In Praise of Free Ebooks: Two by Monica Dickens and One by Howard Spring

‘It was a real scroller. I couldn’t put down my screen.’

A headline caught my attention last month at The Guardian: ‘Ebooks are stupid’, says head of one of world’s biggest publishers.”  Arnaud Nourry, CEO of Hachette Livre,  told a publication in India:  “The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.”

What a confusing description of the e-book!  If it’s “exactly the same as print,” why is it “stupid”?  The gist of the article is that e-books are unprofitable for publishers.

I love books, but I also love e-books.  Personally, I think the e-reader is a very “smart” product. We now enjoy access to out-of-print titles for free in e-book form at the Internet Archive.

Here are three stunning free e-books you can download at Internet Archive!  Monica Dickens and Howard Spring are two of my favorite middlebrow authors.

Two by Monica Dickens.

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens, a brilliant novelist and memoirist.

The heroine, Louise Bickford, a  57-year-old widow, is a superfluous woman.  She is unwanted, shunted from one daughter’s house to another’s. Her winters at  a friend’s hotel are equally stressful, because her friend moves her out of a nice room into an inconvenient  corner for the sake of a customer.  And then one day in London,  Louise is at a tea room and meets Gordon, a kind, obsese man who writes her  favorite pulp mysteries.  Their friendship inspires her to become more independent.  It takes time:   her daughters will not let her apply for a job at a department store.  The book is charming, realistic, and comical!

The Nightingales Are Singing by Monica Dickens.  Set in post-war London and Washington, D.C., this fascinating novel is part domestic comedy, part  analysis of a marriage.  The unmarried 34-year-old heroine, Christine, head saleswoman of the  book department at a department store, is known as “the estimable Miss Cope.” She “moved calmly about the alleys between the bright new paper jackets, knowing that book customers liked to take their time, unlike the thrusters who stampeded through the Notions with never a moment to spare.” She finally meets a man, an American naval commander who wants to marry her.  He gives her family much-appreciated food that Americans have access to.   Christine does not particularly like him but she does not want to end up like Aunt Jo, a spinster.  In Washington, D.C.  she must adjust to her  husband’s conservatism and a new culture.

Parts are screamingly funny.  When they move to a new house, Christine gets scammed by a charming vacuum cleaner salesman, but she insists  to her husband that the vacuum is first-rate.  She takes sewing lessons from a woman who cannot thread the machine. The marriage has ups and downs, sometimes comical, sometimes very sad.  Dickens has written an insightful domestic novel.

One by Howard Spring.

My Son, My Son by Howard Spring.  The Welsh writer Howard Spring wrote several spellbinding novels. In his brilliant, partly-autobiographial novel, My Son, My Son,  he explores the influence of a successful writer’s poverty-stricken childhood on his later relationships–especially the bond with his golden, tragically ruined son, Oliver.

In clear, simple prose, Spring relates this heart-rending story of filial love, success, and ruin.  The narrator, William Essex, is looking back at his life. His childhood was Dickensian:  his mother took in washing;  Bill was taunted and beaten up when he picked up the laundry bundles. When he is 12, a  minister, Mr. Oliver, teaches him to read and gives him a job. When Bill commences work as an office boy, he meets the most  faithful friends of his life: he rooms with the O’Riordans, who read Dickens aloud after dinner, and their son, Dermot, an Irish radical patriot who has never been to Ireland,  dreams of making handmade furniture as beautiful as that of William Morris.  Eventually, Bill marries for money and becomes a writer.  But when Dermot carves wooden toys for Bill’s son, Bill suggests they go into the toy business together.   And so both men make a fortune, and at the same time have time to perfect their arts, Bill in writing and Dermot in furniture-making.

Bill and Dermot want their sons to help them fulfill their fantasies, but Bill spoils Oliver, who becomes a liar, cheater, and general ne’er-do-well.  Dermot raises his son Roray as an Irish radial and perversely ships him to Ireland when he is in teens.

This well-written, well-crafted fast read creates a believable world–and, yes, it makes you cry, so be prepared to wallow!

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