Reader’s Indigestion

There are some web sites to which you keep returning. Maybe not every day or even every week - but you keep going back. They are the kind of sites that never fail to delight. Such sites very quickly become old favourites; so maybe they are old news but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep revisiting them.

For example, let me give you “Reader’s Indigestion”: three sites that help this bookhound satisfy his reading appetite.


n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary

BookCrossing intends to “make the whole world a library”. As a member you release books into “the wild” - that is, just leave them lying around somewhere for someone else to find - and then track the future wanderings of each book through the web site. You can register your books on the site, make journal entries about the books (maybe to review or comment on them), and when you are ready to let a book go make a release alert so that others know where to go hunting for it.

That’s essentially all there is to BookCrossing, but there are a few other niceties included on the site. You can sign-up to receive release alerts by email in your local area. This increases your likelihood of making a “catch”. I must admit I’ve only ever made one catch but I never would have got it without the release alert.

Forums and mailing lists are a “must-have” on community-oriented web sites, and one of the things BookCrossing members use them for is to organise gatherings, both informal get-togethers and more formal conventions. (Incidentally, the 3rd Australian BookCrossing Convention will be held in Adelaide in October.)

BookCrossing has been around since 2001 and is a “labor of love” by Humankind Systems, an incubator of “socially responsible ventures”.

Have you ever finished a really good book and found yourself asking around among friends to suggest something just as good? This is where What Should I Read Next? comes in.

The idea is simple: get people to make lists of their favourite books and compare them. The more often certain books appear on people’s favourites lists, the more closely they become associated. So when you put in the title of a book you’ve just enjoyed, the system pops out a list of suggested titles that have been enjoyed by others who share your taste in books. That’s almost as good as having your own personal librarian available around the clock. Or as they say on the site:

It’s a bit like browsing the bookshelves of a (very) well read friend!

What Should I Read Next? was developed in 2005 by Thoughtplay, a UK-based “creative agency” (whatever that may be).

Project Gutenberg

The mission of Project Gutenberg is

To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.

With over 17 000 books freely available online, and claims to be “the first and largest single collection of free electronic books” in the world, Project Gutenberg appears to be fulfilling that mission admirably.

The books in the catalogue are generally public domain - from “The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci” to “The Kamasutra”, Joyce’s “Ulysses” to Barrie’s “Peter Pan”. Books are usually available in “plain vanilla” text, which makes them readable and searchable on any computer, but many titles appear in other formats including HTML and PDF. Voice recorded books can also be found, most likely as MP3 audio files.

The Project dates back to 1971, when founder Michael Hart started typing the US Declaration of Independence into a mainframe computer. Through the 1970s and 1980s more titles were added, including the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. In 1991 Project Gutenberg had a target of adding one book per month and it continues to add books today - with a target of 500 titles per month.

Project Gutenberg is administered by The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, but in practice it is run entirely by its volunteers. Project Gutenberg of Australia is a separate organisation with similar goals and more Australian-oriented content.

Any suggestions?

While I already spend far too much of my time on the web, I’m always keen to hear of good web sites to revisit. Tap in a comment below if you’ve got any suggestions.

First published: PC Update April 2006

One Response to “Reader’s Indigestion”

  1. flipsockgrrl Says:

    For bite-sized chunks of literary lushness, try Arts and Letters Daily, also available in handy RSS/Atom format.

    Similarly, Three Quarks Daily points to book reviews, essays and other thought-provoking chunks of wordy goodness, broadly categorised around arts, literature, politics, philosophy and science.

    The London Review of Books is worth a look, as is the New York Review of Books, and has some treasurable essays buried under its clunky navigation scheme.

    Metropolis is pretty good for architecture and all things urban. I’ve started dipping into Ego magazine, for a monthly dose of gloss-trash. While it’s quite pretty and sometimes has some juicy articles, sadly it’s no substitute for the late, great dailies of the early Interweb: Feed and Suck (RIP).

    Occasionally, when I have time, I like to dip into — PTerry often hangs out there, and sometimes points in the direction of an interesting book or idea he’s pursuing.