Free eBooks Revive Classics

January 3, 2010

AxisPortals has always been a bookworm.  She loves the smell of libraries and bookstores (and always did, long before the latter began to be redolent not only of paper and ink but also of lattes and biscotti). She considers books the perfect marker for any occasion, whether of celebration or of mourning. She may someday forgive her mother (also rumored to have cleared the old homestead of an impressive stash of baseball cards) for giving away her carefully preserved collection of favorite childhood tomes, but it isn’t likely.

Kihachiro Kawamoto of Shiba Productions created a set of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale books with inset lenticular illustrations on their covers, and gorgeously photographed, beautifully detailed scenes within. AxisPortals used to own several of the books (including Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and The Tin Soldier), in this now highly collectible set.

She is not much of a cook, but collects vintage cookbooks, nonetheless, poring over their mysterious measurements (a #5 can apparently translates into about  7 1/3 cups of the ingredient in question),  and approaching their illustrations as an Egyptologist might approach a dig in an ancient tomb.   Could an Egyptian queen’s cursed gems glint any more seductively than those perfectly molded aspics of bygone days?  AxisPortals doubts it.

In short, AxisPortals digs books.  Anyone could rightly accuse her–her webby, technogeeky ways notwithstanding–of being a thoroughgoing bibliophile.

What, then, could be more appealing than the ability to carry, access, read, and annotate hundreds of books all contained in one slim volume like this?

What could be better? Not much!

The Pros and Cons

of eBooks for Bibliophiles

Will eBooks ultimately replace old-fashioned texts?  Maybe, but a true bibliophile will still always love holding a rectangular block of paper, print, and binding.  For the bookish faithful eBooks do involve some drawbacks:

  1. Crispness and, depending on the reader, color of illustrations are sacrificed.
  2. Since most readers display only a single page at a time, one must turn the page twice as often.  Time spent with one’s reader of choice mitigates this effect somewhat, but it can be a bit jarring at first for the long-established and thus unconscious and reflexive act of page-turning to come zooming back into the realm of the conscious and effortful.   Those who typically read quickly might feel slowed uncomfortably down.  The trick is to figure out which page turning gesture (button or screen swipe) yields the fastest turn, and then to stick with that until the motion becomes relatively natural.
  3. An eReader delivers texts, but it can’t deliver books.  An electronic reader will satisfy the voracious reader’s yearning for text, but those who love the heft and history of books will likely see their readers as a way to complement and extend their libraries, not a way to replace them.

Unexpected Gift:

Collecting the Classics

On the other hand, this modern and rapidly evolving technology actually offers the certified (or certifiable) book lover a  perhaps unexpected gift:  the possibility of reviving interest in and readership of the classics. AxisPortals has owned her black leather clad Sony eReader for a very short time–just over a week.   In that time, she has purchased one book (Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia), downloaded several free relatively contemporary books from online bookstores, and grabbed dozens of free classic texts, including:

  1. The Complete Little Women/Little Men Series by Louisa May Alcott
  2. All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories
  3. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions
  4. Several collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories,  along with his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  5. Two volumes of Robert Frost’s poetry.
  6. A Bible.
  7. Four Charles Dickens novels and one collection of Christmas short stories.
  8. Three of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels and one collection of related short stories
  9. P.G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves
  10. The autobiographies of Charles Darwin and Frederick Douglass
  11. A volume of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales
  12. Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
  13. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  14. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I have never read, and never owned, though it is often cited as the greatest novel)
  15. Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.

And I’m just getting started.  This eReader has AxisPortals feeling particularly acquisitive.  What’s the allure?  Without a reader, it would be virtually impossible  for any one person of ordinary means to have so many classic texts constantly at her finger tips.  In the world of bound volumes, heartrending choices must be made:  what can I afford, which books are most important to own, how should the limited shelf space be alloted?  Plus, the constant influx of new publications complicates things.  To purchase War and Peace, though one might, alas, never complete it, or to acquire the latest best seller, or complete one’s collection of a favorite author’s works?  Tough choices, all.

Of course, the public library is also an option (and many of them do make eBooks available, as well), but it’s one thing to borrow a book for a week or two, and quite another to own one, which makes it constantly accessible in a way that enables deep literacy.  What did Twain’s Eve say of fire?  “Fire is beautiful; some day it will be useful, I think.”   That is precisely how AxisPortals feels about the ability to tap so readily into to a collection of classics:  it’s warming, it’s beautiful, and it’s useful.    How wonderful it would be, for instance, to make not only a single novel available to a class full of students, but also to make available the many related texts that would help them understand it. And how wonderful for any writer to dip, at will, into such a rich source of models, allusions, and historical connections.

The Sony Reader Store is fully integrated with Google Books (which can, of course, also be accessed on any computer), so that certainly promotes interest in free classics  among those who use the Sony Reader, but there are other sources of free classics, as well, notably  including ePubBooks. Because new books, even in their e-versions, are expensive,  AxisPortals is hopeful that even those who might more naturally gravitate to the latest thriller, romance, or vampire novel (I’m fond of the Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison versions of vampire worlds) will be tempted to fill their “digital editions” folders with free, literacy enriching classics, as well.

It’s fun and exciting to realize that very latest in eBook technology promises to  revive interest in and readership of the old, the vintage, the classic.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The future of the book is

intimately tied to its past.