free books
For avid readers, free-e-book websites can be an incredibly useful resource, both because of their affordability and convenience. (Illustration by Sofie Moustahfid, University of Maryland, College Park)

Nowadays, you have the option to read books from a device, like the Nook or Kindle, or like it’s always been, from the fresh pages of print itself. Technology is always creating new ways to do things, and if you prefer reading from a laptop or tablet, you’re in store for something great. Your reading device offers some free books, some of which might be to your liking, but wouldn’t it be nice to download more than just a few books for free and legally?

The public domain allows this to be possible, and in fact, around 50,000 books, movies and songs have just been added to the public domain this new year. What exactly does this mean for you? Well, works residing in the public domain are no longer under any copyright, which means anyone can use the work without paying the person who created it because the property rights have expired. The books and other media recently released into the domain are from 1923; works published between 1923 – 1977 are under copyright for 95 years, meaning all publications from 1923 are now available.

You might be thinking that 1923 was a long time ago, so why would you want to read those old novels? If you’re a book fanatic, like me, you’ll still check them out, especially because some of the greatest writings from well-known authors, such as Robert Frost and Virginia Woolf, are included in this time period. If you like to read occasionally, but aren’t obsessed with it, you can still benefit by browsing through the works; you never know what you might find.

Just because these books are e-books doesn’t mean they are available on your Nook or Kindle device; you have to go through other websites to download them. Various places offer these books, so it’s just a matter of finding the most legit and easy sites to use.

The following websites are the best to explore, and they each offer different books, so if you can’t find a certain book on one site, try another. Goodreads also gives you a list of some of the more popular books available in the public domain.

1. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg currently provides around 58,000 e-books for legal download. The process is relatively simple, as you can search for book titles and authors on their site or browse the catalog by author, title, language and other categories.

When you find one of interest, you’ll have several options for reading your selection, such as reading it online or downloading it onto your computer or Kindle. From there, you can access the book any time and read at your own pace, unlike the library books you have to renew every so often.

2. Read Print

Offering works from essays to fiction, Read Print allows you to search both online books and print books. Of course, only the e-books are free, so you can either browse the authors with e-books under the “Online Books” tab at the top of the page or search for a book or author in the search bar.

You’ll see the option to read online under the book’s title. From there, you can “Launch Reading Mode,” which will allow you to read the book online for free, but unfortunately, it doesn’t provide the ability to download directly to your computer. However, they do have an assortment of titles, and you can even find a few other features, such as viewing quotes by authors or other famous figures.

3. The Literature Network

While some of the books on The Literature Network require a small fee to download, you can still find copies of thousands of books available to read online for free. When you arrive at the homepage, you’ll find a list of the authors, from Lewis Carroll to George Orwell, featured on the website. You can skim through those or use the search tab to find what you’re looking for.

A bonus that some other sites don’t have is that this one gives you a mass of information on the authors and their books. For example, Edgar Allan Poe’s page includes a full biography with a number of his short stories listed in the sidebar. Through its added features, The Literature Network gives writers and readers more than just books and stories.

4. LibriVox

Librivox caters more toward audiobook fans than average readers because it’s filled with books on tape. The site obtains volunteers to record books, so readers can listen to books instead of reading them. Sometimes, this is the way to go when you have a long drive to work or just want to relax your eyes instead of strain them to read a page after a long day.

Just like the previously mentioned websites, this one gives you the option to search for an author or title or browse through the catalog. If you don’t know what the book is about but are intrigued by the title, you can read a small synopsis by clicking on the title instead of immediately downloading it using the green button to the right. Once you decide on a title, you can easily listen to the text and bookmark your spot as each chapter is its own audio file.

5. Authorama

Authorama is the last public domain website I have to offer you. It doesn’t have nearly as many titles and authors to choose from as the others, but it does offer a nice selection and easy usability. You can search and browse the books, and upon finding a good one, click the title and you’ll be taken straight to Chapter 1.

Beware of ads at the top of the page, prompting you to download printable forms of the book, as these have nothing to do with the site itself. You can read the book right on the website by chapter or by the whole book. Scrolling down to the bottom of the page will bring you to choose how you’d like to read the text.

So go ahead: search, read and enjoy!

Writer Profile

Michelle Dreyer

Southern New Hampshire University

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