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December 12, 2008

Mr. Gutenberg Would Approve

This Extra Ink was written by our intern, Betsy C.

Who doesn't love to read?

Okay, maybe a lot of people. But I'm sure that at least the Teen Ink community appreciates the joy of a good read; the ever-increasing traffic to our website, filled with thousands of teen-written poems, stories and articles, proves that much. And Teen Ink absolutely makes for a great reading experience. But what if you want to get your hands on one of the classics? Splurging on a shiny new copy of your very own isn't always a good option, especially in our current economy. And while your local library is a wonderful option that should never be discounted, sometimes you need some instant, no-charge literary gratification. Or at least I do.

That's why I'm so psyched about the wide availability of free e-books on the internet today. As a student, e-books go a long way toward saving my budget--and my back, since I don't have to lug three or four tomes around with me every time I go to the library to study. You can find everything from Shakespeare and Austen to biology textbooks, all offered--legally! --free of charge.

One of the oldest, most extensive collections of free e-books online is Project Gutenberg, a site that offers over 25,000 books in more than 50 languages. These books are all in the public domain, which means either that they aren't copyrighted or that their copyrights have expired. That means that if you want to read the latest bestseller, you'll have to look elsewhere (and spend a little cash). But many of the most popular English class standards are readily available, to be viewed online or downloaded and printed out.

The truth is that reading used to be a luxury only the very rich could afford. One day, however, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical printing press. Suddenly great literature was more widely available than it had ever been before, and the book as we know it today was born.

Now, if you ask me, there's something deeply satisfying about returning again and again to the old, worn copies of my favorite books, seeing the notes I made years ago and letting the heft and weight of the pages bring me back to the last time I read them. But I am also a firm believer in making books available to as many people as possible, and e-book sites like Project Gutenberg are definitely accomplishing that goal. I'm sure that Mr. Gutenberg himself would very much approve.

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