23 October 2007

Gutenberg Goodies

Something recently reminded me of Project Gutenberg.

This ambitious (and successful) undertaking set out some years ago to scan and electronically publish every out-of-copyright piece of literature they could get their hands on. From what I understand, they scan old books, magazines, and newspapers, and then use OCR software to put the text into ASCII format. Leagues of volunteer proofreaders check on the OCR and make corrections as necessary before releasing the electronic texts. I did this for a while: volunteered as a proofreader, but fell off the habit. This causes me a twinge of guilt; I may have to go beg for my old job back.

Not too long ago I wanted to see if any of Faulkner's writing had risen into the public domain. Apparently none has, although I did find this version of The Sound and the Fury online. But my quest for Faulkner led me to visit Project Gutenberg, and I couldn't help browsing here and there.

The first goodie I encountered was Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie's classic children's book. I looked at the listing and clicked on a link to read it, and then realized that (typical of me) I hadn't been paying close attention. This was an audio book. Available in several formats, one can download this freely (it's all public domain, and Gutenberg offers their transcriptions for free) and enjoy the excellent reading of this book (and many others) by volunteers who have done a terrific job. I didn't listen to the whole thing, I must admit, but what I heard was great. I hope that those of you who voraciously consume My Reading Life will do some research for me and let me know what you find. Both of you.

Next, I wanted to take a look at Dubliners, by James Joyce, once again. Not too long ago I looked up a copy of "The Dead" (the last story in the collection) for a friend, so I was fairly certain that the book must be in the public domain. It is, and this past weekend I found myself reading the whole thing again, for what must be at least the third time. It seems so obvious to say that Joyce was one hell of a great writer, but he was. His prose is poetry:

In the evening my aunt took me with her to visit the house of mourning. It was after sunset; but the window-panes of the houses that looked to the west reflected the tawny gold of a great bank of clouds.
From "The Sisters," by James Joyce.The stories in Dubliners are:
  1. The Sisters
  2. An Encounter
  3. Araby
  4. Eveline
  5. After The Race
  6. Two Gallants
  7. The Boarding House
  8. A Little Cloud
  9. Counterparts
  10. Clay
  11. A Painful Case
  12. Ivy Day in the Committee Room
  13. A Mother
  14. Grace
  15. The Dead
Having finished Dubliners for now, I've immersed myself in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. From that novel comes this beautiful bit:

Without waiting for his father's questions he ran across the road and began to walk at breakneck speed down the hill. He hardly knew where he was walking. Pride and hope and desire like crushed herbs in his heart sent up vapours of maddening incense before the eyes of his mind. He strode down the hill amid the tumult of sudden-risen vapours of wounded pride and fallen hope and baffled desire. They streamed upwards before his anguished eyes in dense and maddening fumes and passed away above him till at last the air was clear and cold again.
The Joyce catalog at Gutenberg also includes Ulysses and Chamber Music. Chamber Music is poetry; I think it could be accurately described as a long poem in 36 parts. I can't say anything about it, I'm very poor at reading or evaluating poetry, I fear I'm a little too stupid for it. Ulysses is one of my great loves, and when I've finished savoring Portrait, I'll probably dive back into Ulysses (1.49MB of ASCII text!).
Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins,chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow's exercises. On the hands down. Blotchy brown brick houses. Number eighty still unlet. Why is that? Valuation is only twenty-eight. Towers, Battersby, North, MacArthur: parlour windows plastered with bills. Plasters on a sore eye. To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes.

Apparently they haven't gotten around to Finnegan's Wake.

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