Contented Reader

just point me toward the nearest library

Project Gutenberg: Pinnacle of western civilization

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The internet is not for porn, or pictures of cats.

Yes, porn and pictures of cats make up the vast majority of what is on the internet, because they attract people to the internet.  But the internet is for Project Gutenberg.

I own a Sony Pocket Reader– the Kindle’s less popular little cousin.  Its memory is filled with books.  One of them I paid for, some of them came from the Baen Free Library, some from the Hugo voters’ packet, and, I confess it, there are a few pirated books (though not as many as you’d think), but the majority of the books on my little Reader I downloaded at Project Gutenberg.

If a book was once popular, or loved, if it made a bestseller list or won an award, and is old enough to be no longer copyrighted, it’s on Project Gutenberg.  That’s how I read The Iron Woman, which was a bestseller in [insert date here], a page-turner of a character study, about the strong, tough, cold woman who manages the iron mill and the sons who loathe her.  Fabulous book, hasn’t been in print for a very long time.

If a book is a classic, it’s definitely on Project Gutenberg.  Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, but also PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle.

If the book is so obscure that even in its own time it was little-read, it might still be on Project Gutenberg, if some PG volunteer saw it at the used bookstore and decided to pick it up.

When I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, a Twain pilgrim, I would lie in the cold, empty hostel at night and read from Twain’s collected letters on my Reader.  They are amazing to read, and made me fall in love with Sam Clemens on an entirely new level as I got to know him, not just as an author, but as a person.  You can buy them in print, if you like, as scholarly hardcovers, six volumes at $80 each.  Or you can download them free from Project Gutenberg.  Either way, don’t try to vacation in New England in March.

In Beijing, China, in a hutong that it took me two days to find, I sat by a pool at the Confucius Temple and read the Analects on my Reader, downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Students can use it to get their required readings for free for a variety of literature classes.  Scholars can find out-of-print reference books.  Amateur historians and writers of historical fiction can use it to get those details of everyday living, the cadences of language of the past.  Enthusiastic readers like myself are not likely to run out of things to read.

And every day, every week, more works are added.

If you’re inspired by the project, you can volunteer to help, in finding and scanning and proofreading and editing texts to be added to the enormous collection.

Project Gutenberg has mirrors all over the internet.  Wherever you are in the world, you can access a vast cache of the world’s great literature and the world’s forgotten trashy literature.

If the whole internet closed its doors except for Project Gutenberg, it would still be worth paying for internet access.  And if Project Gutenberg ever closes its metaphorical electronic doors, we might as well just shut down the internet and go outside, because this- the collection of vast amounts of knowledge needed by a handful of people scattered all over the world- is exactly what the internet is for.

Now go download a copy of ‘Are Women People?’  You’ll love it.


Written by Contented Reader

July 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

Posted in Project Gutenberg


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