Short, free books for a book club
June 21, 2011 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Public domain book club books?

A couple people in my book club have e-readers and I would like to compile a list of books that we could read that are available for free - i.e. public domain.

We read Frankensteain a couple of months ago and it was perfect. Nook and Kindle readers were happy and everyone else got library copies super easy.

Can you recommend any other books for us that are public domain or easy to find for free/no cost online?

* Fiction or non-fiction

* all genres

* MUST BE SHORT. If it's longer than 250 pages it will get voted out.

* accessible is a plus but if it's a little bit of work that's OK as long as there are commentaries and explanatory tracts available.

I checked other threads but nothing seemed to have this particular combination of needs, so here I go. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by bq to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you're familiar with Project Gutenberg?
posted by Gator at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I am familiar with and very fond of Project Gutenberg. I am looking for specific recommendations of public domain books that would be good for a book club to discuss.
posted by bq at 3:44 PM on June 21, 2011

Daisy Miller, by Henry James (unless it's too's more of a novella). Washington Square, also by James, is just about the right length.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2011

The must be short criteria rules out quite a lot of books, especially of those in the public domain.

Seven Men, and Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm are both good and available at Gutenberg. So is Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, although I'm not sure how much there is to discuss. For that matter, there are quite a few P.G. Wodehouse books in the public domain.

Also, all of Thoreau is in the public domain and available easily. Much of it fits your length requirement.
posted by OmieWise at 4:02 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many of my suggestions (Dostoevsky, Dumas) would violate your length requirement. How about the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe? Or of O. Henry?

The Metamorphosis by Kafka.

The Mantle and Other Short Stories by Gogol (especially "The Nose")

Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, which Project Gutenberg has under the title Fathers and Children
posted by Jahaza at 4:03 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: Oooh... if y'all liked Frankenstein you might like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
posted by Jahaza at 4:05 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heart of Darkness by Conrad

Picture of Dorian Gray by Wilde

It's sort of a crap shoot--I feel like every device paginates differently, and so I have no idea how long a book is anymore.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:07 PM on June 21, 2011

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky would meet the length requirement.
posted by perhapses at 4:24 PM on June 21, 2011

Little Fuzzy, which I read because Metafilter's own John Scalzi wrote a reboot of it. The original is terrific, and (according to MS Word) 148 pages.
posted by xingcat at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2011

Candide by Voltaire. Fun times, for sure.
posted by perhapses at 4:30 PM on June 21, 2011

I don't have any suggestions at the moment, but will point out that you might want to do quality check on the text, as some OCR efforts are hasty jobs, especially when sourced from copies scanned by Google (note the odd appearance of "Google" in the OCR text =))

Also note that there are some free editions formatted for the Kindle on Amazon, alongside copies you can buy.

Tom Swift is fun, but I wouldn't suggest it for a book club (except for a fun, dated read).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on June 21, 2011

'Underground - Hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier' by Suelette Dreyfus & Julian Assange. The current shenanigans should give rise to much discussion.
posted by unliteral at 4:48 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: Nathanael West's works just entered the public domain recently. Miss Lonelyhearts is highly recommended.

I also recommend G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:59 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot about the West books. You cannot go wrong. And The Man Who Was Thursday is a brilliant book group suggestion.
posted by OmieWise at 6:23 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: What about Jules Verne or H.G. Wells? Both are playfully quirky and utterly accessible, especially the Verne.
posted by vecchio at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not 100% sure of the length and too lazy to go get any one of my copies, but Wilde's Dorian Gray is both short and public domain. It's also got a lot of discussion worthy elements to it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:11 PM on June 21, 2011

Any of LM Montgomery's books would be nice. The Anne books are mostly available, but Project Gutenberg offers several others, and they're all pretty short.
posted by Madamina at 10:57 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: The Metamorphosis by Kafka is short and poses the question of what one should do upon waking up to discover they've turned into a creature that repulses everyone they love.
posted by slidell at 11:27 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

All of these titles are on Project Gutenberg (I had them all linked and then my browser crashed, so I'm not relinking), and they're all great reads:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne (in a longer book of short stories)
Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (novel-length, but the chapters are individual, linked short stories; you could read as many or as few as you like, as each stands alone)
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Turn of the Screw by Henry James

All of these are heavily taught in high schools and colleges in the US and it should be easy to find readers' guides and such.

Have fun!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:33 PM on June 21, 2011

Oh, and one more:

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
posted by bluedaisy at 11:37 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford
The Three Impostors, by Arthur Machen
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg
Castle Rackrent, by Maria Edgeworth
Your pick of Virginia Woolf
posted by Iridic at 8:47 AM on June 22, 2011

Best answer: Seconding: Winesburg, Ohio was one of my favorite books that high school forced me to read.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2011

I think the Hogg may be longer than the limit, but MAN ALIVE I loved that book. Totally crazy.

Maybe also too long is the ever so scandalous Lady Audley's Secret.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:27 PM on June 22, 2011

A few more. Commentaries for some of the continental titles will be a little sparse, but a swing by a modest college library should set you right.

Bel Ami, by Guy de Maupassant
Botchan, by Soseki Natsume
The Country of Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett
Doña Perfecta, by Benito Pérez Galdós
Footsteps of Fate, by Louis Couperus
A Happy Boy, by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
The History of the Caliph Vathek, by William Beckford
Hunger, by Knut Hamsun
Jeremy, by Hugh Walpole
Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock
Pepita Jimenez, by Juan Valera
The Return, by Walter de la Mare
Thaïs, by Anatole France
Undine, by de La Motte-Fouqué
The Vampyre, by John Polidori
posted by Iridic at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These are great suggestions. I will report back.
posted by bq at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2011

Best answer: As someone who is getting an e-book reader this December, I thought to ask "are there any public domain book reading clubs"? A quick google brought me back here to metafilter, albeit a few months late. So here are a few belated contributions to the thread.

All of these generally widely available, well known classics, and are the size of Frankenstein or shorter.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Hope your book club is going well!
posted by fings at 5:31 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: These have been tremendously helpful. We read Jekyll and Hyde a couple of months ago and just selected 'The Man From Thursday' for our next book. Thanks again.
posted by bq at 2:02 PM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: So, we read 'The Man From Thursday' for March, and it was.... odd! Very interesting, though. I don't know if anyone will still be reading this but I would welcome any more suggestions. Especially similar books - free, short-ish - by the authors mentioned above as I've personally read most of them already, but I would love to explore some lesser known options.
posted by bq at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2012

Best answer: A few more:
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells.

Lone Star Planet by John Joseph McGuire and H. Beam Piper.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. 19th century children's fantasy literature. (wikipedia description).

Augustus Carp, Esq: by Himself, Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man. [epub] Satire autobiography. (online html version)
posted by fings at 5:49 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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