If you’re a book lover you will at some point have given some thought to the idea of an E-reader or electronic reading device; if at the very least as a way of tapping into the growing supply of e-books, many of whose print counterparts are simply not available. The book industry remains one of the hottest flash points in debates on the digital/analogue divide, and there are a number of key reasons for this.
The concept of the book is still firmly rooted in a tactile, physical experience. The book as an object of knowledge has a firm historical and cultural standing. Its shift into a digital medium, no matter how close the simulation of digital paper to pages of a book – as in the case of Amazon Kindle’s E-ink screen for example – is still deemed by many a compromise not worth making. The E-reader is simply not a book, it’s an E-reader.
For a long time, I’ve been firmly in the E-reader skeptics camp. I’m a book fiend. I love the experience of book design, the smell of paper, the possibility of manual annotations, the sense of partaking in an age-old tradition and all the other idiosyncrasies that make up the relationship between humans and paper books. However, I’m also aware that E-Readers are of course much more than simple book emulation devices. They are interfaces with a vast distributed network of online content from blogs to newspapers and beyond. They are also the product of the digital revolution, just as paper books were once the product of the printing press revolution.
I recently came across a site that made me think twice about the whole thing. Actually, it’s less a site and more a collection of free e-books. The publisher is called Dodo Press and they’re based in the UK. Their growing collection of free e-books can be found on a number of online book seller sites. I prefer to access them via The Book Depository and they’re easily recognisable by their bright orange and black book covers.
But before I list some samples of Dodo Press books, let’s take a quick look at what sets this publisher apart from other collections of free e-books, which is also what prompted my own change of heart. Here’s the publisher’s mission statement:
Of the 30 million titles ever printed in the English language only a few million of these are in print. We are seeking to make available as many of these titles as possible (and working to do the same with foreign language titles). This way, we will have the largest breadth of titles available in the world.
Where books are no longer in print or poorly available we are seeking to make them available again by republishing. We do this through our Dodo Press imprint. At present, our Dodo Press imprint is re-publishing over one hundred out of print or difficult to find titles every week. We’re making tens of thousands of titles available to readers that were previous impossible to get hold of.
The section I’ve highlighted sums up my excitement over this project. Whereas most collections of free e-books are essentially repackaged versions of texts already available from the excellent Gutenberg Project, Dodo Press is committed to bringing out of print books back to life – hence their name. This is fundamentally important to the enrichment of knowledge and to diversifying the circulation of titles in our literary ecosystems.
So without further ado, I recommend you go and take a look at some of these amazing free ebooks yourself. Feel free to download them. If you have an e-reader then I’m sure you’ll be busy uploading titles to your collection. If you don’t have one, this could just be an initiative that helps you make that first step. If you’re still sticking with print books then the good news is that Dodo Press also offers print editions. Whatever your preference, let me know what you think.
Here are some of my personal favourites from the Dodo Press collection (click on the images to go straight to the book pages):