children's game that predicted what your life would be like when you grew up. Fortunately, I didn't end up driving a green Pinto.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company