Tuesday, 18 October 2011


  A few days ago I decided to discover what eBooks were all about, after earlier dismissing the concept as a fad that couldn't possibly replace real books.

  I found a website that had free eBooks that could be downloaded or read online.  I found that the book files often had the extension .epub and could not be read by Word or normal text-reading programs.  Therefore I searched online for an eBook reader and downloaded FBReader, a free program which is simple but does the job.

  Next I began to search for what literature is currently available for free.  The first few sites had plenty of free content but they generally featured writers who were happy to give away their efforts because they were rubbish and for which they have a drawer-full of rejection letters.  You know the sort of thing - self-help books like "A Simple Plan to Create the New You", or romance novels that Mills & Boon rejected.
  Then I discovered Project Gutenberg.  This is a scheme run by volunteers who undertake to produce eBooks from classic works that are out of copyright.  They have made tens of thousands to date and have links to another 100,000.  Their top 100 downloads list contains some of the best literature ever written.  You can read the list here:  http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/scores/top
Of course many of these books would be available in a library, but many may not be.  The Frankston library quite possibly takes books off the shelves if they are not accessed regularly.

My list of downloads to date looks like this:
Richmal Crompton - Just William (published 1922, I read it as a child)
H G Wells - The Wheels of Chance (1896)
Mark Twain - What is Man? and Other Essays
M. L. Kissell - Aboriginal American Weaving (1910)
Collected Works of William Shakespeare (3000 pages = 2.3mb !!)
Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks
Jerome K Jerome - Three Men in a Boat (1889)

  The last-named book I am reading at the moment and it's a hoot.  I believe a long time ago I read about Harris and the Hampton Court maze in a "short story" that was obviously an extract from this book.

  Anyway, I don't think eBooks will replace the real thing in the immediate future but they are certainly worth exploring and a possible way to find out-of-print classics.  Now I have to explore the availability of a "tablet" that is highly portable but still readable, in other words as convenient as a real book.

Update:  23/10/11  A couple of developments.

I bought an e-reader, a Sony PRS-T1, claimed to be the lightest available.  It's about the size of a paperback but only about 10mm thick.  The e-ink screen is interesting.  Under non-reflective glass it has a white screen that electronically shows shades of grey.  It looks like a book page, and relies on ambient light just like a book - you can't read it in the dark, unlike an LCD screen which is back-lit but produces eye strain.  Power is only used to refresh the screen with a new page - while you're reading the page it uses no power so can be left on for weeks with very little battery drain.  It is reminiscent of the child's toy which is like a writing tablet where you write on the white screen with finger or stylus and then wipe it clean with a slider under the screen.  The Sony has a touch-screen as well using infra-red technology to detect movement.  Pages can be turned with a finger swipe.

Second, Project Gutenberg is supported by a group of volunteers called Distributed Proofreaders, who convert books to e-books.  I've registered with the group as a proof-reader, and am smooth reading John Buchan's "Huntingtower" (1922) - smooth reading is reading the book normally but noting any glaring errors which are introduced by the scanning/OCR process.

Currently, the earliest book I've downloaded is Isaac Walton's "The Compleat Angler" which was first published in 1653.  Plenty of recently published books are available but I'd have to pay for the download, eg from Amazon.

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