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Can't We All Just Get Online?

June 02, 1997|KRISSY HARRIS

Who says the Internet has to bring us together? This month's column of books for special-interest groups proves that it doesn't have to. Gays and lesbians have their own books, as do religious types and seniors. What's wrong with aligning with people just like us?

Just kidding.

If anything, these books targeting specific groups prove how much we have in common. They show how people in different communities, who identify themselves in different ways, all have similar interests.

That's not to say there aren't sites listed in the books specific to a certain group. But pick up a book you think doesn't apply to you and you might just find that in many ways--if not in the most obvious ones--it does.

GOD ON THE INTERNET by Mark A. Kellner (IDG Books Worldwide, $24.99).

First the bad news: The first nine chapters of "God on the Internet" are all about connectivity. Most people are not going to buy this book to find out how to get online, they're going to buy it to find out what to do once they're there.

Now the good news: "God and the Internet" is a very cool book.

Each chapter is broken down by religion and further broken down by denomination. Introductions at the beginning of each chapter give an overview of what principles the religion was founded on, as well as brief histories of the religion.

Some of the religions Kellner has included are Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, Protestantism, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, as well as "new' religions, including Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church and New Age sects.

Kellner warns at the beginning that Web pages change addresses and content frequently. So he offers his book as a "snapshot of what's out there." "God and the Internet" is an introduction to the diversity of religions that have found a home on the Internet, though a few of the services he mentions have gone on to a better place since the book was released.

Whether you're on a spiritual quest or just on a search for information, "God on the Internet" is an excellent traveling companion.

THE GUIDE TO THE JEWISH INTERNET by Michael Levin (No Starch Press, $27.95; Windows floppy).

No, the Jewish Internet is not some separate place that requires a secret handshake for entry. It is, in the words of author Michael Levin, a phrase given "to all things Jewish on the Internet."

"The Guide to the Jewish Internet" has sites on such subjects as online classes; Jewish resources at college Web pages; culture and literature; resources for Jewish educators; Israel (which has individual chapters devoted to the business, travel, politics, maps and education); and Jewish food, kids, music and news. There also are chapters on Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative and Progressive Judaism, as well as sites about Asian-Jewish and Jewish-Brazilian culture that offer an international flavor.

Speaking of flavor, Levin even includes a site that just has a picture of a bowl of chicken soup. Other highlights include a place to buy matzo, another where you can buy personalized baby blankets with Hebrew inscriptions and the Famous Jews page.

Levin's guide is more than just a list of sites. He goes into detail about what you'll find at each site--though not so much so that the site will be radically different by the time you visit. The disk included with the book has all the links mentioned (there are more than 800) and Hebrew fonts.

GET ON WITH IT: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Getting Online by Richard Laermer (Broadway Books, $18).

"Get on With It" is a chatty, frank guide (often too frank, frankly) to the gay cybercommunity, including the Internet, the paper press and cybercafes. Only a handful of chapters are really devoted to what's on the Internet for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) types.

Although its site guide is not as broad as others reviewed here, Richard Laermer does go into far more detail on what each site offers than in other books. He tells what you'll find at each site or online service, what to look for, what the good points are and where it falters. The chapters on getting online are thorough. It's clear that Laermer spends a lot of time online, has a lot of fun there and just wants to share.

It's also clear that Laermer is hot to trot.

Most of the book's smuttiness is about Laermer's own cybersex proclivities. But when he moves on to sweeping generalities, it's hard to keep from chucking "Get on With It" against a wall. "Besides so much talk that it can drive you insane, Usenet is where you can find Internet directions to some of the most obscene pornography on the Internet. And this is why gay people flock to it." Whoa . . . wait a second . . . what? The fact that it's written by a gay man makes it no less offensive.

Assuming you can read further, you'll find some great information. And Laermer's conversational writing style makes it fun to read and easy to understand.

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