Book reading for me mostly still involves holding an actual book, preferably a nice hardback. (Black coffee, room with a view, a bit of quiet. I don’t ask much.) But the convenience of ebooks can’t be overlooked and it’s nice to be able to choose, depending on mood, need or whim.
Highlighting, making notes and searching are all so much easier with ebooks and avoid the horror instilled in me since childhood of breaking taboo and actually writing in a book.
One of the other advantages is cost. I choose to support my local independent booksellers wherever possible, but for many students and others on fixed incomes that isn’t possible. So it’s a good thing that so many copyright free books have been made available to us by the wonderful people at Project Gutenberg: making great works available to a wide audience regardless of capacity to pay.
But only rarely have I ever taken advantage of this opportunity, because such freely available ebooks are almost always, well, pretty ugly. Horribly formatted, poorly proofread and sometimes incomplete, they are not quite the bargain they seem. Which is why a new volunteer-driven venture – Standard Ebooks – is such a welcome development. In their own words, Standard Ebooks:
… takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.
To most regular readers, the difference is significant, not just in first impressions but in the actual experience of reading the full work. Here is a link to a screenshot of the Project Gutenberg edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and here a screenshot of the Standard Ebooks edition. Both show roughly speaking the same pages from the original novel, are in the same font (Athelas) and pitch (two step increases from the minimum) and both were taken on the same iPad.
The Standard Ebooks layout is that of a book, gone are the white space voids between paragraphs, dashes have been corrected, quotation marks are formatted, italics appear as and where they should. In one sense the differences are subtle; there is nothing exaggerated or done purely for effect in the formatting of Standard Ebooks – they are clearly working to a disciplined style guide that does enough and stops there.
You can discover the range of titles available from the Standard Ebooks library, and of course download whatever you like for free. You can also make suggestions for future titles or become a volunteer in creating more such wonderful ebooks – a noble thing to do in my view.
If you do download a title, and you are a book nerd, make sure to check out the Uncopyright statement at the end of the book.