Tightwad’s guide to classics on the Internet

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Tightwad’s guide to classics on the Internet

If your tastes run more to the classics than to the latest best-sellers ― or if you’d like to look again at some of the books you read under duress for a high-school or college literature course ― the Internet gives you an opportunity to take another look at the classics for nothing more than the price of your Internet connection.
Project Gutenberg, a volunteer organization, has taken on the task of transferring public-domain texts ― those on which copyrights have expired, or which were first released long before the legal concept of copyrights was instituted ― into electronic editions.
The project began in 1971, the Project Gutenberg site says, when Michael Hart, a computer technician at the University of Illinois, received from his employer a block of computer time and was casting about for a way to use it. He decided that the best value for money would be to create imperishable electronic copies of literature and other significant documents. As the project evolved, the volunteers who ran the project agreed to standardize on a text coding that was nearly universal in the computing world; in essence, the format you see when you type a document in Windows’ notepad. About the only concession to that “plain vanilla” format since has been the decision to offer “zipped” texts: books compressed using the also widely popular “Zip” standard for compressing files.
What’s available? Take a look at the site, at http://promo.net/pg. In the right-hand column about halfway down is a book listings section. Click on “browse,” select a site near you (any U.S. site works well from Korea) and browse by title or author, or search for a name using the button on the left side of the page. It may take some trial and error to adjust to the somewhat quirky indexing system; if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, you can find all the stories by entering “Doyle” in the search box, but “Conan Doyle” won’t work.
The books range from Greek classics to early 20th-century works; later than that, copyrights are a barrier to posting free texts. Download what you want and unzip and save it on your computer.
Once you have the text in hand, you can either read it directly on your computer in the clunky typeface your word processor uses for text files or manipulate it a bit to make it easier to read. With the document open in a word processor, you can select the entire text and change the font and size ― that’s especially a boon for the visually handicapped. Or print out a couple of dozen pages for your subway ride if you wish.
I’d be the first to admit that a computer screen is no match for a book in your hand, but Project Gutenberg is a good way to browse books that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain.

by John Hoog
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