# Ebooks! Reading, libre books, creating books
Greetings after a long absence. Which, of course, is what I seem
to start each phlog/gemlog with these last few years. In those
few years I had a child and my leisure activities shifted. When
she was an infant I ended up doing a lot of reading. That has
continued to the present day, though I don't get quite as much
reading time as I did when she was an infant. I have historically
loved hard copy books. I also historically hate amazon/Bezos and
do not want to support them. There are no used book stores in my
area anymore and I do not wish to ship books around the country
as I do not believe shipping is good for the planet. That leaves
me with the obvious choice: ebooks.
## Ereader devices
I was given an old 2nd gen kindle by a friend around the time my
daughter was born. I turned off wifi, cranked up soulseek after
many years, and started reading. The mobi format is functional,
but not the best ever or anything.
My wife didnt want a kindle (issues with Amazon) and so ordered
a used Kobo Aura H20. We both liked the kobo interface and device
better. I eventually got a Kobo Clara to replace my kindle. The
kobo supports epubs, a much freer format in many ways. Mobi is
technically free, but used almost entirely by old amazon devices.
Kobo also supports the kepub format which is an extended epub
format that allows for extra nice things.
If you are given the choice between kobo and kindle I highly
recommend kobo. The only downside about the kobo devices is that
you have to register the device with kobo to even use the device.
I am sure there is a way around this... but I didnt end up looking
it up. I used a throwaway email address, registered, and then
shut off wifi. Now I have a functional device in a static state
from an OS perspective. I sideload everything, which is quite
simple: the device mounts just like a usb drive and you drag your
files onto it.
## Libre Books
Like I said above, I use soulseek a good bit for books. You can
find lots of formats, including epub and kepub. I used to use
`nicotine`, which was a nice client I very much liked. However,
after upgrading to Ubuntu 20.04 something in the chain donked
up the support and it was also no longer in the repos. So I
looked around and found out that the soulseek website has a
qt based client as a .deb. So install was easy and it was up and
These days, though, I have refocused on public domain books.
There are SO MANY good books available in the public domain. My
favorite sources for public domain books are:
### Standard Ebooks (https://standardebooks.org)
They offer high quality editions that are edited by volunteers.
They have over 700 books available, and a very nice website to
search for what you want. Their books are available in a variety
of formats. Their cover art is public domain painting, usually
All of their book builds are managed in git repos and are also
public domain licensed via a creative commons CC0 license.
Standard Ebooks focuses on fiction. They have some philosophy or
biography and even a few histories, but they definitely focus on
novels and collections of short fiction.
### Global Grey (https://www.globalgreyebooks.com/)
Global Grey are also pretty nice editions. They are all edited by
one person. It is a sizeable collection. They generally support
three basic formats: standard epub, mobi, and pdf. As a result
they do not always have some of the newer epub3, kepub, etc.
features, but they are still of good quality.
They do not focus as much on fiction and have a lot of other
types of work on their website. I do not know as much about
their licensing (the books are public domain still) or the
availability of epub source code.
### Project Gutenberg (https://gutenberg.org)
Project Gutenberg does amazing and needed work, but it is mostly
of a different sort than the other two I mentioned. They have a
focus on transcription, usually OCR based. As a result, their
collection is enormous and is the source for much of the Standard
Ebooks catalog (I cannot speak for Global Grey). This focus on
transcription, rather than editing, often results in manuscripts
with errors. As a result, I consider them a great source for
material to get edited, rather than great material to read. That
said, I have read and enjoyed many works directly through their
site. They offer plain text and html versions. I believe they
also offer epub, but I believe it to be autogenerated and not
particularly nicely formatted. They are a vital part of the
online book preservation movement and you should definitely look
into working with them if you think you'd like to help transcribe
and run OCR.
## Creating Books
I am currently editing my first book for Standard Ebooks (mentioned
above). I chose 'The Land of Little Rain' by Mary Austin. I have
spent a good bit of time in the Eastern Sierra's (in California, US).
She lived there and the work is nature writing (non-fiction) mixed
with short stories all set and detailing the area. I had been
familiar with the book and author but had not gotten around to
reading it. When I noticed that Standard Ebooks didn't have it but
that Gutenberg did, I decided to reach out and get involved editing
Standard Ebooks uses google groups and github for managing their
editing. I e-mailed the head editor to ask if I could participate
without using either (I will not even resolve google owned domains
on my system and prefer to avoid microsoft). The editor was very
accomodating and set me up with a project manager and a supervising
editor. I am hosting the repo at my normal host and they will fork
it over to github at the end, which I am ok with. I just use email
to talk to the project manager/editor, rather than the google group,
which works out great for me.
They have a Python3 application/toolset, that is also open source.
It handles setting up an empty project, pulling in source and filling
in metadata based on a project gutenberg id (optional), fixes common
OCR errors, helps you do other formatting, has interactive modes for
fixing some archaic word uses, etc.
They have a thorough styleguide for how to write your xhtml and a
beginners guide that helps walk you through your first build. If you
are comfortable in a terminal (I use their program and vim for all
of my editing) you should have no problems contributing if you want
to; and I definitely encourage you to do so! It has been really fun
and feels like it contributes to the world better than another random
personal software project; at least for me it does.
I am currently in the proofreading phase (my book builds and I am
testing it on my Kobo and looking for errors). Then it will be
reviewed by the supervising editor. I am really enjoying reading
through the book as I proofread!
In between all of this I have been transcribing OIL! by Upton Sinclair.
archive.org is a good source of page scans. Gutenberg does not yet
have this novel and I have been interested in reading it for awhile.
I downloaded the page scans as a pdf, then split them into multiple
pdf's with 25 pages each. Then used OCRFeeder (a gtk app) that uses,
on my system, the Tesseract OCR engine as a backend. I do an OCR scan
and then compare gross structure to page scans and look for garbled
text. There have been a lot of issues that I have been fixing. Once
I am done I plan to use the Standard Ebooks tooling to make a good
quality book out of it. I am not sure if they will want it, and if
not I will just self host it (though I will offer the transcription
to gutenberg and the eventual ebook to SE).
If you think you might like volunteering to do either of these types
of work I definitely recommend it. I have been having a lot of fun.
At the end of it, I get a great book to read and share with others.