Web sites help in time for school Books: The Internet offers efficient ways students to get the texts they need.

August 24, 1998|By Frances Katz | Frances Katz,COX NEWS SERVICE

For many students, August is the cruelest month. There's the fun of enjoying the last remaining days of summer - but you know school is looming right around the corner. For students with PCs and laptops filled with bookmarks for Lilith Fair, "X-Files" and "South Park," it might be time to add a few Web sites that might help you once you're off the beach and back at the books.

Aside from tuition, textbooks are probably the college student's biggest course-related expenditure. Seasoned students know the ins and outs of the used textbook market, but it might be worth paying an online visit to VarsityBooks.com (www.varsitybooks.com), an online bookstore specializing in textbooks, textbooks and more textbooks.

While VarsityBooks claims to offer discounts of 15 percent to 40 percent off prices at the campus bookstore, that's a bonus compared to the real advantage of avoiding the endless lines.

Students at the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, George Washington University and George Mason University have the bonus of being able to search for textbooks by course and even by professor, but students in other parts of the country can look up books by title, author, keyword or ISBN number.

The search engine is a little quirky, but if you know what you want, you can probably find it here. Express shipping is also offered, and even though the toolbar doesn't list English or Literature text, a search for titles in both Victorian and modern literature turned up a wealth of key titles.

"The Elements of Style" is a slim grammar handbook written by William Strunk Jr. with a forward by noted writer E.B. White. There's hardly an English teacher in the country who doesn't begin the semester by waving a copy of this book in the air and encouraging every student to get a copy. As English language reference books go, it is one of the best around, and you really should have a hard copy sitting on your bookshelf.

However, if you are in the middle of cranking out a history paper at 1 a.m., you can save some time by checking out Stunk and White's rules of grammar on the Web at www.cc.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/strunk.

Maintained by Columbia University, this clean, smooth, easy-to-navigate site explains the English language clearly to even the most linguistically challenged. As Martha Stewart might say, it's a good thing.

While sites like Yahoo! and AltaVista will help you search for almost anything your heart desires, a more student-oriented portal is My Virtual Reference Desk (http://www.refdesk.com). The site is an excellent Web pit stop for students, with links to news wires (for current events and sports scores), magazines ranging from Scientific American to Rolling Stone and a reference list that just boggles the mind. Want an atlas? You'll find one here. Looking for a law dictionary? Not a problem. Want to send away for some free software? You can do that here, too. My Virtual Reference Desk is organized Yahoo! style and is pretty easy to navigate. The combination of educational and reference links with sites that are just plain fun make it a worthwhile bookmark for anyone's list.

Pub date: 8/24/98

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