Let me begin by saying one thing. I love books. I don’t love books on quite the same level my wife does, but I love them, none the less. The tactile experiences of holding a bound tome in hand, feeling the texture of the paper pages, smelling the aging ink, and enjoying the way light plays on the imperfections in the paper are all things that will always ensure that phsyical books are welcome in my home. Looking at a shelf full of books is a pleasant thing, and few things in life are as exciting as opening a book and finding a long forgotten, pressed four-leaf clover. All that said, there are plenty of reasons for taking advantage of electronic versions of books.
Ebooks are easier to carry than paper books, I can literally carry over 100 books in my pocket in the form of a memory card. I can easily switch titles without getting up, walking across the room, and figuring out which shelf I stored that particular book on. I can change the format of the written word on the fly to ensure that the font is of a comfortable size. Think, too, of the cost (monetary and environmental) and energy that goes into printing books vs. making digital copies available. I know, ereaders aren’t exactly zero-carbon, but when you consider the number of books you can read on one, it doesn’t take long to reach an equilibrium. What I really enjoy, though, is the freedom of having such a wide variety of books available for little or no cost at the touch of a button; try browsing your local library or books-a-million in your underwear and see how far you make it before they throw you out.
Lately, I’ve found myself enamored with older, public domain classics. There’s scads of wisdom and entertainment to be found in the works of some of those long past authors, and there’s a plentiful supply of their writings available for free. As a gentleman beggar, it’s that last word that really grabs my attention–“free”. With programs like Project Gutenberg in action, an ever expanding catalog of history’s knowledge is available at no more than the cost of a few seconds of browsing online and downloading a file. With devices like the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, the Kobo, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, there’s little reason not to take advantage of public domain works.
If you are reading this, you obviously have access to a computer. If the current high price of a dedicated ereading device seems a tad daunting, there’s always software for the pc (mac, iPad, smartphone, too!) that will let you take advantage of pretty much any format ebook you can download. Amazon offers a desktop version of their Kindle software, as does Barnes & Noble. Fbreader is another great option, along with Mobipocket reader, and others. If you find that you need to convert between ebook formats, there’s always programs like Calibre available. The best thing about all these programs? They don’t cost you a dime. My personal favorite right now is Mobipocket reader; it works a treat on my netbook and its two-page at a time view evokes the feeling of an open paperback without the struggle of keeping it open.
If you’re looking for some good ebooks, I can’t recommend the site Manybooks.net enough. It is an awesome online library of public domain and creative commons works, all free of charge. You can search the books by genre, author, title, and in various other ways as well. There’s a special collections section that groups books by theme, and they even have the books organized by Library of Congress categories for those of you who find that convenient. One great feature of the site is the shelf system. Once you register (for free), you can start creating multiple shelves for keeping up with books you’ve found on the site. You can choose to make your shelves available to others, too, if you think others might enjoy your collection. Since finding the site, I’ve downloaded a stack of books that will likely keep me busy reading for a couple of years–all at no cost. Manybooks also links to audio copies of their books, usually recorded by the Librivox project, when available, to those of you who prefer to listen to a good book. Probably the best feature of Manybooks is the plethora of options you have for file formats. They have the books available in most of the major formats including Kindle and Sony eReader compatible files. One really impressive option includes the custom pdf format. You can choose the size you want your pages to be so that the pdf will display properly on the reader of your choice.
So, if you feel like a little reading this evening, get yourself a good ereader program or device, check out manybooks.net and settle in for a grand adventure. Here’s a link to my ever growing shelf to get you started.