Reading the classics online

Reading the classics onlineMany of the classics are available onlineSome rights reserved

As I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, (the much talked about sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird) I wondered about the place of classic literature in today’s education and where one goes to find a reasonable selection of these time-honoured texts.

In New Zealand, modern classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird are very much a part of the NCEA curriculum. Students can either purchase a hard copy or download a copy. The internet has opened up a huge opportunity to explore and sample a plethora of the old and the modern classics for free.

This Makeuseofarticle outlines and links to the vast collection of The Harvard Classics compiled by Charles E. Eliot in the early 20th Century. It includes helpful instructions on reading them on your portable reading device on Kindle, downloading in Plain Text or into Google Drive etc. Some of the links have audio options. One of the limitations of this collection is that you cannot find any classics from the past 100  years, so expect the older and revered if you are on that quest.

Included in this collection are Poems by John Milton, Nine Greek Dramas, Aesop’s Fables and Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales.

Classic Reader is an online library with a wonderful assortment of fiction, young readers, poetry, short stories, drama, classical literature and even non-fiction titles. Even though this website went live in 2000, the home page has references to indicate that additions have been made up to January 2015. All collections are complete unabridged versions. Even though the books are not illustrated, you can still find titles like Pollyanna, Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio.

Also impressive is The Literature Network, which has a collection of 3500 books and some 4400+ short stories. The authors are listed alphabetically on the home page. While searching for the works of James M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, I was delighted to find links to fiction, non-fiction, plays, short stories and essays by the author, and even a brief supporting biography of JM Barrie. Access to the online collection is free, however if you wish to avoid the ads you would need to subscribe.

My favourite site is Classic Books on Read.Gov from the Library of Congress website, offering resources on classic tales and narratives for kids, teens, adults, educators and parents. This site is a treasure with the digitised edition of each book, complete with illustrations from the Rare Book/Special Collections Reading Room. You can read a PDF or a HTML version of a book or click through the pages of a selected classic. Reading aloud from the pages of Cinderella, published in New York by G Routledge and Sons somewhere between 1865 and 1889, I was reminded of how formal English used to be - making these books good examples of how the English language has evolved.

The other option would be to read classics put together by Morris Rosenthal of Foner books from the Amazon Kindle store. These are again available for free.

Reading the classics allows us to understand literary works in terms of time, characters, themes and linguistics in comparison to contemporary texts. Where would current day literature be without these architects of prose?

Image: Old Book, Old Chair by Gail Nicholson on Flickr

By Janice Rodrigues

Janice is a Librarian (Online Services) with Services to Schools.

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