Yesterday, in conjunction with New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park, Google launched its Shakespeare site, where you can view Shakespeare’s complete works online. Reading Shakespeare while sitting in front of a computer on a summer’s day may not be everyone’s idea of “beach reading” — but it’s good to see these works so accessible. While I think it’s probably more fun to browse through a hard copy of a book, one big plus about this site is that if you’re looking for a famous quote or passage in a certain play, a search will bring it to you within seconds.
Another site, www.gutenberg.org, also offers free books — again, these books are free because their copyrights have expired in the United States. (The site does post some books, with permission, that are still under copyright and gives instructions for their legal use.) But you can download the works of such authors as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Virgil. The only problem with this is that you’ll have to print them out to take them to the beach, or wait until after beach season to buy a Sony Reader that you can carry around with you.
Curling up with Virgil’s Aeneid on a Sony Reader may not appeal to everyone. For those who prefer something a little lighter, or prefer their pages in the paper version, we’ve still got bookstores and libraries. But it is fun to see books appearing in newer formats — and especially to see books in the public domain becoming ever more accessible. Of course, publishers will still be able to sell their own copies of the classics (for most of us there’s still no replacement for a physical book) and performances of Shakespeare will always be an experience that goes beyond the page. Yet it’s good to see options out there — the Sony Reader, for example, offers a larger type size than most books (especially reprints of the classics) — and there’s no downside to (legally) making it easier for people to search for and find the books they want.