A couple of weeks ago I received an email telling me about Forgotten Books, an online library which has literally got over 480,000 ebooks in it's virtual stacks (I'm not kidding). My initial reaction was something along the lines of 'holy shizzle there is a book website thingy that I don't know about and should therefore explore immediately'. So off I trotted to have a cursory examination of the site and delve into the wonders of a virtual library. Safe to say, I got lost in there for a while.
Can you imagine what a 480,000 books looks like? I really can't, but I'm thinking it would not be a suitable library for a London flat. Enter Forgotten Books. As the title suggests, many of the books on here are completely obscure and generally unknown. I came across some pretty interesting sounding books, such as these under the self-help category: 'How To Be Happy Though Married', 'Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion', and 'Self-Help With Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance'. I mean, come on, those sound awesome. It isn't all archaic entertainment, however. Other categories include fiction, poetry, drama and philosophy. A huge number of the books on my Classics Club list are on the site and I've been able to have a sneaky read of a couple of pages to help me decide which classic to go for next (I'm tempted to go with The Scarlet Letter, if you're interested).
Perhaps the most interesting/useful/entertaining element of the website is the search function. This would be a brilliant resource for study and one I wish I knew about when writing my dissertation. The search function allows you to look for keywords in books, titles, authors, pages, and images. There is also a fascinating word data feature which uses graphs to show the usage of every word in the English language throughout publishing history. I had hours of fun with this. Predictable as ever, I searched for 'suffragette' within books and discovered that the word is most commonly used in fiction whereas 'suffrage' is used most commonly in non-fiction. As a lover of visuals, I enjoyed getting a little nerdy over the accompanying graphs which plot how frequently the word appears. Unsurprisingly, 'suffragette' was used with increasing frequency from 1900.
I also did a cheeky image search for Wilkie Collins. Just look at him - what a babe. And yes, there are a number of Wilkie's on there which I am more than tempted to read (I Say No caught my eye).
Forgotten Books is a membership based website. A vast amount of the books can be read online for free (with a page or two omitted, as on Google Books). With a membership there is a 'Book of the Day' feature sent by email and you can have access to the entire downloadable library. The books are fully formatted to be downloaded as kindle ebooks or as pdf documents. Very handy. It's definitely worth checking it out, if only to have a play with the search features and have a giggle at some ancient self-help titles...
Does the idea of a virtual library appeal to you?