Best Kindle literary fiction under $2?
August 6, 2015 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to stock up my Kindle relatively inexpensively (and am also a little overwhelmed by the phenomenal quantity of cheap public domain books available). What are the best works of literary fiction under $2 available for the Kindle? Preferences/requirements inside.

The fact that I could do this occurred to me when I downloaded several Edith Wharton books really cheaply and they were great! I'm looking for more stuff that's great! Two dollars is not a hard cap, it's just a way to help me filter the massive number of books out there -- if there's something perfect for four dollars, let me know!

  • I'm especially, but not exclusively, interested in "classic" works but nothing before, say, Jane Austen
  • Fiction only
  • Novels only -- no short stories, no matter how good they are (ideal length is probably like 250 - 400 pages)
  • I don't need SUPER literary fiction but I'd like the books to be well-written
Other than that I'm pretty open -- if it helps, my favorite book is Brideshead Revisited, my favorite author is probably Agatha Christie, and I also like Elizabeth Peters, I'm currently re-reading (and enjoying) The Great Gatsby, totally open to children's literature suggestions, and I've read everything by P.G. Wodehouse but I only enjoyed some of it because I just can't stand a bunch of his characters.

Thanks so much for any suggestions you have!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
FYI: Almost all of the pre-1922 literature that Amazon sellers charge $1 or $2 for is available for free from Project Gutenberg. Download the Kindle-formatted file and send it to yourself, and it'll automatically download to your device just as if you had purchased it. Here's their collection of detective fiction, for example.
posted by theodolite at 8:01 AM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

I am pleased with the suggestions I get from BookBub. They send you an email every day with cheap or free books in your preferred genres.
posted by soelo at 8:07 AM on August 6, 2015

Amazon has kindle daily deals, a changing list of books available for $2-3 (you may be aware of this already). I don't check every day, but I do pretty often and buy something about once a month.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster is available for $0.00, it's technically YA but it does fit your criteria of being classic, fiction, and a novel. I just read it recently and really enjoyed the story.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:25 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am a fan of ManyBooks. It's a catalog of free ebooks, mostly pre-1922 stuff out of copyright. But unlike other collections like Gutenberg, this one is carefully curated to include only nicely formatted error free versions. If you want, say, free Edith Wharton books they have a collection of high quality.

Looking at it today I see they've unfortunately started featuring newly written books given away for free as promotions because frankly, most of those authors are not able to sell their books for money. So that's not so good if you're just browsing for high quality. But for classics it's the first place I look.
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am a fan of Freebooksy. You can pick out which genres they email to you, and how often.
posted by LilithSilver at 8:38 AM on August 6, 2015

32 places to get free kindle books.

posted by kschang at 8:44 AM on August 6, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions -- I'm looking less for places to get the books (I'm really fine with spending a few dollars on Amazon) and more for suggestions of specific titles that are worth reading. I will check out the filtering services and would be super grateful for more individual books.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:57 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a list of Kindle Freebies Worth the Read and also Great Kindle Reads Under $5. They are small lists of books I genuinely enjoyed.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:01 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service (sometimes the subtitle is "A Record of Espionage"), by Erskine Childers, is available in a few versions, some illustrated, for about a buck on Kindle. Apparently this is my 5th time recommending this book on AskMeFi, so I'm just going to link to one of my previous.

Bookmark the maps-- you'll want to refer to them later, as the story relies substantially on the geography of the Frisian coast. Since the book is in public domain, you can print the maps from the internet.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:06 AM on August 6, 2015

The Millions (run by Powells) posts a recommended eBook deal daily to their facebook feed.
posted by veery at 9:49 AM on August 6, 2015

I like a lot of the same stuff you do, and one of my favorite authors is Georgette Heyer. Unfortunately most of her stuff is still in copyright and thus more expensive than your limits, but her very first book, The Black Moth, is out of copyright and thus available for free.
I also enjoyed the following, at least in parts. I would note that you should download the sample before buying anything since I seem to remember there being a formatting issue at least for one of these books:
The E. Nesbit Megapack( 99 cents).
Jane Austen Collection ($1.99)
What Katy Did (free)
Louisa May Alcott collection ($1.99)
Anne of Green Gables collection (99 cents)
Most Dorothy Sayers are available for very little.
Most of these are out of copyright, so you could probably get them for free, but the convenience of the "collections" is hard to beat.
posted by peacheater at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind fantasy (I'm not sure), check out Moira Katson's Light & Shadow series. I got the first volume for free and the others for super cheap, and was really positively surprised by the gripping tale.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:09 AM on August 6, 2015

Of the books on this list of top 250 public domain classics on kindle (there are not 250) that I have read, I would highlight the following as reasonably accessible for a contemporary reader:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
basically any of the Dickens
possibly any of the Austen (I'm not not that into Austen)
probably the Fitzgerald, though of the ones on this list I have only read Beautiful & the Damned and I can't remember it at all
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
posted by vunder at 10:53 AM on August 6, 2015

Regarding the classics, you can find many in the Kindle store on Amazon for free (yay for copyright expiration) or for pennies (maybe with better formatting?). Go to the Kindle Book area, select "Literature & Fiction" in the left column. Once you are there, select the subcategory "Classics," and sort by price - low to high. See if this link works. You will find an almost endless supply of classics for free. Which of those you want to read is a whole separate question.
posted by rtimmel at 10:54 AM on August 6, 2015

Yeah, this is a little tough because the low prices don't stay stable -- people often lower them to $1.99 to get interest and sales, and raise them back up later on. I have found a lot of interesting books (including plenty of classics being reissued on kindle) for $1.99 by subscribing to the Kindle Daily Deal newsletter ... if something catches my eye or I recognize the author, I click through and look at the summary and a few reviews.

I looked through a bunch of books that *I* bought for $1.99 but they're all back at regular prices right now. :)

I keep a robust, private "to read" wish list for my kindle on amazon; then I plunk the list in to camelcamelcamel and tell camelcamelcamel to alert me whenever one of the books on it falls below $3. I get an e-mail whenever that happens and I can go, "Oh, yeah, I did want to buy $11.99 Trendy Lit Fic book when it went on sale!" Or I can be like, "Eh, not so enthused now, I'll delete it." I can also comb through it whenever I'm low on things to read and (gasp!) considering paying full price for an e-book; and when Christmas and my birthday are coming up I flip through and put a dozen or so that I'm particularly interested in on my wishlist so my relatives know what to buy me.

It is chock full of things people mention on metafilter that sound interesting, but not SO interesting I must read them this instant for $11.99. Whenever I go through a "best books of 2015" or whatever I add a bunch of stuff to it; when I'm bored and watching TV I flip through and get rid of stuff that I've decided I'm not interested in.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely check out Project Gutenberg, which is where most of Kindle poaches its classics anyway. I second the recommendation for BookBub. It curates a great little daily list of books that you can adjust for your reading preferences, and it's usually the first place I spot a big sale on something. You might also check out the publisher Dover's Thrift Edition ebooks in Kindle format. Dover occasionally has sales and the formatting should have a higher wheat-to-chaff ratio than some of the stuff spidered off Gutenberg onto Amazon.

I use eReaderIQ to price-watch Kindle titles, and I lurk on MobileReads for various ebook deals.

Here are a handful of titles worth checking out from my initial poke through the Kindle classics:
The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix is arguably the first detective novel in English, and it uses a still-unusual insurance investigator as detective and an epistolary format.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is a mystery masterpiece.
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan is a taut little thriller you can read in one sitting.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is $2.99 today and worth a much higher price.
White Fang by Jack London is less well-known than Call of the Wild, but I've always loved it more.
Cecilia by Fanny Burney is a very long romance classic that was an important influence on Jane Austen, both for literary tropes that she admired and tropes she wrote in criticism against. The title Pride and Prejudice came from a late chapter in Cecilia; you'll know it when you see it. Cecilia went sour for me by the end because I couldn't stand the romantic hero or his insufferable family, but it's still worth reading for a sense of the romance genre that Austen was reacting against and for the titular inexperienced heroine as she tries to establish herself in polite society. There's also surprisingly grim detail of a family destroyed by gambling addiction and of how little control married women had over their own lives and finances.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë is another underappreciated romance classic. Upon publication it was hugely controversial for its explicit description of alcoholism and abuse within marriage. Relevant Hark a Vagrant strip: Dude Watchin' with the Brontës!
posted by nicebookrack at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2015

Today's Kindle Daily Deal, btw, is "books by authors who were guests on the Daily Show" -- lot of non-fiction, but a good selection of fiction too, and an unusually large Daily Deal!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:29 AM on August 7, 2015

Oh, also, Josephine Tey's Inspector Alan Grant series are quite good, plus they may scratch your Agatha Christie itch. The first one, The Man In The Queue, is $3.99 right now and the others seem to go on sale with regularity. The series is good but the real standout is The Daughter of Time (currently $11, wah).
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:47 AM on August 7, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all of the responses! Some of the suggestions are so good that I have already read and enjoyed them (re-reading Frankenstein now -- it's one of my favorite books) and looking forward to reading more.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:50 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

And TODAY'S Kindle Daily Deal is 80 novels at $1.99 each, including 24 classed as lit-fic, including a bunch of Joyce Carol Oates.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:45 AM on August 9, 2015

Totally agree on Gutenberg – everything from Moby Dick to Jane Eyre (both of which are fantastic) is on there. Go wild!

There's also (one of) the greatest novel(s) ever written on there – Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Also depending on where you live Virginia Woolf's works might be in the public domain. Mrs Dalloway [Amazon link] is a great place to start with her work.

How do you feel about Somerset Maugham? Of Human Bondage [Amazon] is on Amazon America for less than £2. His prose is a little stodgier than Waugh's but his outlook is probably a bit more humane, maybe.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 7:43 AM on August 11, 2015

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