Online Literature, Beyond Amazon


Table of Contents

Spring / Summer 04


Online Literature, Beyond Amazon
by Sandhya Ramashwar

An electronic classic. The term may seem oxymoronic. However, free e-texts on the web have become a cost-effective, convenient alternative for many book-lovers. Those who are wary of the lack of quality control can get the best of both worlds with online libraries organized by trustworthy organizations.

One great starting place is Literary Resources on the Web, maintained by English professor Jack Lynch, which is recommended for those who like having obscure texts at their fingertips. There are links to ancient classics and to the Bible Gateway, where users can search the text of the Bible in ten different languages. Victorian literature enthusiasts can enjoy Jane Eyre, while Austen fans can find her most popular novels, like Emma, and her lesser-known works, like Lady Susan.

If an academically vetted text is a must, university-maintained e-text collections will probably fit the bill. Here are just a few of the choices out there.

Tufts University runs the Perseus Digital Library. One highlight is a classics collection encompassing the works of every author from Aeschylus to Xenophon in English translations and the original Greek and Latin. Perseus also groups literature by geographic region: the California section gives readers the chance to dive into real-life accounts like The Adventures of a forty-niner.

The University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center is populated by the likes of Shakespeare, Poe and many others. These e-texts are available on the web, and are also downloadable in Palm Pilot and Microsoft Reader format for readers who don't need a hefty laptop or PC cramping their style.

Readers in the mood for a modern master need look no further than The F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary, run by the University of South Carolina. Visitors to this site can enjoy some of Fitzgerald's short stories, like Jellybean and Bernice Bobs her Hair , along with This Side of Paradise .

Readers looking for books both famous and infamous can try The University of Pennsylvania's Banned Books Online Page. Some texts offered here include English-class staples like James Joyce's Ulysses and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, as well as recently banned books, like E is for Ecstasy.

The Banned Books Page is part of the University of Pennsylvania's Online Books Page, which links to more than 20,000 free texts. This page isn't limited to literary works, so users can read up on yoga or get lost in an 18th-century travel guide to "Arabia."

Of course, everyone has to leave the scholastic world sometime, and what better way to make the transition than to try out some of the non-university sites offering literature on the web? offers a variety of literary texts, but the fiction section in particular gives users a chance to relax with some lighter fare, such as Agatha Christie's first mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, or Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Two of the site's special features are "The Harvard Classics" and "the Shelf of Fiction," offering dozens of classic novels, plays, and biographies.

The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts, is good for readers who previously relied on large-print editions of books, because it allows them to customize the text's appearance for easy reading. It's even more valuable to serious researchers, who can search the content of multiple books at once by using the "concordance" feature.

Booklovers who take advantage of texts online have libraries at their disposal that never close on Sundays or charge late fees. Readers can expand their literary horizons by going wherever and whenever they choose with just a click of the mouse. In short, there's nothing to lose (except possibly an unwieldy tome), and a world of literature to gain.

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