Thursday, December 23, 2010

Loading the Kindle

For the past two days I've been going crazy with my Kindle.

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:
Adams, Andy:  Wells Brothers
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift Among the Fire Fighters
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift and His Airship
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift and His Great Searchlight
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift and His War Tank
Appleton, Victor:  Tom Swift in the Caves of Ice
Bloch, Robert:  This Crowded Earth
Bower, B. M.:  Good Indian
Bower, B. M.:  Her Prairie Knight
Bower, B. M.:  The Happy Family
Bower, B. M.:  The Heritage of the Sioux
Brand, Max:  The Seventh Man
Brand, Max:  The Untamed
Buchan, John:  Greenmantle
Buchan, John:  The Grove of Ashtaroth
Buchan, John:  The Island of Sheep
Buchan, John:  The Thirty-Nine Steps
Buchan, John:  The Three Hostages
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  Out of Time’s Abyss
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  The Lad and the Lion
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  The Mucker
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  The Oakdale Affair
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  The Tarzan Twins
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:  The War Chief
Chesterton, G. K.:  The Innocence of Father Brown
Chesterton, G. K.:  The Man Who Knew Too Much
Chesterton, G. K.:  The Wisdom of Father Brown
Childers, Erskine:  The Riddle of the Sands
Cleland, John:  Fanny Hill
Collins, Wilkie:  Basil
Collins, Wilkie:  The Frozen Deep
Collins, Wilkie:  The Law and the Lady
Collins, Wilkie:  The Legacy of Cain
Curwood, James Oliver:  Back to God’s Country
Curwood, James Oliver:  The Grizzly King
Curwood, James Oliver:  The Hunted Woman
Doyle, Arthur Conan:  Round the Red Lamp
Doyle, Arthur Conan:  Tales of Terror and Mystery
Doyle, Arthur Conan:  The Land of Mist
Doyle, Arthur Conan:  The Mystery of Cloomber
Doyle, Arthur Conan:  The Poison Belt
Fletcher, Joseph Smith:  Dead Men’s Money
Gale, Zona:  Christmas
Gaskell, Elizabeth:  Curious, If True: Strange Tales
Goethe, Johann:  The Sorrows of Young Werther
Green, Anna Katharine:  A Strange Disappearance
Green, Anna Katharine:  The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow
Grey, Zane:  The Light of Western Stars
Grey, Zane:  The Spirit of the Border
Grey, Zane:  The Young Forester
Grey, Zane:  To the Last Man
Haggard, H. Rider:  The People of the Mist
Hawthorne, Nathaniel:  The Hall of Fantasy
Kipling, Rudyard:  The Second Jungle Book
Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan:  The House by the Church-Yard
Lewis, Sinclair:  Free Air
London, Jack:  A Daughter of the Snows
London, Jack:  Children of the Frost
London, Jack:  The Son of the Wolf
London, Jack:  When God Laughs and Other Stories
Lovecraft, H. P.:  At the Mountains of Madness
Miller, Alice Duer:  The Burglar and the Blizzard
Milne, A. A.:  The Red House Mystery
Orczy, Baroness Emma:  The Scarlet Pimpernel
Radcliffe, Ann:  The Mysteries of Udolpho
Rinehart, Mary Roberts:  The Case of Jennie Brice
Rockwood, Roy:  Through the Air to the North Pole
Rohmer, Sax:  The Hand of Fu-Manchu
Rohmer, Sax:  The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu
Rohmer, Sax:  The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu
Sabatini, Rafael:  The Tavern Knight
Scott, Sir Walter:  The Black Dwarf
Tarkington, Booth:  Alice Adams
Tarkington, Booth:  The Magnificent Ambersons
Tarkington, Booth:  The Turmoil
Tarkington, Booth:  The Two Vanrevels
Thackeray, William Makepeace:  The History of Pendennis
Van Dine, S. S.:  The Kennel Murder Case
Van Dine, S. S.:  The Kidnap Murder Case
Van Dine, S. S.:  The Scarab Murder Case
Van Dine, S. S.:  The Winter Murder Case
Van Dyke, Henry:  The Spirit of Christmas
Verne, Jules:  Five Weeks in a Balloon
Verne, Jules:  From the Earth to the Moon
Verne, Jules:  The Survivors of  the Chancellor
Verne, Jules:  The Underground City
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?

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.

(click image to enlarge)

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.

(click image to enlarge)


  1. I know exactly what you mean. It's great the amount of hard-to-find books there are available online, but if I had the choice I'd still pick the kind you can hold in your hand.

    I read Anna Katherine Green's The Leavenworth Case recently and was really disappointed to find out that my local library didn't have any more of her books. Project Gutenberg has loads, but reading off the computer screen is hard on the eyes (especially in Courier font!).

    I've read The Red House Mystery...and B.M. Bower and Max Brand are my two favorite Western authors. Bower's The Happy Family is I think the third book featuring characters introduced in her debut novel, Chip of the Flying U.

  2. I've been enjoying the public domain fiction available online, too. I've read through almost all the available hard copies of early westerns in the libraries, and the rest are going to be digital.

    I don't mind that they're reset in a new font and the pagination and page layout are lost, but I miss the original illustrations. They lose a lot in "translation."

    Of your list, you should enjoy the B. M. Bower books. I've only read CHIP OF THE FLYING U, but that was enough for me to put her in my top-10 list for the year.

  3. Elizabeth and Ron,
    Thanks for the encouragement on the Bower books. I have several other books by her in my hardcover vintage collection, but not "Chip of the Flying U," surprisingly. I'll hunt that one down. And, yes, it's a pity the illustrations couldn't be included in the digital downloads. I especially miss them in the Dickens novels.