In the course of looking for something else entirely, I just stumbled upon Emergency Books. It’s a (slightly dormant) side project of Litromagazine, a freesheet that publishes and distributes short fiction outside London Underground stations. Emergency Books are, very simply, out-of-print texts taken from Project Gutenberg and dropped wholesale into a PDF template that makes them easy and economical to print on a standard home printer. They’re designed “for when you’ve nothing to read and a standard issue of Litro is too short”, the publisher (is that the right word here?) explains:
Each ‘double page spread’ fits nicely in an Acrobat Reader window, which results in minimal need for scrolling. On- or off-screen, the columns are relatively narrow and short so you don’t get lost in a sea of text (as you would if you simply printed direct from Project Gutenberg). There is little of the blank white space found in standard books – this is to get as much text on the page as possible thereby reducing the total number of pages required (for example, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, at 128 pages in book form, takes only 15 double-side printed A4 sheets as an Emergency Book – while being just as easy to read). This saves on resources as well as making the printed Emergency Book easier to fold and carry around.
If you are a ‘format purist’, you may well hate them. But if you love literature for the content, Emergency Books could be for you.
Of the small number who’ve saved Emergency Books on del.icio.us, one noted that Emergency Books are ‘for reading when you’re caught short. If that ever happens’. I like the idea of literature being, like cigarettes, something one can be ‘caught short’ without – for all that in this age of information overload the reverse more often feels true. There aren’t that many texts there at present, and I’m slightly baffled by the extant choice. But whatever you think of Conan Doyle, Emergency Books shows a refeshingly pragmatic grasp of the relation between digital and paper publishing formats, and represents an interesting attempt at minimising the downsides of each in the interests of guaranteeing the reading addict a regular fix.