It's taken me six months, but I finally discovered the wide range of public domain books which can be downloaded for free. This is as wonderful to a classic-book lover as finding a baggie of white stuff is to a cocaine addict.
Yesterday and today, I spent half a dozen eye-blurring hours skimming through all the titles at Feedbooks, picking out novels and short story collections that sounded interesting. Here's what I've just stuffed into the bytes of my Kindle:
As you can see, I gravitate toward early 20th-century popular fiction, mysteries, westerns and children's books. Yes, an unhealthy portion of that list is trash; but, hey, we all can't read Ulysses all the time, can we?Adams, Andy: Wells BrothersAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift Among the Fire FightersAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift and His Aerial WarshipAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift and His AirshipAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift and His Great SearchlightAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift and His Photo TelephoneAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift and His War TankAppleton, Victor: Tom Swift in the Caves of IceBloch, Robert: This Crowded EarthBower, B. M.: Good IndianBower, B. M.: Her Prairie KnightBower, B. M.: The Happy FamilyBower, B. M.: The Heritage of the SiouxBrand, Max: The Seventh ManBrand, Max: The UntamedBuchan, John: GreenmantleBuchan, John: The Grove of AshtarothBuchan, John: The Island of SheepBuchan, John: The Thirty-Nine StepsBuchan, John: The Three HostagesBurroughs, Edgar Rice: Out of Time’s AbyssBurroughs, Edgar Rice: The Lad and the LionBurroughs, Edgar Rice: The MuckerBurroughs, Edgar Rice: The Oakdale AffairBurroughs, Edgar Rice: The Tarzan TwinsBurroughs, Edgar Rice: The War ChiefChesterton, G. K.: The Innocence of Father BrownChesterton, G. K.: The Man Who Knew Too MuchChesterton, G. K.: The Wisdom of Father BrownChilders, Erskine: The Riddle of the SandsCleland, John: Fanny HillCollins, Wilkie: BasilCollins, Wilkie: The Frozen DeepCollins, Wilkie: The Law and the LadyCollins, Wilkie: The Legacy of CainCurwood, James Oliver: Back to God’s CountryCurwood, James Oliver: The Grizzly KingCurwood, James Oliver: The Hunted WomanDoyle, Arthur Conan: Round the Red LampDoyle, Arthur Conan: Tales of Terror and MysteryDoyle, Arthur Conan: The Land of MistDoyle, Arthur Conan: The Mystery of CloomberDoyle, Arthur Conan: The Poison BeltFletcher, Joseph Smith: Dead Men’s MoneyGale, Zona: ChristmasGaskell, Elizabeth: Curious, If True: Strange TalesGoethe, Johann: The Sorrows of Young WertherGreen, Anna Katharine: A Strange DisappearanceGreen, Anna Katharine: The Mystery of the Hasty ArrowGrey, Zane: The Light of Western StarsGrey, Zane: The Spirit of the BorderGrey, Zane: The Young ForesterGrey, Zane: To the Last ManHaggard, H. Rider: The People of the MistHawthorne, Nathaniel: The Hall of FantasyKipling, Rudyard: The Second Jungle BookLe Fanu, Joseph Sheridan: The House by the Church-YardLewis, Sinclair: Free AirLondon, Jack: A Daughter of the SnowsLondon, Jack: Children of the FrostLondon, Jack: The Son of the WolfLondon, Jack: When God Laughs and Other StoriesLovecraft, H. P.: At the Mountains of MadnessMiller, Alice Duer: The Burglar and the BlizzardMilne, A. A.: The Red House MysteryOrczy, Baroness Emma: The Scarlet PimpernelRadcliffe, Ann: The Mysteries of UdolphoRinehart, Mary Roberts: The Case of Jennie BriceRockwood, Roy: Through the Air to the North PoleRohmer, Sax: The Hand of Fu-ManchuRohmer, Sax: The Insidious Dr. Fu-ManchuRohmer, Sax: The Return of Dr. Fu-ManchuSabatini, Rafael: The Tavern KnightScott, Sir Walter: The Black DwarfTarkington, Booth: Alice AdamsTarkington, Booth: The Magnificent AmbersonsTarkington, Booth: The TurmoilTarkington, Booth: The Two VanrevelsThackeray, William Makepeace: The History of PendennisVan Dine, S. S.: The Kennel Murder CaseVan Dine, S. S.: The Kidnap Murder CaseVan Dine, S. S.: The Scarab Murder CaseVan Dine, S. S.: The Winter Murder CaseVan Dyke, Henry: The Spirit of ChristmasVerne, Jules: Five Weeks in a BalloonVerne, Jules: From the Earth to the MoonVerne, Jules: The Survivors of the ChancellorVerne, Jules: The Underground City
Even after going on this downloading binge, I'm still divided on the whole book vs. ebook debate. On the one hand, I grabbed a lot of obscure books by the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs which might have taken months or years of browsing through antique stores to find. Now I've literally got them at my fingertips.
But there's still something missing in the experience of looking at The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu on a six-inch screen bordered by plastic. I miss the cream-colored paper, the whispery crackle of a turned page, the occasional surprise of a Rialto Theater ticket stub bookmark falling out onto my lap. When you hold a vintage book in your hand, you hold not only the story and the text, you hold a unique vessel which tells a story of its own. The book has traveled across time and arrived, for the most part, intact. It carries with it the perfumes, the sweat, the paper-cut blood, the tears, the fingerprints of other readers. Sure, that's a sentimental notion, but I can't help thinking about those readers back in 1910 opening the book for the first time. And what about those Armed Services Editions in my library? These were the rectangular paperbacks issued to servicemembers during World War Two. They were designed to slip easily into the cargo pockets of uniforms. There is an undeniable shiver that ripples through me when I hold the same book a Marine might have held while crouched in a muddy foxhole on Guadalcanal.
Then, too, it just seems like publishers took more time and care in crafting books back at the turn of the previous century. From the frontispiece to the tissue-paper veils over the illustration pages, some of the books I own are undeniable works of art (even if their words add up to little more than crap and cliche).
Take The Romance of a Christmas Card, for instance.
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I've owned this 1916 novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) for several years. The plot revolves around the contrivance of a Christmas card which helps bring two prodigal sons back to their families. It's a pretty blase novel, dripping with religious sentimentality and the kind of thinly-disguised sermons that were crammed down reader's throats around the time Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. Still, there is something so lovely, so...perfect...about this little book that I can't imagine having it in any other form than the dim-with-age volume that sits in my library.
I'm in love with the wide margins, the clean design of the page, the sketches that grace each chapter heading. This is the sort of beyond-text sensory experience that Kindle just can't duplicate. For now, I'm happy to have a shelful of Tom Swifts in my library, but damn, I'll miss the smell of dust and mildew.
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