Many widely distributed forms of art, at some point late in their lives, enter the public domain. Which means that to publish them doesn’t cost the publisher a bean in royalties. Nor you in return. Many of those black-and-white classics that you can find on DVD for £3 fall into that category, as do most art books found in discount shops. It’s a wonderful thing in principal, often only let down by shoddy packaging or poor quality materials.
The internet brings the whole enterprise back to life, however, and a great example of public domain art is much of the literature available online for free.
Project Gutenberg is both the first and largest selection of free electronic books (or eBooks) available on the planet, and the scope of material you can download is massive. Shakespeare and Dickens rub shoulders with Karl Marx, while Herman Melville gets analyzed by Freud. There’s also James Joyce’s Ulysses to be read, but don’t press “print’ whatever you do or you’ll be there ‘til Christmas.
McSweeney’s features a selection of short imagined monologues that range from touching to spooky. Ben Greenman’s offering from the great Groucho Marx is a treat and if you want to know what it’s like to be a shark nibbling a foot you’ve come to the right site.
Free books steps away from fiction and into the realm of philosophy, self-help and even tips for successful online dating. The even murkier world of fan fiction is touched on here (surely a pastime not to mention if you intend to try online dating).
Children can pick up a wealth of great kids classics at Classic Reader where gems ranging from Aesop’s Fables through to Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows are waiting to rejuvenate your computer’s jaded imagination.
Lastly, a visit to Banned Books Online offers many links to books banned over the years. These include the once obscene and politically insensitive. Even if you don’t want to read some of them it’s worth casting your eye just to see how censorship laws have changed over the years.