Saturday, December 19

Online Reading

Morning in the mountains:

It’s early, but the sky already heralds a cloudy,
maybe even a snowy day, perfect for curling up with a book ...

or a laptop! You'll see what I mean in a moment.

We live in an era that might justifiably be
called "The Age of the Internet." Anyone who doubts this should consider
the role that this nearly ubiquitous medium played in our recent
election. One of Barack Obama's signal advantages over John
McCain during the campaign was his superior ability to organize
and raise funds online. Every day more than a million new pages of
information appear on the Internet. Much of this -
perhaps most of it - consists of trivial stuff like
individual Facebook profiles. On the brighter side, in spite of energetic
attempts to impose profit-making business models on the
Internet, most online content is still free. The challenge
is to sift through all the dreck for the gems of information hiding there.

For a reader like me some of the most
precious finds are the providers of on-line books. By that I don't mean
commercial enterprises like I mean
websites offering full-length books that can be downloaded or read online
for free! At one time it was speculated that mankind's entire literary
output would soon become available via free electronic media. This ideal
still lies in the future. Indeed, it may never come about, not least
because of the understandable reluctance of living authors to work for nothing.
Nevertheless progress has been made, especially in the area of books that are in
the public domain.

A good place to start is, where you can dive into the 50 volume
Harvard Classics (Bacon, Milton, Emerson, Burns ... )

or the 20 volume companion collection of classic
fiction by writers like Poe, Dickens, Austen, etc.

That's just for openers.

The site offers hundreds and hundreds of other listings.

If you're interested in lighter (but by no means
inconsequential) fare, a good place to start is
Page by Page Books.

If you're a Mark Twain fan, you'll find complete versions of Tom
, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee
... and others. Then there's Upton Sinclair, Agatha Christie, Jimmy Carter,
Jules Verne, and many more authors, both classic and contemporary.
It's a very eclectic collection.

On the drier side, the University of Pennsylvania's
Online Books Page offers an extensive list of
technical and scientific publications provided by educational
institutions, as well as books published by special interest or
commercial groups. An example of the latter is a fascinating book entitled,
Plank and Beam Framing for Residential Buildings, put out
by the American Wood Council. Especially for those
interested in public policy, there's the
National Academies Press website.

The first and still one of the most
successful literary websites belongs to
Project Guttenberg, which makes more than 27,000
"e-books" available for free (if you don't count the monthly cost of your
ISP subscription!) If you haven't visited their webpage yet, you should
take a look. Bibliophiles like me might want to set aside a
couple of hours for this!

You can visit a website that lists other websites
offering free books. One such is the excellent
Online Librairies. Or you can
google places for yourself. Meanwhile, here are a few more of my

Try their Music category, if you'd
like to read the librettos of Gilbert and Sullivan
operettas, many
of them with accompanying music and commentaries! But there's a lot more.

Free audio instructional
books that you can download to your mp3 player!
For those of you who haven't yet encountered the
charming Mr. Pepys, the absolutely best introduction is Kenneth Branaugh's
audio version:
The Diary of Samuel Pepys. (This is the
only link I've included here to something that you have to buy, but, trust
me, it's worth it! ) For those who've already experienced
Kevin Branaugh's performance and would like to learn more, the website
Pepys's Diary features daily readings from the complete journal,
along with extensive links and references to the world of 17th century England.

Free Classic Audiobooks

Just what it says. Click on the links
and download them in mp3 or Ipod format. The list's not huge, but there
are still lots of interesting titles.

Shakespeare's plays, Uncle Remus stories, de Maupassant ...
There's a lot here. Well worth a look and the
price is right!

This website features a huge assortment of books in audio form read by
members. You can download the audio files or you can volunteer to create
additional audio books yourself!
I'm currently listening to the works of Franz Kafka in the original German!
This is how his famous short story, Die Verwandlung [The Transformation] begins:

“Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte,

fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt…”


"When Gregor Samsa woke from restless dreams one morning,

he found while in his bed he'd been transformed into a gigantic insect."

This must be one of the
best known opening lines in all of literature, although I doubt
anything could match the iconic first sentence in
Moby Dick!
Not surprisingly, I've found that, like most great
writers, Kafka isn't as good in translation as the original.

There's much more out there. All you have to do is look.

And have a pleasant day, no matter how you spend it.