Sunday, February 24, 2019

Charity Sunday: Project Gutenberg - #freebooks #classics #CharitySunday

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Do you love to read? Silly question, right? After all, you’re here, at an author’s blog. Seems pretty likely you’re the sort of person who can get lost in a book—like me. I’ll bet that, like me, you adore stepping into a fictional world, smelling its scents, touring its sights, experiencing the trials and joys of its inhabitants.

I started reading when I was four, and I’ve never stopped. As a kid, I was the proverbial bookworm. While other kids were outside playing, I spent most afternoons after school lying on my bed, exploring ancient Egypt or colonial America or the red plains of Mars. When I moved from North America to Asia fifteen years ago, I got rid of most of my possessions, but I shipped boxes and boxes of my favorite books.

These days, I’m usually in the middle of three or four titles, flitting from one to the other according to my mood. Ebooks make it easy and convenient; they don’t clutter up my bedside table the way the print volumes do.

I’ll assume you understand what I’m talking about, and that you’re a book lover too.

So, do you know about Project Gutenberg?

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort that digitizes and distributes ebooks, in English and other languages. You can read about its history here. Founded by author Michael S. Hart in 1971, it is the world’s oldest digital library. The goal of the project is to make public domain works, especially literary classics, available to as wide an audience as possible. Currently the project offers more than 58,000 titles - every one of them free (and legal).

Browsing the catalog can be great fun. You never know what gems you will discover. On the other hand, it’s also a great source for classic books you somehow never read. Recently, for instance, I saw an early Tarzan film and was motivated to download Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novel from the project archives. Right now, I’m reading the original Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Anyway, today I’m running a Charity Sunday for Project Gutenberg. The project is staffed by volunteers, but needs funds for computing resources, professional services and so on. If you love reading, leave me a comment. I’ll donate one dollar to the project for each comment I receive.

Meanwhile, as usual on Charity Sunday, I have an excerpt to entertain you. Here’s a bit from my erotic romance Miranda’s Masks. Miranda Cahill, the heroine, is one of the most “bookish” characters I’ve ever written – a PhD student in literature, writing her dissertation on Victorian erotica!


Miranda felt delightfully free as she strolled down Charles Street, enjoying the afternoon. It was only May, but already the trees were in full leaf, dappling the brick sidewalks with patterns of shadow. Girls passed her in tank tops and shorts, legs and arms bare and already burnished with sun. She felt warm in her long-sleeved pullover and denim overalls.

She loved this district, with its historic buildings and narrow lanes. Most of the townhouses dated from the middle of the nineteenth century. They offered a delightful jumble of architectural detail—wrought-iron balconies, fanlight transoms, stained glass, mullioned windows, Corinthian columns. Many of the brick-fronted buildings were draped with ivy. Some were traversed by aged trunks as thick as her wrist, twining around doors up to the many-chimneyed roofs. The tall windows offered glimpses of chandeliers, Oriental carpets, Siamese cats, and bookshelves that stretched floor to ceiling.

In Beacon Hill, gas lamps lined all the streets, burning day and night. Her own apartment looked out on a private alley, flanked by ivy-hung brick walls and lit by gas lights. Miranda appreciated the irony of her living in an environment that dated from the same period as her research. Perhaps, she sometimes mused, I had a previous life as a Victorian matron.

Most of Beacon Hill was residential, but Charles Street was lined with shops and cafés. There were many vendors of books and antiquities. Miranda loved to rummage through the crowded, chaotic shops, savoring the atmosphere of the past, although she rarely made a purchase.

She entered one of these places now, a dim, comfortable space half below street level. She had to duck her head as she entered. A silvery bell tinkled to announce her arrival.

The proprietor, an energetic, fussy old man with wire spectacles, knew her by sight. “Hello, hello,” he said as he emerged from a backroom. “Can I help you find anything today?”

Miranda smiled. “No, thank you. I’m just browsing at the moment.”

Well, if I can be of any assistance, just let me know.”

Miranda wandered happily through the shop. It was much larger than it first appeared, with several rooms stretching backward into the building. The front room, near the street, was crowded with furniture of obsolete categories, armoires, commodes, carved dressing tables surmounted by triple mirrors. There were other rooms with porcelain, jewelry, cutlery, iron fittings, tarnished brass.
Finally, Miranda found herself in the book room.

Books were piled everywhere, in boxes, on shelves, in pillars that reached up from the middle of the floor. Although most were in English, Miranda noticed volumes in French, Russian, and Arabic. The room was veiled in dust, but Miranda didn't mind. She loved the rich smell of the leather bindings, the tarnished gold embossing, the fragile texture of the old paper.

Rummaging through a box of miscellaneous tomes, she made her find—a leather-bound diary, about the size of a modern paperback book. There was a brass lock, crusted with verdigris, but it was broken. The leather strap that had sealed the diary shut now flapped about ineffectually.

The paper was wonderful, thick and ivory-toned. Miranda rifled through the heavy pages, which turned lazily under her fingers. She found no sign that the diary had ever been used.

Miranda wondered about the age of the volume. She held it to her nose, smelled oiled leather but no mildew. The cover was plain, save for a manufacturer’s imprint too small for her to read in the dim shop.

She wanted it, suddenly, knew that she had to have it no matter what the cost. She made her way back to the front of the shop, where the proprietor sat behind his desk.

How much are you asking for this?” she asked, trying to sound offhand.

The little man took the diary and turned it over and over in his hands. “A hundred dollars,” he finally said.

Miranda knew she would pay that, if she had to, but something made her object. “A hundred? That’s outrageous! There’s no text, so it has no historical value.”

The shop owner pursed his lips firmly. “It dates from the eighteen-eighties,” he said. “This is a real antique.”

The lock is broken,” Miranda insisted. “And corroded. I’ll give you fifty dollars.”

The watery blue eyes behind the wire frames looked at her fixedly. She stared back, unfazed. 
Finally, he shrugged. “All right, fifty dollars. It has been in my collection for years. It’s about time
that I got rid of it.”

* * * *

As it turns out, the diary isn’t blank at all, but contains contains the secret diary of a proper Boston lady who, like Miranda, has illicit, anonymous erotic liaisons. Intrigued? You can get your copy of here:

And don’t forget to leave a comment! Every one is a contribution to the world’s biggest library of free digital books.


Debby said...

I have heard of the Gutenberg Project before. thanks so much for doing this. Great excerpt.

Cara Bristol said...

Very nice idea, both the Charity Sunday project and the recipient. Project Gutenberg is wonderful choice.

Tina Donahue said...

A great cause! :)

Libby Doyle said...

Charles Street in Boston is so lovely. I used to dream about getting a place in Beacon Hill when I lived in that city. Thanks for raisin money for a great cause!

Colleen C. said...

Thanks for sharing about this charity... did not know about it.

Sacchi Green said...

Lovely lead-up to an intriguing story.

bn100 said...

nice idea

Iris B said...

Always like your Charity Sundays and I had to comment today simply to say I grew up in Gutenberg's hometown ;-)

Author H K Carlton said...

I hadn't heard about Project Gutenberg.
Great choice for Charity Sunday.

Anonymous said...

I've used Project Gutenberg books before, so useful!


Lisabet Sarai said...

Huge thanks to everyone who commented. I'm about to make a $10 donation to Gutenberg. Tune in this Sunday for another Charity Sunday post!

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