You know what I love? Books. You know what else I love? Free stuff. You know what my favorite things in the whole world are (other than harsher punishments for parole violators, Stan… aaaand… World Peace)? FREE BOOKS
Project Gutenberg is the first producer of free ebooks and it’s AWESOME. No, really, it’s one of the things that most restores my faith in humanity/fights my misanthropic tendencies (everyone who knows me is very grateful).
There are other free ebook sites out there, but a lot of them offer self-publishing of ebooks (which is cool, but can also make for a … Wild Spectrum of Quality), whereas Project Gutenberg seems to cover the classics better and all its books are from official publishers aaaaaand… it was calling my name.
And here’s the thing: I’m not usually huge on ebooks/ereaders—I’m cool with them in theory, but I’m one of those people who really likes the heft of books (also I don’t have an ereader—so I guess really what I’m saying is that I just don’t feel compelled to buy one). I like the smell of books, and I like to have real paper in books to write/draw on. I know, dearest darlingest reader, you’re incredulous: “You write/draw in your books?!?!” Yeah, yeah I do. Don’t worry, not in like the fancy, leather bound ones, or books that are never going to be reprinted, or are old—but in books that I have lots of Thoughts and Feelings about, I like the freedom to keep notes to myself in the margins. I love books, but I don’t view them as sacred. They’re just the corpses of literature—but… less gross-sounding/Neil Gaiman-y than that came out. Let’s try that again. I’m fond of books, but the physical books themselves are just paper, ink, and glue. The text is the important part. So whether that’s in a digital format or not is really more like nitpicking for me.
Anyway. Back on track. Basically, Project Gutenberg takes books in the public domain, digitizes them, and posts them online for free as ebooks, html documents, and sometimes audio files—so you can read them directly on the computer, download them to an ereader, if that’s your jam, or listen to them on whatever newfangled gadgets you whippersnappers use now (MY PANTS ARE HIKED UP TO MY EARS, NOW GET OFF MY LAWN!!!). And Project Gutenberg has over 38,000 free books. And not just in English, either. They have French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, Catalan, Latin, Greek, Polish, Czech, Korean, Middle English, Hebrew, Mayan, and way too many others to list.
Some Of Their Most Popular Titles:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Princess of Mars, The Kama Sutra, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Some Of My Personal Favorites:
The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Complete Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, The Iliad, and GBS’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Some Other Cool Stuff:
Anne of Green Gables, The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan, Encyclopedia of Needlework, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, On The Origin of Species, and The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter. To name a few.
Yeah. COOLEST THING EVER.
Although, just as a heads up, if you’re looking for specific editions—Norton, Riverside, Arden (because I guess you really like footnotes. All respect. I love footnotes), etc.—you’re not going to find them on Project Gutenberg. And if you want contemporary books, a different ebook site is going to be a better bet. But come on, an astonishing wealth of literature is available FOR FREE. I’m cool with getting my fancy editions/new bestsellers elsewhere.
But footnotes-issues aside, Project Gutenberg is amazing (I have some more nits to pick on the topic of their web design—it’s functional, but it could be so much prettier. But again, nitpicking). The wonderful thing about Project Gutenberg (and really, all free ebook sites) that makes my heart do a little hope-for-humanity dance is that it’s basically continuing the work of Gutenberg’s original printing press. It’s putting the text directly into the hands of the people to interpret and explore however they like. And yeah, I mean, there’s always the library for physical books—but the more ways we can make books accessible to everyone, the better, I say
And yes, you need the internet to get to Project Gutenberg, and most people with the internet or ereaders can afford to buy physical books or ebooks, or whatever (but hey, I’m sure they like free things just as much as I do. And why not?). But just go with me on this for a second and imagine if we could get more people (people who don’t have access to physical libraries, for example, or reliable/well-funded education) online—and then to Project Gutenberg. People could read classic works in scads of different languages for free. Educators could supplement reading lists for free. Project Gutenberg could blow their minds.
I realize that sometimes I get carried away by hopefulness and lofty ambitions (and probably too many you-can-do-anything-if-you-set-your-mind-to-it Disney movies and comic books. Sometimes I want to be a superhero and Save The World. So sue me). And I don’t think that Project Gutenberg itself is aiming to start a world-wide literacy revolution or anything, but I think that what they’re doing is great (and revolutionary in it’s own, gentle, quiet way). Because what they’re doing is giving people free books.