In Hindsight - December 2020
I was a huge fan of free online texts, and I wrote this page against that backdrop in late 1997 when I was still teaching English on JET, Amazon was just getting somewhere and when buying an English language book meant a small selection in a larger city like Yokohama and paying a lot of money. Still, they were quaint and fun days perhaps. I still believe in open source e-texts, and still support Gutenberg, and they continue to upload more and more content each day. Interesting I mentioned the extension of copyright, something which rages on even to this day, but against a backdrop of more authors opening up some of their works to the marketplace to see how that model works. Surprisingly then, I think this page holds up, even in 2020.
Digital Life - October 1997
In this edition however, I’d like to discuss something which is far more useful and very Internet oriented - texts - or rather, online libraries and free texts.
I’ve always been an avid reader, and to this day enjoy reading although I am sure that my English teachers will testify that on several occasions I seemed to be unable to correctly read a sentence out loud. I love reading everything - from comics and play books as a small child, to novels, graphic novels (which I’ll discuss later), magazines, and irritatingly, seemingly anything when I get bored.
This also led me into writing, from short stories to comedy sketches for local stage production at school. I am a total believer in the idea that for a person for whom English is a second tongue, the reading of books, and literature in general provide a good and enjoyable way of polishing one’s language skills, and can also give a better understanding of the culture behind the language. Indeed, reading the Japanese author Edogawa Rampo (the name itself is a play on Edgar Allan Poe) gives an interesting insight on Japanese relations in the early part of the 20th century.
Fact Of Life In Japan: English Language books in Japan are REALLY expensive, and sometimes I rue paying the fee, but I thought there were no alternatives short of having my books sent from England, which although possible, is a bit clumsy. However, in some ways there are many alternatives. The obvious one is Amazon.com, which is great if you don’t mind waiting a few weeks to save money - the rapid delivery option tends to kill any saving.
Although the Internet in my humble opinion, is becoming like a new TV era and is now amazingly commercial, there are still areas dedicated to the Nets humbler and more academic roots, beginnings and ideals: freedom and dispersal of information. As we all know, you can find information on virtually anything on the Net, but what about complete books and literature? Well, there are libraries full of texts on the Web.
My favourite is Gutenberg Press, which aims to put 10,000 books on the Net by 2001, and it’s well on the way already. Its only problem is that it can only put books on-line that have been typed, edited, spellchecked and proof read. These are not simple or easy tasks, but they give rewards to us all, so please encourage this project by donating your time, money or expertise. I have made many downloads from this site - from the works of Thomas Paine (someone who is an idol of mine), to Bruce Sterling’s incisive “The Hacker Crackdown”, and can recommend it totally - indeed, I intend to volunteer to put a work on Gutenburg before I leave Japan - I’d be interested in putting some of the English versions of Edogawa Rampo on the system. I like his work, even if it is ‘borrowed’ from most European and American mystery writers. Gutenburg runs through the generosity of people - the texts themselves are free, but obviously such a large plan cannot run without at least some money, so if like me you use the resource a great deal, please donate something to the cause. I spend a lot of time trying to persuade my friends to pay for shareware if they use the software, as I know how much effort writing software can take and I only wrote really short stuff - e-texts are the same, many are scanned into computers by hand, OCR’d and then hand edited before being proof read and up-loaded. As you can imagine this is not a quick or easy task, so please support it.
The e-texts currently on this site are technically public domain - that is, their copyrights have expired. Generally speaking, this means anything written pre-1940’s. However, seeing as this included books from Shakespeare, Bram Stoker (Dracula), the Bible and Alice in Wonderland, there is plenty to go at. However, copyrights are now being further extended, and the project believes that soon it will be relying on authors or owners of copyrights to voluntarily allow the work to be freely distributed electronically.
How does it work? Well, go to the Gutenburg site, search for, or select your text, and then download it. This is a text system only, none of those annoying animated GIF’s or stuff, just text. You can read this on screen, or print it. (I’m sure there are many computer enthusiasts who still find it more satisfying to hold a piece of paper in their hand).
Why this enthusiasm though? It’s not multi-media, it’s not cutting edge? Basically, the world of on-line texts can help both the person studying and the person teaching English. Literature can free many Japanese from what in some cases is an obsession with grammar. Grammar is the beginning of understanding of English - not the end of it. Like Japanese, English is more than a language, it is a reflection and supporter and indeed driver of the culture. Its adoption all around the world reflects the open and progressive nature of its home country’s culture. By reading these texts, the average English student can gain a better understanding of this culture, it’s idioms, metaphors and morals. Too often, the “eye candy” (smart graphics and FX tricks) can overshadow the content. This is all over the media - watch Jurassic Park 2 - an amazingly dull film, with good special effects; the same is now true on the web. Don’t be put off by pure text - in many ways, it’s that purity that inspires us to think anyway.
Unfortunately, most of the texts are in English, although there are a growing number of texts in other European languages, but few from outside that area, so if you are interested in contributing some Japanese things, feel free to contact the Project.
I don’t like TV much, and I never have. I watch the news and a few other programmes, but my weekly consumption probably never rises above maybe four hours a week - by comparison, I spend more time in the bath or shower, or (as some of my friends claim) making tea and coffee. I certainly spend a lot more time on my computer - which a greater education in itself.