Out of Print…and into the ether?

September 22, 2013

People who know me know I read a lot. I love books, especially the printed kind. But I am not a luddite, and technology had brought new possibilities to my reading.

I bought a NOOK a year ago. I havered for ages about getting an e-reader, and couldn’t stomach being in hock to Amazon or being stuck with something with as daft a name as k*ndle. I don’t buy books for my NOOK. I discovered that a lot of the old books – especially travel-writing – that I could only buy at exorbitant secondhand or reprint prices (and don’t get me started on the quality of POD reprints) – are actually available free as pdf or epub files, having been digitised and made available on sites like the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg. So I can download and read them free. If only it were that simple! I’ve discovered that anything digitised by g**gle has a fair chance of being garbled somewhere along the way, and has rarely been checked. Texts in older fonts don’t seem to scan well and are therefore riddled with errors and hard to read. Anything with footnotes is a nightmare, because these end up all over the place, and in the same size print and font as the body text, so often I don’t know where the hell I am.

I decided that these issues might be overcome on an e-reader with a larger screen – like A4 size? – but I don’t see anyone making one of those. And reading on a PC or a laptop is a pain because the page is the wrong shape. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m ready for them. But I’m persevering with my NOOK, and enjoying the free books.

Another thing I’ve discovered is audiobooks. Where the hell has this guy been? But free audiobooks, courtesy of the amazing Librivox website: there are now thousands of books available, read by volunteers, for download. And, if you speak French, there’s now a francophone equivalent site online. You can download files in various formats, and what originally got me interested was that I could burn the mp3 versions to CD and play them in the car on the way to work, or on other solitary long journeys.

Because they’re recorded by volunteers, they’re of variable quality. Some are, quite frankly, poor, but most of the ones I’ve listened to have been good to excellent – fantastic versions of many of Mark Twain’s books, for example, a brilliant version of The Wind in the Willows, a full version of St Augustine’s City of God, and lots more. Most are read by Americans, as the site is originally a US venture. Also, they only record out-of-copyright texts, which basically means pre-1923 US publication. And there’s a Librivox explanation recorded in at the start of each chapter: clearly one of the purposes of this is to put off rip-off merchants who might try to sell the recordings commercially. I think it’s a fantastic idea and I wish them every success. When I have time I intend to put a little back by volunteering to record for them.

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