Read whatever book you want, free and legally, right now!
Books are expensive, but reading can be cheap.
Free books are readily available. By taking advantage of public domain collections, free trial offers, and library catalogues, you can almost definitely get a hold of the next book you want to read without spending a cent on it.
1. Free Old Books from Project Gutenberg:
Maybe you want to read a classic by someone like Voltaire, H.G. Wells, or Joseph Conrad. For books now in the public domain (because of their age, or because of authors ceding the rights), the chances are very, very good that you will be able to find a free download of that book at Project Gutenberg.
There are many such resources of free books in the public domain on the internet, but Project Gutenberg is the most transparent, broadest, and most successful of these resources.
The biggest exception to this availability of older works is translations. Older books in different languages are only in the public domain in their original language. The only reason that this exception would not be true would be if the translation you want to read is also old enough to be in the public domain.
For works in translation, I would highly recommend not reading a translation that is more than a century old. Translations age much faster than the works they are translating.
The other minor exception is that Project Gutenberg is designed for U.S. readers, which means that there is a possibility, however slight, that national copyright laws will cause the availability of free books to differ for users in other countries.
2. Free New Books from Amazon:
Perhaps you are not interested in older books, or the specific book you want to read right now just happens to be written by a great modern author like Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, or Patrick McCabe. Well, even then there are legal ways of instantly accessing the book you want to read for free.
If you know which book you want to read, you can start a free trial of Amazon Prime and find it in the Amazon lending library (which has no due dates!). Because these free books are professional and commercial products, they will even have all of the extra introduction, index, notes, and appendix material that might be missing from public domain downloads.
This resource will also work for new translations. For instance, when it comes to great writers of nineteenth century Russian literature—such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov—I wholeheartedly recommend the translations of Pevear and Volokhonsky as fluid, literary renderings of their works. While the Russian text of those authors’ works are in the public domain, such wonderful translations are not.
The added bonus of this free trial is that people who prefer physical books can buy them through Prime and get them quick (due to Prime’s free two-day shipping).
3. Free Audio Books from Audible (and Elsewhere):
A lot of people like having books performed for them, or just read to them, but audio books are also good for commuting and working out. I have a couple of recommendations for where to get started with audio books.
First, do take advantage of Audible’s ‘first two audio books are totally free’ offer. This free trial grants you two professional audio books, free of charge, which you can keep even if you cancel the trial.
Second, if you can’t find what you want there, or those two free books make you hungry for more, you can still check for public domain recordings, which are another part of the collection at Project Gutenberg. That’s right, If you think the audio work in question might be in the public domain or otherwise freely available, Project Gutenberg is likely to have it.
Third, although this is straying a little far from finding free books (which is why I’m mentioning it here, but not counting it as a 5th resource), if you’ve gone through the above options and are in search of more stuff to listen to and feed you brain, you should try to find a podcast or two that piques your interest. Many prominent radio hosts, public figures, and online writers operate podcasts. If you don’t know where to start, I would personally vouch for This American Life as a top-notch program, but there are articles on the web which can help you find a podcast that’s right for you.
4. More Free Books from Libraries:
If all else fails, there is one resource for free books that you should never lose sight of: libraries!
Most people are at least vaguely aware that there are libraries near them, but most people are not aware that there is a free library omnisearch available online at WorldCat.
Using the WorldCat site, you can find out which libraries near you have particular free books. And not just fiction, either; you can search for everything from novels to textbooks to magazines to journals to nonfiction books to newspapers to scholarly articles, and still more besides!
Another good feature on that site is that it’s also got a search function for finding the library buildings nearest to your location. So if you’re not even sure what you want yet, you can actually go to the library and browse for free books to read, the old-fashioned way.
There should be as little as possible standing between you and your next book. I hope this helps!