To me, the idea of running out of books is only slightly less frightening than running out of food or air. My greatest packing challenge used to be figuring out how many books I could jam into my luggage for long trips. If I used up my supply, I’d find myself scrounging desperately in hotel lobbies and second-hand bookstores for something – anything! – in English. Encountering a fellow traveler, I would ask, “So ... reading anything interesting?” A not-so-subtle hint that I’d love their leftovers.
Like most people, I had no interest in e-readers when they first appeared. I wanted to hold a book, carry it around in my arms like a lapdog, mark my place with a train ticket or sprig of rosemary that would spark fond memories. Then my husband bought me a Kindle and five minutes into the first book, I was hooked. I realized that I’d been like the people in 1450 who said, “You call that a book? Why, if it’s not hand-lettered by monks on parchment and bound in calfskin...” Come to think of it, their ancestors probably said, “Ink on parchment? Why, if it’s not painted by the shaman on the cave wall...” I realized that it’s the content not the format that matters.
For a voracious reader like me, buying e-books can get costly. Lately I’ve been checking out how to download good reading material for free, from anywhere in the world.
Public libraries now let you borrow e-books over the Internet. All you need is a library card to access thousands of e-books – plus movies, audio books, and other digital material. Of the various delivery options, I like going through Amazon, so I can easily send a copy over to our other Kindle if it’s something Rich would like, too. There is a due date, usually two weeks, after which your borrowed books disappear.
Amazon offers more than 71,000 free Kindle books in the US and 58,000 in the UK. Yes, many are amateur efforts you’ll want to delete after the first paragraph, if not sooner, but you’ll also find New York Times bestsellers, Lonely Planet guides, classics, and fresh new voices worth knowing. Want still more? Amazon's Kindle Unlimited charges a monthly fee for unrestricted access to 700,000 e-books. It costs about as much as one full-price e-book: $9.99 in the US, £7.99 in the UK. And not all Amazon titles are included; you’ll still pay top price for recent bestsellers. Other e-book retailers also list massive numbers of freebies. Nook fans, for instance, will be glad to know that Barnes & Noble offers a whopping 1,871,000 free titles.
Free books are available on many non-retail websites, too, such as the Internet’s largest book club, Goodreads. But again, the hottest bestsellers, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: the Prequel, are only samples to whet your appetite, in hopes you’ll buy the whole book at full price from the company that now owns Goodreads; yep, that would be Amazon.
All sorts of websites give away free e-books, usually so they can add your email address to their mailing list. Much as I try to avoid increasing my email volume, I do occasionally sign up for free e-books on subjects that interest me (knowing I can easily unsubscribe later). For instance, I’ve downloaded several books from Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer, where I often turn for savvy advice about book production and marketing. Indy authors, take note: his current giveaway is 10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing.
A few years ago, I took Joel’s advice and developed a giveaway for my own website, which many of you have downloaded: 101 Ways to Enjoy Living Abroad: Essential Tips for Easing the Transition to Expat Life. It will be free on this site for one more week only; after January 16 you’ll have to purchase it on Amazon. If you think there's any chance you might want to move abroad some day, this is one free book you'll definitely want for your e-library!
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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