Friday, 14 March 2014

Browsing for Forgotten Books

Most of you will be pretty familiar with Project Gutenberg, a website that gives you access to thousands of books for which the copyright has run out. Personally, I have found Project Gutenberg occasionally hard to navigate or to find books I really want to read and the layout of the website isn't really helping either. Which is why I was ecstatic to find Forgotten Books, a website with a similar aim yet updated and with some amazing features. I have to add, before I take you on a tour of the website, that I was given full access to the website through a membership so I could give you a look at all its features.

To begin with, I just love the name of the website. If you come to my blog frequently you probably know that I'm a sucker for classics and slightly obscure books and the idea that some of these books are forgotten over time and simply never read again physically pains me. The fact that websites such as Forgotten Books try to bring these books back into circulation makes me incredibly happy. Now, onto the actual website!

I love the look of the homepage. It looks both elegant and clear, which is a major help because it can be quite difficult to know how to look for books sometimes, especially when you're going for classics and you're not quite sure what category or genre they might fall under. The categories on the left side range from something as general as 'Poetry Books' to the rather specific 'Administrative Records'. What I really appreciate about this website is its academic potential, but I will get back to that. When selecting a book from, for example the ones shown above, you come to the following page:

Ingeniously, Forgotten Books allows you to access your books from a whole range of different mediums. You can download it onto your computer as PDF, send it to your Kindle or read it on the website. They're currently in the process of designing an app for your mobile, which will only increase your access to the books. I also love that they've included links to Amazon because although it is incredibly useful to be able to access your books from your tablets etc., sometimes you just want a physical copy to hold and love. When you scroll down you come to the following features:

Besides letting you add your own review, Forgotten Books provides a summary (useful, yet standard) and some details regarding the date of the book etc. It also lets you download a sample of the book, which, when you're not quite sure whether this is what you want to read, is very useful. What is quite special, at least in my eyes, is that it provides a citation for you. If, like me, you are studying then this website and its books can be incredibly useful. Just like Google Books it gives you access but where the previous fails, Forgotten Books gives you a clear and precise way of referencing what you have used rather than letting you guess. Now, onto the actual reading experience. As shown above, you can choose to read the book online on the Forgotten Books website. All of this so far can be done without signing up for a membership!

What I like about the way the book is presented is that it looks as if you're reading an actual book. Whereas the versions you get on Project Gutenberg can sometimes look a bit mangled, most of the versions on Forgotten Books are clear, digitized pages from actual books that are easily readable. I personally really like this because I love seeing original fonts and ways of printing. The Online Reader allows you to flick through the pages easily and bookmark the specific page you're on. My favourite part of this feature, however, is the ability to get quotes from the book.

When pressing the quote mark button, a window opens up with a copy-able version of the text. Once again, it also provides different ways of referencing the book at the bottom. I find this is incredibly useful. Although you may not need it when you're simply looking for fiction books to enjoy reading, but when you do find yourself wanting to quote a book, Forgotten Books makes the process a lot easier. I find reading on the Online Reader quite enjoyable, but if it's not your thing, you can always download the book.

As states above, for some things you need a membership. Some books can be downloaded for free and there is a Free Book of the Day as well, a feature to which you can subscribe and each day you'll receive an email telling you which book is free. Another free feature is the Image search. Are you looking for books containing certain images, say Universes?

Apparently the man with the impressive moustache, third picture from the left and the right, is Theodore Phillips who wrote Hutchingson's Splendour of the Heavens; a popular authoritative astronomy, a book you won't stumble over as easily on the internet but you will easily find on Forgotten Books.

Another amazing feature is the ability to look up Word Data. Forgotten Books has created its own algorithm which allows you to access data from all its English language books written between 1500 and 1945. This allows you to look at the frequency of certain words in relation to others words, books or over time.

I personally love this feature because it is so closely related to some research I did for a project of mine on Author Identification. Some of the data they show as an example is related to Shakespeare and Francis Bacon.One of my favourite graphs shows that around 1600 both authors were mentioned roughly equally, with Shakespeare slightly outshining Bacon. Surprisingly, Shakespeare seems to practically disappear after the the mid 1600's whereas Bacon goes through a kind of comeback.

What counts for all features is that a membership will allow you access to more books, more data and more results. Here are the costs for the different memberships:

  • $2.99 per month for 10 books a month
  • $4.99 per month for 100 books a month
  • $19.99 per year for 10 books a month
  • $35.99 per year for 100 books a month
Considering many of the books on Forgotten Books are free, I feel that these prices are relatively fair. What also helps is that the money earned goes back into improving the site, which is one of the reasons it is so much more accessible and has so much more to over than websites such as Project Gutenberg. Personally, this website will be a major help during University and I feel it is a major asset to anyone who wants to root around a bit and see what kind of books have been forgotten over time. 

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome resource Juli! Makes me want to get an e-reader all the more!