Friday, May 25, 2012

Free eBooks for iPad & Kindle:
An Every-So-Often Roundup

In the interest of helping the community discover free books of value (as opposed to some of the appallingly poorly written free books on, I'm collecting and annotating links to Project Gutenberg links that have some sort of popular historical or literary value.  I'll try to post them on a more or less weekly basis.

As I've noted before, a major drawback to the Project Gutenberg resources is that there's no summary or even tagging of the books they've digitized; there's no easy way to investigate a book through the site before deciding to download it. This is my value-added contribution to readers; may you discover something new and wonderful to read (and the choices be ever in your favor).

This week's possibilities:

  • Humorous yet sympathetic, this perceptive social novel of an orphan's sudden rise to wealth is generally regarded as a masterpiece, and was the author's own favorite work. First published in 1905.
  • The Cuthbert siblings asked to adopt a boy orphan, to help out on their rural Canadian farm, but instead they got lively, red-headed Anne Shirley. This 1908 classic children's novel has inspired several sequels and numerous TV and film adaptations.
  • Seminal short novel of the early 20th century, about a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes one day to find himself transformed into a monstrous insect-like creature. Originally published in German in 1915, this is a 2003 translation by David Wyllie.

    A 1902 horror story, in which the paw of a dead monkey is a talisman that grants its possessor three wishes, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.

    Otto of the Silver Hand is a children's novel about the Dark Ages. It was first published in 1888 by Charles Scribner's Sons. The novel was one of the first written for young readers that went beyond the chivalric ideals of the time period, and centers around Otto, the son of a German warlord whose mother dies soon after giving birth to him. He is raised in a monastery until he is thirteen, at which point he returns to live with his father in their ancestral castle.

    Zane Grey's best-known novel, originally published in 1912, that played a significant role in shaping the formula of the popular Western genre. In it, ranch heiress Jane Withersteen resists pressure to mary a church elder, and defends her right to associate with those outside her religion.

    This 1921 comic novel was adapted from a series of short stories orginally published in The Strand magazine. It tells the story of impoverished, embarrassment-prone Drone Archibald "Archie" Moffam (pronounced "Moom"), and his difficult relationship with art-collecting, hotel-owning millionaire father-in-law Daniel Brewster, father of Archie's new bride Lucille. Archie's attempts to ingratiate himself with Brewster only get him further into trouble.

    Check out all of my annotated free ebook listings in PiLibrarian's Diigo bookmarks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

21st Century Gutenberg Revolution:
Free eBooks for iPad & Kindle

If I gave in to frustration, I'd be totally bald from pulling out my hair over the ebook dilemma.  The best delivery systems either don't have the titles I want to offer or cost way too much for our little school, or both.  We are "evolving" on this issue, but for now progress is stalled.

When I first got my iPad and began to explore ebooks, I scoffed at friends who were all about free ebook downloads.  "They're all ancient," I thought, "who wants to read that?"  Yes, a librarian who was being a dumbhead about the classics. Gosh, sometimes I am so dense.  In any case, I'm now getting a daily list of all the books in the public domain that have been added to the Project Gutenberg electronic book collection, and you know, there really is some good stuff there!

"Public Domain" is a legal concept -- under United States law, creators (or assignees) automatically own the right to decide what happens to their creative works as long as they live, and the right extends to the creator's estate for 75 more years.  After that, unless an extension has been granted, that creative work goes into the public domain -- it is owned by the people.

Project Gutenberg began in the 1980s as a labor of love by a man named Michael Hart.  Since the beginning, PG volunteers have hand-typed and proof-read thousands of public domain texts, in many languages.  The first PG electronic books were computer only, but now almost every title is available in Kindle, Nook, iPad and other e-reader compatible formats.  Some even include full color illustrations!

Below is just a tiny sample of the public domain books you can download for free from Project Gutenberg.   The annotations are mine (a drawback to the project is that there's no synopsis or other description for any of the titles, so using a few research skills, and Wikipedia, does come in handy).  The PG catalog also includes audiobooks (both human-read and computer-read), and if you'd like to practice reading in  Yiddish, Norwegian, Tagalog, or any of 60+ other written languages, PG has ebooks for you too.

  • A collection of essays, published in 1917, by American music writer and critic James Huneker. Included are essays "In Praise of Unicorns," on George Sand, James Joyce, Henry James, Brahms, Wagner, Cezanne, and "The Great American Novel."
  • Frank V. Webster was a pseudonym controlled by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (publisher of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books). This pseudonym was used on books for boys from the early 1900s through the 1930s. Two Boy Gold Miners was published in 1909.
  • Tom Swift and His Motorcycle; or, Fun and Adventure on the Road  by Victor Appleton. 
    The first book (1910)  in a long-running series from the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  Tom is a teenage genius inventor, modeled after such real-life inventors such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, whose adventures have inspired young people from Issac Asimove to Steve Wozniak.  As with so many older books, readers should be aware that ethnic and racial depictions can follow negative stereotypes, and parents may want to be prepared to discuss changes in society since then.
  • Anton Felix Schindler was an associate, secretary, and early biographer of Ludwig van Beethoven. His "Life of Beethoven," first published in 1840, had a great deal of influence on later Beethoven biography. He claimed to have been Beethoven's best friend.
  • 1910 horror story by Algernon Blackwood, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre.   In the Canadian wilderness, a hunting party separates to track moose, and one member is abducted by the Wendigo of legend (a malevlolent canibalistic monster, possibly created when a person ate human flesh).
  • The Man in Black by Stanley John Weyman
    Written by an author much celebrated in his time, and later by modern author Graham Greene, The Man in Black is a short and spellbinding Cinderella tale with a monkey, a cruel, crafty-eyed showman and the evil of the man in black, a charlatan and wizard. This is a tale of corruption, abuse of the innocent and the complete destruction of evil by good. One of the most imaginative and clever works by Weyman, it is a magnificent tale.

If you have an eReader, but aren't quite sure how to go about downloading from Project Gutenberg (or for that matter, from your Atlanta area public library), zap me a message, come on by the library and we'll try to get you set up.  It's one of those tricky things that, once you know how, it's not so hard, but a helping hand is really really useful in getting started.

Are you planning to read any classics over the sumer?  On paper, or "pad?" 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Poetry, Year-Round

We have bid National Poetry Month adieu for another year.  Today is May Day, a rite of spring, and also the first day of Mystery Month.

But poetry is not far away.  As noted earlier,  I am crazy about podcasts and Open University-type courses.  There are a couple of new university-level Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs, if ever there was a goofy acronym) in the mix this spring -- Coursera and Udacity.  As with most of the other MOOCs (like MIT and Yale), a majority of the classes are tech and science related, but Coursera is offering several Humanities classes too!

In September 2012, The University of Pennsylvania, through Coursera, is offering a 10 week class in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, taught by Penn professor Al Filreis.  The course is described as videotaped seminar-style, collaborative close readings of poetry from Dickinson and Whitman to poets of the early 21st century, with online discussion forums and occasional quizzes or short essays.

Professor Filreis is also the host of a regular podcast, Poem Talk, sponsored by The Poetry Foundation.  Each podcast is a close reading of a poem, led by Filreis, with roundtable discussion featuring a rotating groups of contemporary poets.  If you are interested in the online class, check out a couple of the podcasts, as the descriptions are very similar and you can see ahead of time if this approach works for you.

As always, an investigation into one source turns up so many other sources previously unimagined. Who knew there were so many other podcasts and online resources for studying poetry??  A short list would include

  • Restoration and 18th Century Poetry, a survey of currently unfashionable poetry, from Brandeis professor William Flesch.  Available as a collection of downloadable podcasts.
  • PBS NewsHour Poetry series -- short podcasts (under 10 mins each) that couple profiles of contemporary poets with reports on poetry news and trends. (NewsHour poetry website)

Another of the Coursera humanities courses that caught my eye is a survey of World Music, which starts in July?  Have you ever taken an online academic course?  Was it a good experience?   Your comments on online learning are welcome!