Wandering Through the Public Domain #6

A regular exploration of public domain genre works available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: When I first discovered Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive, I struggled with how best to read the books I found, because reading on my regular computer was hard on the eyes and the layout was not always ideal. There are numerous formats for the texts on both sites, and many options for e-readers, so it might take some experimentation to figure out what works for you.

I thought I’d take a minute to describe the system I’ve worked out, in the hopes it might help someone else overcome this obstacle to enjoyable (and free!) reading experiences. My experience is mainly with Apple devices and I’m not familiar with the equivalent apps and procedures in Android, but the overall process should have similar steps.

As I’ve reached the age of needing reading glasses, I’ve found I have a strong preference for reading ebooks, usually on my iPad using the Kindle app. No need to find my reading glasses and a strong light with a backlit screen and easy text resizing!

However, it turns out that downloading the books in the so-called “Kindle format” (MOBI) often produces scrambled layout and punctuation — if you have ever attempted to read the free public domain books available through Amazon, you will be familiar. So for Kindle, I recommend using the PDF format rather than MOBI, on both sites.

Unfortunately, it can be a tedious process to get the PDF into Kindle. Each file must be “sent” via Amazon. They can be slow to show up in your Kindle library, and sometimes they get lost in the ether. The one advantage is that once the file does arrive, you can access it through any Kindle reader or app.

Recently I discovered that for both IA and PG texts, it’s much easier to use the Apple Books app, so it’s become my go-to for public domain texts.

On Project Gutenberg, the easiest way to transfer the file is to click on the Google Drive or Dropbox icon next to the EPUB option on the main page for the book. This puts a copy of the file on Google Drive or Dropbox, after which you simply open whichever one you use and select the “Open in…” option. Click on the Books app to open the file. After that, it is in your Books library on that device until you decide to remove it. If you use more than one Apple device, you will have to repeat it for each one.

Although Internet Archive offers EPUB and Kindle format for most of its files, I have found it far easier to open the text in PDF format and download that. If I’m looking at Internet Archive on my iPad (I use Chrome), then once the PDF version is open, it’s simple to click the “Open In…” button at the bottom of the screen and drop it directly into the Books app. On my laptop, I download the PDF, then upload it to Drive. Then I can pull it up on my iPad and open it in Books.

As I said, there are many routes to get the files to your preferred reader. If you have other methods that work well for your preferred formats, please feel free to share in the comments!

For everyone who hasn’t slipped into a coma after that scintillating discussion, how about some actual book suggestions?

In a comment on the previous installment, Robert Whitaker Sirignano mentioned that Nikola Tesla had written for Electric Experimenter magazine, edited by Hugo Gernsback. If you are curious about that magazine, Internet Archive has four single issues from the 1910s, as well as the complete volume 7 (1919).

F. Orlin Tremaine (1899-1956) had his 120th birthday on January 7, and it turns out that he has one work on PG, published under the name Warner Von Lorne: Wanted–7 Fearless Engineers! This is a multi-chapter novella originally published in Amazing Stories in 1939. It has been recorded as a stand-alone work on Librivox.

Algis Budrys (1931-2008) has several short stories on Project Gutenberg:

All of the Budrys stories except “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night” have been recorded at least once at Librivox, as part of various Short Science Fiction Collections.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Queen Sheba’s Ring by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925)

    A famed archeologist, an aging doctor, and a young army engineer set out across the African desert on a great adventure. Professor Higgs is in search of new archeological discoveries, Dr. Adams seeks to rescue his kidnapped son, and Captain Orme wants to forget an unhappy love affair. Maqueda, Daughter of Kings, ruler of the Abati, enlists their aid to destroy the sacred idol of a neighboring tribe with promises to help the doctor rescue his son.

  • Short Ghost and Horror Collection 032 by Various

    A collection of 20 short stories about various things that go bump in the night. Includes stories by Lord Dunsany, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James and others. (Full disclosure: I recorded the Le Fanu story).

  • The Enemies of Books by William Blades (1824-1890)

    The author, an avid book collector, calls for the better protection of books against the “enemies” which lead to their physical destruction. In a series of brief chapters, he details the losses caused by raging fire, floods of water, noxious gases, sheer neglect, ignorant bigotry, invasions of bookworms and other vermin, inept bookbinders, clueless book collectors, clumsy servants, and mishandling by children.

Yes, I know that last one is not SFF, but it is certainly filled with horrors for the passionate book lovers among us!

3 thoughts on “Wandering Through the Public Domain #6

  1. I’ve generally used Sigil to fettle an epub into doing what it should and then used Calibre to load the file onto my Kindle, doing a conversion along the way
    There are editing tools built into the recent releases of Calibre, but I’ve never put the time into really getting to grips with them.
    PDFs as a source can be highly variable. A few convert well, but many have an explicit line break at the end of each line, and if you want something that reads well on your devices (I use a Kindle and a phone), you need to get rid of them.
    A few even have all the text as embedded images, and there’s no converting such files.

  2. Nickpheas: PDFs as a source can be highly variable. A few convert well, but many have an explicit line break at the end of each line, and if you want something that reads well on your devices (I use a Kindle and a phone), you need to get rid of them. A few even have all the text as embedded images, and there’s no converting such files.

    As long as the creator hasn’t password-protected PDFs, Adobe Acrobat will allow you to do things like convert them to DOCs or RTFs (and Calibre can create EPUBs and MOBIs from RTF files) without that line-break problem. Acrobat even has an OCR function that will convert text in jpgs to actual text. But it’s not an inexpensive program.

  3. Colleen: apologies if this has cropped up in a previous instalment but are you familiar with standardebooks.org? Their library is nowhere near as extensive as that of PG but the ebooks they produce are professional-quality, often building on the PG text. They have a collection by Algis Budrys which I think includes the same seven stories you reference here, and several genre titles by Wells, Burroughs, Norton etc. — Mark

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