Recently, I turned 28. There was the usual... cake... cards... the sorting hat from Harry Potter. But in addition, I acquired a shiny, new Nook e-reader. My parents were the ones who decided to bring me into the 21st century of reading; in particular my dad who enjoys shiny, new gadgets or anything with a circuit board inside. We spent some quality father/daughter time debating the different types of e-readers. Should we go for a kindle and sail the vast but confining Amazon seas? Or the Nook whose ability to read e-pub documents allows me to borrow e-books from my employer, the DC Public Library. (P.S. You're Not required to work there for this privilege. E-books and Audiobooks are available for loan through the website.) I wasn't interested in color, or the eye bending effects of the ipad. I don't buy comics as much as my dad does. The ipad is great for those. I spend an awful lot of time at work in front of a computer screen at work, and with my writing. I just wanted to give my eyes a rest with the e-ink technology e-readers have been developing. And so a package arrived at the end of this week, with a Nook nestled in styrofoam.
Once I got it up and running, my first thought was, "Okay, what do I read now?" Eventually, I'll buy some books to put on it, but I thought I'd try some of the public domain books I'd heard about first. There are quite a few websites you can find actual e-books of books with expired copyright on. Some of them include:
www.gutenberg.org - The Gutenberg Project
www.archive.org - Million Books Project
I started with the Gutenberg Project. As I puttered around the website search function, I was blown away by the quality of the book selection. Few people know about Peter In Kensington Gardens, by J.M. Barrie, a book about Peter Pan's early adventures as an infant who escapes out of his window to be live with the fairies in the park. He is, like all infants, is "part bird" and so has no difficulty with his flying escape. Few people know this book exists. I mention it to adults who want Peter Pan to read to their children. My branch owns a copy, but we're one of the only in the district. The Gutenberg project not only had Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, but many others by J.M. Barrie.
Other treasures include Andrew Lang's version of Arabian Nights, The Orange Fairy Book. (I have a tattered copy of The Green Fairy Book,) and Katherine Pyle's Folk and Fairy Tales. I've devoured folk tales and the like since I was a kid, and you just can beat the old compilations. I can't say how excited I was to discover copies of these great works online. I've been slowly watching some of our copies at the library deteriorate, and as a lot of these books are out of print, I doubt we could get another copy. So to know that wisdom of the Olive Jar or the magic of the three citrons lives on somewhere on the internet is quite simply: a relief.
So here are my kudos to the great Gutenberg Project and its commendable work to gather together these worthwhile out of print works. It's so sad to see our culture lose great books, simply because they are forgotten with time. Amazingly, possibly the only thing to save these old books, is new technology.