If you spend much time looking up books online, you may have noticed that has a new “Search Inside” feature that allows you to search for particular words inside the text of books, as opposed to just searching by title, author, keyword, etc. What that means is that when you go to Amazon and do a search for the word “earthworm,” the following titles appear in the top 20 results:

Life of Pi, a magical work of fiction by Yann Martel in which the protagonist baits his hook with a shoelace, hoping fish will mistake it for an earthworm.

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, in which the author describes a woman’s big butt as “speaking of many things, including “fertile fields,” “kitchens with banged-up pots,” “canvas shopping bags bursting at the seams,” and, you guessed it, earthworms.

The Universe in a Nutshell, in which author Stephen Hawking asserts that “our present computers are less complex than the brain of an earthworm, a species not noted for its intellectual powers.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,
which mentions a “telepathic, world-conquering earthworm, Mr. Mind.”

A novel by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, called Survivor: A Novel, which makes reference to eating live worms.

Memoirs of a Geisha, which mentions a little boy that is frightened of worms.

Drop City, by T. Coraghessan Boyle. It’s not clear why this book is included on the list, but I’m a big T. Boyle fan, so as far as I’m concerned, he should be included on any list of books, regardless of the purpose of the list.

In some ways, this new feature of Amazon’s is a little irritating in that it supplies irrelevant and off-the-wall results. If I’m looking for a book on earthworms, Life of Pi and Memoirs of a Geisha are not going to do me any good. I imagine that sooner or later Amazon will have the good sense to remove this feature from their default search box and make it an Advanced Search option instead. Meanwhile, it does make for an interesting cultural study. Just for kicks, do a search for “invertebrate,” “larvae,” and “spineless.” Some novels show up time and again, with several worm-related words woven into the narrative, as if the author had a deep metaphorical connection with worms that manifested itself over and over in the work.

I see the makings of a doctoral dissertation here. I’ll even suggest a title: “As the Worm Turns: The Earthworm as Metaphor in Contemporary Literature.”