Thursday, March 20, 2014
4 Million Books
Google Play Books now lists 4 million books to read. 1 million of these books are free. I've found book heaven. Some years ago I wrote and article, "The Bookstore: A Closed Book To Me.” This article told the story of my visit to the University of Chicago Bookstore and how all of the books were out of my reach to read because of my dyslexia.
In order to survive at college I had a dedicated group of fellow students who read my books to me. I paid them minimum wage to read for an hour, back in 1965 that was $1.25/hr. I met with readers four hours each day Monday through Friday. During my sophomore year I was introduced to Recording for the Blind (RFB). RFB recorded books for blind students. I barely qualified as legally blind. My first book which I received from them was on educational psychology textbook. The book was actually on long play records which played on a special player that played at half speed. In this way the records could hold twice as much as normal records. The only way I could read books was either with my readers or with the records provided by RFB.
Recording for the Blind eventually added dyslexic students to their service and adding dyslexia to their name.. I needed their service for my dyslexia and not because of my vision. RFB&D also graduated to sending books out on small reel to reel tapes and then eventually on cassette tapes. Yes some of us predate cassette tape. Instead of just using student readers in graduate school, I send most of my books to RFB&D to be recorded by volunteer readers. It took RFB&D usually five or six months to record a book. So I would buy my books at least one semester ahead to be sent away to be recorded. For classes that only were taught once a year I would buy and send my books a full year before the class.
Fortunately, the brilliant inventor Ray Kurzweil created a computer that could scan and read a book out loud. After I finished my PhD I saw one of these machines demonstrated. The reading machine would scan a page at a time and read in a very robotic voice. The Kurzweil Reading Machine cost $50,000. Over the years the technology improved and became more affordable. I purchased the Kurzweil Reading Edge for $5,000. I figured most people bought cars; I would buy a reading machine. This machine meant that I no longer needed to solely rely on volunteers to read to me. Then this technology advanced to desktop computers and scanners. To read books I had to scan each page of the book into the computer and use special software to change this image of the page into a page of text. Once the book was text inside the computer, a computer voice could read the text to me.
With the advent of cell phones a number of people wanted to read books on their phones as they commuted on trains or waited for appointments. These early adopters often had to scan books just as I was doing. Then Amazon came out with their Kindle e-ink reader. Amazon had scanned hundreds of thousands of books to sell with their reader. Publishers were pressured into offering books as e-books. Amazon now offers over two million e-books. But more fantastic than this number is the number of e-books offered by the Google Play Bookstore. Google has an unbelievable 4 million e-books. One million of these books are for free from Google's project to scan the major university libraries.
Gone are the days when I have to scan a book in order to read it. In fact I no longer need a desktop computer. I now have a Nexus 7 tablet that can not only access all 4 million e-books from Google but can read them to me as well. In fact I was giving a lecture on Anton Mesmer two months ago and I was able to read a half dozen free books in the Google library on Mesmer's life and work. Most of these books were written before 1900. 4 million e-books now means that I no longer have to ask volunteers to read to me or obtain recorded books. I no longer need to spend hours scanning books. I now simply buy books like any other individual and I immediately start reading just like other readers.
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