I’ve got a hankerin’ for some readerin’! (Book sites)

August 19, 2008

I’ll admit that I’m not the most dedicated book reader in the world.  That title will always belong to my father, who can probably breeze through Bertrand Russell’s A History Of Western Philosophy in an afternoon.  At any given time, my dad will be reading three or four books for pleasure, in addition to reading hundreds of pages of legal briefs from his day job as a lawyer/legal consultant, and term papers and quizzes from his night job as a legal professor.  He’s a freak of nature.

I, on the other hand, tend to get bored halfway through a comic book.  Sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree.  Maybe I’m the product of the Internet generation, where information flashes before my eyes at the speed of copper.  I can be reading a page on germ warfare in WWI one minute and get instructions on how to build my own storage bench the next.  Constant channel surfing and web browsing has left me with an attention span of about 32 milliseconds.

But sometimes, when I really focus, I get the urge to read a book.  A full book.  No pictures.  No pop-ups.  No audio books.  Just an honest-to-goodness Gutenberg offspring.  The problem with not being part of the book culture is that I have no clue what new books are out, which ones have been favorably reviews, etc.  So I don’t always know where to start when shopping for a new book.

This is where the Internet comes to the rescue!  In a desperate attempt to marry my love of digital information with my occasional urges to read something with a deeper plot than a cereal box, I have come across several sites that offer some assistance in locating good reads, as well as offering several books for free online!  So here is a quick run-down of some of the best sites I’ve come across.

10.  Amazon.com – I know, this one feels like a cop-out.  You came here expecting to find some obscure, super-site devoted to books, right?  Well, sorry to disappoint, but Amazon.com is a great resource for finding some of the latest books.  I mean, the whole point of Amazon.com (at least, when they first started out) is to sell books.  They have the largest book inventory ANYWHERE in the world.  They offer their services on numerous international versions of their site.  And ordinary people can offer their own reviews on any book you want.  It’s a great resource for finding a good weekend book.

9.  AbeBooks.com – Do you have a favorite book that you would love to find in it’s original first printing?  Got a hankerin’ to get an original Tortilla Flat (I love Steinbeck novels set in the Monterey area)?  Head over to the rare books section of AbeBooks.com.  Rare book dealers can post their stock on AbeBooks.com, which allows you to search through hundreds of rare book stores all over the country with a single click.  I did, in fact, purchase a first printing of Tortilla Flat from AbeBooks.com and it was extremely easy.

8.  Project Gutenberg – Named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type and the father of modern printing, this site offers thousands of books, completely free, online only.  You don’t order anything.  You don’t sign up for anything.  You just browse through their online collection and pick a book you want to read.  You can download the book in several different formats like plain text or HTML versions.  You can contribute your own time to Project Gutenberg by sending new eBooks to them.  The project was founded by the inventor of the eBook himself, and he’s dedicated the site to the proliferation of the eBook.  It’s entirely free and entirely great.  Hop on over and read Machiavelli’s The Prince.

7.  GoodReads.com – If you have a group of friends who enjoy reading, you might like this site.  GoodReads.com is dedicated to book recommendations.  You sign up (it’s free), you read a book, you list that book on your GoodReads.com profile, you can review it or not, and other people can see your list and reviews.  You can list books that you’re currently reading.  You can put books in a wishlist of things to read.  You can join an online book club to discuss your reads.  There are plenty of features for book lovers to enjoy and great opportunities to share information with a diverse and well-read community.

6.  DailyLit.com – If you are more of an email or RSS junkie, you can get your book fix in small, daily increments, thanks to DailyLit.com.  Have a book you want to read, but you’re so tied to the computer that you can’t break away?  Stuck in the office and can’t be seen reading a book for fear that your boss will think you’re not working hard enough?  Sign up at DailyLit.com.  You can choose any book from their massive online library and DailyLit will send a small chunk of the book to you each day in an email or via an RSS feed.  Some of the books do cost money (usually fairly cheap), but a good number of the books are completely free.  It’s a great way to get your daily fix for knowledge without letting your boss know that you’re not finishing those TPS reports!

5.  Google Book Search – Google stirred up some controversy when they announced their plans to start scanning and digitizing books to make them available to search.  Authors and publishers alike were in an uproar.  Google was going to be violating copyrights by doing this!  Google planned to scan books in, then allow everyone to search the text of the books.  Not only could people find what books had a certain phrase, but they’d be presented with a few pages from the book itself, as a preview.  Of course, Google doesn’t just offer any old book up for this service.  If a book is in the public domain or if the publisher agrees, Google can offer it up for free as a complete PDF download.  If it’s not in the public domain, you can see a few pages of the text.  Google doesn’t just offer up eBooks, however.  Because they have access to so much information spread all over the Internet, Google is a great reference site while you’re reading the book online.  Google offers related web sites, maps, reviews, etc., along with the book itself.  The great thing about Google’s approach is that you can see the full book, exactly as it looks on the printed page itself, with pictures and page numbers, and footnotes.  It’s not just a simple text book, but a full digital book experience.

4.  SparkNotes – Got a classic book that you just don’t understand?  Want to refresh your high school English class knowledge?  Check out SparkNotes.  SparkNotes is the Barnes and Noble’s version of Cliffs Notes.  Free, online study guides for hundreds of texts from classic literature, along with test prep items for a range of subjects like biology and chemistry.  Now, CliffsNotes.com offers much of this same material, but SparkNotes gets my nod because they have a film section (although the film section is extremely tiny right now, but it’s the thought that counts).  Plus, I’ve always had an easier time picking through SparkNotes study guides than I have going through Cliffs Notes.  It’s a personal preference and both sites are great to get your literature fix in a short amount of time.

3.  NPR.com – Whether you like National Public Radio or not, they do have some great suggestions for books.  Because the programming on NPR is extremely diverse, so are their book reviews and recommendations.  This is a great resource if you’re looking to really expand your horizons in literature.  If you’re used to reading only one style of book, take a step outside the ordinary and experiment with some of the recommendations from NPR.

2.  What Should I Read Next? – This site is still relatively small.  It’s a simple search engine designed to recommend books to you based on past books you’ve read and enjoyed.  You enter the title of any book you liked in a certain genre, and the site will return a list of recommended books to read next.  The books aren’t always in the same genre, but I’ve found their results to be fairly good.  I’ve usually enjoyed the books they’ve recommended.  Actual mileage may vary.

1.  BookSwim – I love movies, so I love NetFlix.  Online rentals delivered free to my door.  BookSwim is NetFlix for books.  You select the book you want, they send it to you, you read it, you send it back, they send you the next book in your queue.  Free shipping.  It’s a great idea if you love the look and feel of actual paper books, but either don’t have the space or the money to build your own library.  They have 30,000 titles in their library, according to their web site, which is pretty damn decent.  Chances are, you’ll find quite a few books to rent from BookSwim.

0.  BookMooch – Yeah, my list has a ZERO in it.  I got down to number 1 and realized that I left off a great book site.  Since I’m too lazy to go up and edit my own post, I’ve decided to add a zero.  Get over it.  BookMooch is a fantastic, community-driven web site where users share their books with each other.  Users list the books they’re willing to give away on the site.  Other users request those books.  The user with the book sends it out at their expense for shipping and handling.  Yes, it costs money to ship the books to other users, but you receive books from other users for free, so most people see that as a wash.  You can either keep the book you receive, or you can put it back on the site for availability.  You earn points for books you send out.  You are docked points for books you receive.  Once you’re out of points, you can’t receive any more books.  According to the site, as long as you send out one book for every three you receive, you can continue indefinitely.  It’s an awesome concept and the site has been around for awhile so the community and number of titles has grown to a great amount.  Another great thing about BookMooch is that you can also donate your points to charities, so books can be sent to sick children or any of the other charities that BookMooch works with.


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