Site Seer: How to turn your computer into an online bookshelf
November 13, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 a.m. EST
From CNN Interactive Writer Liza Kaufman Hogan
(CNN) -- On the Internet, the library is always open. Books are never checked out by delinquent borrowers and rarely missing key pages. There's no fine for keeping a book out too long and you never run out of shelf space.
Those so inclined can read entire books on the Web from the Bible to Shakespeare to Dickens, although it is not advisable to try this if you pay for Internet access by the hour.
The next best thing to paper and ink
Reading books on the Internet is not for everyone. Purists would sooner read "Ulysses" in Old English standing on one foot than read a book online. But for those who don't mind reading by the flickering light of their computer, online books have their advantages.
Frugal and cash-strapped readers can read books without having to purchase them. Readers with poor eyesight, who may be unable to find their favorite books in large print, can set their browsers to read text as large as they choose. Books banned by local school districts or national governments can be accessed online.
There are dozens of great sites for booklovers on the Web. For a sampling of what's out there, peruse these sites. And don't forget your bookmarks.
English Lit 101
Aptly named, Project Gutenberg is the original online book source. Started in 1971, the aim of the project is to put 10,000 books online by the end of 2001. It's an ambitious goal considering that the collection painstakingly typed in by volunteers over the last two decade is now at approximately 700 books.
All of the books or "e-texts" are published in ASCII format. The text is not much to look at compared to other online book sites, but Project Gutenberg has decided to sacrifice presentation for access under the philosophy that the books should be made available in the most common format to reach the broadest audience possible.
The selection of books online is limited by copyright laws that prevent most books from entering the public domain until 50 years after the death of the author. Still, the 700 texts include everything from "Aesop's Fables" to "Zen and the Art of the Internet."
No pulp fiction here
The Reading Room of the National Academy Press from the National Academy of Sciences offers full text of approximately 1,000 books on science and technology with 4,000 more planned. You won't find best sellers listed here. Instead, the collection includes books on sociology, psychology, nutrition, the environment and other science-related topics. For those interested in these topics, the site offers access to books that might otherwise be difficult to locate. The site is easy to navigate with great-looking graphics and a choice of formats that make the otherwise dry content more engaging.
If it's classic fiction you're after, try this site where you'll find 40 unabridged novels, including works by Jane Austen ("Pride and Prejudice"), Robert Louis Stevenson ("Treasure Island"), Charles Dickens ("A Tale of Two Cities"), Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. Some of the books include reproductions of pen-and-ink illustrations from early editions. Offerings in the non-fiction, reference and poetry categories are sparse. A few of the books at the English site are available in easy-to-read Portable Document Format, which requires an Adobe Acrobat reader.
A site for readers and writers
Ever bought a book only to regret the purchase after wading through the first chapter? You can avoid a wasting your money with a trip to Pure Fiction, a London-based site devoted to reading for pleasure. Here you can read the first chapter of a few select new books and previews of others. But mainly, this is a writers' site. The highlight is an area called "The Electronic Slushpile," where aspiring writers can publish samples of their work. Much of it will make you wince but some of it is engaging. Pure fiction also hosts a newsgroup for readers and would-be authors.
Amazon.com - An online bookstore offering access to over one million titles, book reviews and author interviews. Books can be purchased online at a discount.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - Full text of all of the Bard's work, searchable by keyword, plus other Shakespeare-related items of interest.
The Lewis Carroll Home Page - "Alice In Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" with color illustrations and other material related to the author.
The Online Books Page - An exhaustive list of links to online libraries. Includes a banned books section linking to online copies of various censored texts from D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterly's Lover" to Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
See previous site seer reviews.
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