It’s Friday at last and the weekend beckons. Hopefully, this means that you finally have time for some fun. You can have expensive fun at malls, movie theaters, and restaurants. Or instead, you can experiment with reading, a restorative activity that infuses your weekend with hours of enjoyable entertainment—and if you do it right it costs you absolutely nothing.
The classics are forever. Thanks to great sites like Gutenberg.org, they’re also FREE. Here’s a chronological list of those that have given me the most entertainment (except for one volume of chick lit). The links are included for your downloading enjoyment. If you don’t have access to an e-book reader, search your local library’s shelves for paper copies.
1. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791). Dip in anywhere. Mostly, it’s a detailed retelling of quotable conversations held from about 1763 to 1784. More than two centuries later, you’re the proverbial fly on the wall. Considered by many to be the best biography ever. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1564
2. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1793). Ben wrote in an accessible style that was years ahead of his time. Reading him makes you want to fly a kite, light up a stove, or don bifocals and read some more. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/148
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813). The fourth most downloaded book at Gutenberg.org (after The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Kama Sutra, and How to Analyze People on Sight). I’ve never made it all the way through, but Mrs. Moose adores this book, so find it here. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1342
4. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (1840). Adventures on the high seas with a highly literate guide. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2055
5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843). All of Dickens can be downloaded for free, but this shorter piece is, I think, a great place to start. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46
6. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845). This is the first and the shortest of three autobiographies. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23 Consider also My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/202 The third and final version is not available on Gutenberg, but is available as part of a hardback from the Library of America, visit http://www.loa.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=37
7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1846, English translation). As famously mentioned in The Shawshank Redemption, a book about a prison break written by some guy named Dumbass. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1184
8. Moby Dick; or, the Whale by Herman Melville (1851). Spoiler alert: men sail out to sea, they do battle with a bleached whale, and one alone survives to tell the tale. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2701
9. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854). I’ve read from it for more than 20 years, and I’m still trying to figure it out. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/205
10. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883). Real life memoir about Twain’s working life on river boats. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/245
11. Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling (1896). More seafaring by a supremely talented writer. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2225
12. Stickeen by John Muir (1897). Originally a magazine article that paid homage to an Alaskan dog. This piece is short, but extremely memorable. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11673
13. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903). Another book about a dog, but this one’s written from the dog’s point of view. No one writes better. I mean Jack London, not the dog. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/215
14. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (1908). Hilarious title character; story set in Canada on Prince Edward Island. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/45
15. North of Boston by Robert Frost (1914). Frost is free before 1923. After that, the poems of Frost come at a cost. The most recognizable entries in this volume are The Death of the Hired Man, and After Apple-Picking. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3026
16. Cappy Ricks by Peter B. Kyne (1916). I originally read this potboiler at my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager. I was surprised to see it made the cut for preservation at Project Gutenberg. If you like the characters, as I did, you’ll be happy to know there are several sequels. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5738
17. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1918). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography/autobiography in 1919. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2044
Do you have any favorite freebie e-books? Please add a comment that lets everyone know what I’ve missed.