Home Library for Free
by Allan Peach
Building a home library of classic literature is a rewarding and enriching hobby, but it also can be an expensive one. Classics, such as Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, are fairly easy to find at your local bookstore or library, but finding out-of-print books, such as Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, is another matter. You may find yourself paying a premium price for the novel, if you are lucky enough to find it in a rare bookstore. Want to read the Hugo book in its original French language? It may take you longer to find the tome, than to read it.
Of course, one can limit the cost of reading by not buying, but borrowing from a public library. Unfortunately, you may have to give up the relaxing pleasure of a leisurely paced read. Finishing Cervantes' Don Quixote in the allotted two-week checkout period typical of most libraries can be a daunting task even for speed-readers. Save your pennies for the inevitable late fees.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could have an extensive free library right in your home? Now imagine such a library of over 15,000 books, which despite its range would take up absolutely zero space on your shelves.
The key to fulfilling this vision is through a non-profit organization called Project Gutenberg. It can be found on the Internet at http://www.gutenberg.org/. Project Gutenberg is made up of a group of dedicated bibliophiles that create electronic versions of books currently in the public domain. These "eBooks" are legal to download, read, copy, and give to others. At Project Gutenberg, you will find all the classics from Aesop's Tales to Zola's Nana. Popular downloads include Da Vinci's Notebooks, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. All are unabridged and free to download to your computer.
If you don't have a fast or reliable Internet collection, Project Gutenberg will even send you a free CD or DVD of some of their most popular titles. In fact, they may even send you an extra copy so you can give some "culture" to a friend. A single Gutenberg CD holds over 600 complete books. Their current disc contains classics such as The Odyssey, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Bill of Rights, Frankenstein and 604 additional titles.
Books on the CD are all in plain text format, which can be read using a word processor or web browser. On the Project Gutenberg website, additional formats can be found. There you can find MP3 audio versions of books, read by volunteer readers. They have a wide-ranging collection of books read by computer voice synthesis, as well. The flat computer voice is a bit disconcerting at first, but for the sight-impaired book lover, these versions are a godsend.
Browsing through the Gutenberg website one can find many hidden treasures. For example, the Project's edition of Dante's Divine Comedy is illustrated with the magnificent etchings of Gustave Doré. There is a large children's section, with the fully illustrated Beatrice Potter Peter Rabbit and Friends series for young readers. Try searching for Roger McGuinn as Author, and you will find a real treat. The former front man for the rock group "The Byrds" donated audio recordings of classic folk songs, which can easily be added to your iPod or simply played from your computer. McGuinn's haunting vocal and guitar work on "Shenandoah" is definitely worth some space on your hard drive.
If you play an instrument, you will appreciate the Project Gutenberg library of digitized sheet music. On the other hand, if you just want to listen to music, the library has a small number of downloadable selections of classical, folk, and early popular tunes in the common MP3 format.
Books on the site are usually translated into English but often can be found in their original language versions, as well. If you are a language student, displaying both versions in adjoining windows in your word processor is an excellent way to gain fluency in a chosen language. There are books in Italian, French, Russian, and Spanish to name only a few of the more common languages represented. But you will also find works in Aleut, Serbian, Icelandic, and even North American Indian tongues.
Project Gutenberg is a little known gem of the Internet. Reading a book from a computer monitor is not for everyone. Books can be put to paper using a printer attached to your computer, but the time and cost may exceed simply buying the book at a retail store. However, for those willing to give eBooks a try, the benefits are enormous. Best of all the cost of an eBook library is free, thanks to groups like Project Gutenberg. If you don't have Internet access, Project Gutenberg can also be reached by phone or mail at:
Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
809 North 1500 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84116
Telephone: (801) 596 1887
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