Hippo Manchester
September 8, 2005


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Books without the paper

Read while you ‘work’ with eBooks

By John “jaQ” Andrews

I worked in a cubicle for five years.

You don’t spend that long staring at a networked computer screen without falling prey to the distractions of the Internet. No matter how interesting your job is, no matter how strong a work ethic you possess, eventually you’ll find yourself reading pointless drivel online.

It’s OK. Not, perhaps, to your boss, but in the self-helpy, self-esteemy sense, it’s OK.

Still, there’s a lot of content out there that will not only stem the brain-rot you experience from 9 to 5, but may actually expand your mind a little. As an added bonus, should your own personal Lumbergh come sauntering by, it even looks a little like work.

I speak, of course, of the eBook.

The simplest eBooks are nothing more than the text of a book in an electronic format, like an HTML Web page, a Microsoft Word document or a plain text file. Others might be copy-protected Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader or Palm files. After all, when you buy an eBook, the publisher doesn’t want you copying and re-distributing it willy-nilly.

Buy? Did I say buy? Of course that’s not necessary.

Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) claims more than 16,000 titles available for free download. You won’t find current bestsellers here, but plenty of classics whose copyrights have expired and a few given away with consent of the copyright holders. It’s actually one of the oldest Internet sites out there, started in 1971 by a University of Illinois student named Michael Hart.

In case you don’t want to download, the first 9,400 books Project Gutenberg digitized are available on a single DVD. They’ll mail you one for free, but they ask for a donation to offset their costs. A smaller collection, a “best of,” can be sent to you on CD. You can also download the CD or DVD image and burn a copy yourself.

Amazon.com, in its incessant need to do that “innovating” thing, recently started a service called Amazon Shorts. Here you can buy short fiction (and some non-fiction) from current authors, either to sample before you invest time and money in a novel or to see what they’ve been up to since they rocked the literary world with their 600-page masterpiece last summer. Each title is only 49 cents, and you access it through your account at Amazon’s site.

Radio, movies and TV each made a bid to make the written word obsolete. None of them succeeded, and with the eBook, stories on the page just might make a resurgence.

Other eBook sites

Other sites offer free (and cheap) eBooks as well, sometimes in formats that make it simple to transfer files to a Palm or Pocket PC, which are more amenable to being curled up with than a desktop.