Overlooked Classics: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick DouglassMany of the books that now fall under public domain have appeared on the myriad versions of canonical lists of what people consider to be the classic novels of the English language. Authors whose works appear on this site and often are considered part of these canons include Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens to name just a few. However, there are many novels that tend to fall through the cracks when people, whether they are reading for scholastic purposes or for entertainment, are asked to list works that they believe to be some of the most important literary moments in the history of the English language. One such work is the autobiographical work of Frederick Douglass entitled, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass was a slave in antebellum Maryland who eventually escaped from slavery, authored this work, and subsequently became the face of the abolitionist movement both in America and abroad. The influence of Douglass’s Narrative in undoing the evils of slavery cannot be overstated. If you wish to experience one of the most poignant and moving works produced in America’s early history, you cannot miss Douglass’s Narrative. Within the Narrative, Douglass lays bare his life as he struggles to unshackle his mind and body from the seemingly overwhelming power of slavery. With gripping accounts of daring, sickening atrocities against human beings, and personal mental struggles all set forth in Douglass’s eloquently sparse style, you will be transported to the 1840’s and experience the firsthand accounts that played a major role in persuading people around the world to put an end to the reign of slavery. At barely over 100 pages long, Douglass’s Narrative will be a quick and powerful listen/read if you are picking it up as an audiobook or ebook. Either way, it is well worth your time to witness one of the most influential literary works in American history.

Audiobooks: The Underrated English Learning Tool

By Scott Carpenter

As we all know, free audiobooks and ebooks are great for entertainment, but one of the most underrated uses of these free resources is language learning. Picking up a new language is always tough, but the English language is particularly troublesome for English as a second language students. Our strange grammar rules and seemingly incomprehensible spelling rules can throw even the most seasoned veteran for a loop.

I am a graduate English literature student with many years of intensive study under my belt and I still struggle with these aspects of the English language on a regular basis. I also work in international education and work with students who are applying to U.S. universities from abroad and one of the major barriers holding them back from furthering their studies within the U.S. is the strict English proficiency requirement that many schools enforce.

Students must test high in areas such as reading, speaking, and writing in English. I see students every day who are studying English and are worried that they will not score high enough on English exams to be admitted to the universities they have traveled so far to attend. It is important for students who are studying English as a second language to get as much practice with the language outside of their classrooms as they can, and one way that can greatly increase a student’s comprehension of the English language is to listen to an audiobook being narrated to them while following along by either reading the same ebook or checking out the novel through their local library. Being able to see the words on the page and listen to their pronunciation at the same time is invaluable.

It is very important for students studying English to hear the English language spoken properly in order for them to make the contextual connections necessary to gain a full understanding of what is being spoken or read. Trying to just read a book by itself can be confusing as students struggle to sound out the word correctly and just being able to hear the words being read to them can help to eliminate the fears that they may be pronouncing the word incorrectly and increase their confidence in using the language properly. Listening to audiobooks while reading along can greatly increase a student’s vocabulary and comprehension thus allowing them to unlock their growing potential to fully grasp the English language.

Below I have listed a few audiobooks that can be found on this site that I believe would work well for anyone who is looking to increase their English language skills.

1)      The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2)      Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

3)      The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

4)      12 Creepy Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

5)      The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

6)      A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

7)      The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

8)      The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

9)      White Fang by Jack London

10)   The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Hidden Gem: The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is often known as the American master of the macabre, and yet, it is lesser known that he is also credited with introducing readers on both sides of the Atlantic to a new style of literature that came to be known as Detective Fiction with his 1841 short story: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” This story invites readers to partake in a gruesome murder mystery while witnessing the brilliance of the French detective, C. Auguste Dupin as he works to unravel a seemingly unsolvable case. This story is arguably the origination of the locked room mystery, and keeps readers ever on their toes as they strive to deduce the truth in this hairy case alongside the famous C. Auguste Dupin. As the precursor to the widely popular Sherlock Holmes works written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later in the 19th century, this gem of a story often gets overlooked by contemporary readers. However, any fan of detective fiction, suspense, or thrillers will be captivated by this blood-soaked, mind-bending mystery!

Suggested Reading list for Victorian Detective Fiction

If you are a reader who loves suspense, mystery, action, and heroism in your novels, look no further to get your fix! Victorian readers were the first to be introduced to the Sensation novel and the Detective novels that have influenced pop culture for the last 150+ years. Everyone has heard of the eccentric detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his exploits with the famed Dr. Watson, but the Sherlock Holmes stories only scratch the surface of the early detective fiction. Below we have put together a short list of public domain novels, novellas, and short stories for the eager fans of detective fiction to get their hands on.
First, we will begin with a couple of the Sherlock Holmes stories that are considered must-reads:

1) A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes)

2) The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

We jump across the pond from Victorian England to an American writer for our next suggestion:

3) Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe – This story is often considered the first Detective fiction narrative to arrive on the scene. This short, gruesome story will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

Next we will suggest a couple more precursors to the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories:

4) Bleak House by Charles Dickens featuring the indefatigable Inspector Bucket.

5) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – An ill-gotten Indian diamond leaves turmoil, bad luck, and general misery in its wake. The diamond is stolen from a young woman, and it takes an extensive group effort to reveal the culprits.

6) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. – This is not technically a detective story, but it was the exciting introduction of the Sensation novel that involves amateur detective work by a group of friends to uncover a sinister plot set in place by a couple of devious villains.

7) Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Another sensation novel revolving around Lady Audley who we come to find has a mysterious and complicated past that has come back to confront her. It is up to the amateur detective, Robert Audley, to uncover the truth.

These novels and stories should keep even the most voracious detective hound sated for a while. If anyone has any favorite Victorian era detective or sensation novels that they would like added to this list, let us know!

Podcast Listening Guide

Podcasts are a great way to listen to audiobooks but they do take a little bit of time to set up. You’ll find that once you have the software installed and working, podcasts are one of the fastest and easiest ways to listen to audiobooks. They let you see all the chapters of your book and switch between them. Podcasts also save your place like a bookmark in a paper book. Finally podcasts will let you change the playback speed so that you can get through a book faster.

The easiest way to get going with podcasts is to use an iPhone and download Apple’s podcast app. Once the podcast app is installed you can use Safari to browse to BooksShouldBeFree.com and when you find your favorite book click on the podcast button.

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Next, your iPhone will redirect you from the browser to the podcast app. From here, you will need to subscribe to the podcast. The subscribe button will look like one of these examples:

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Next switch to the My Podcasts section at the bottom of the app and then select the new podcast that you just subscribed to.


Now you can select Add Old Episodes and select all the episodes or just the ones that you would like to listen to.

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By default Apple’s podcast app will just play one chapter of the book and stop. If you would like it to automatically start the next chapter you can go into the settings area. Then you can select Play Order and change it to Newest First.

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Now you’re all set to enjoy your podcast. Just navigate back to the podcast and select the first chapter to listen to the book.

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For starters, from a PC or a Mac computer you can download Apple’s iTunes software here. http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/

Next look for the iTunes icon on a book page and click it to add that book to iTunes.


Depending on your browser you may get a confirmation dialog box like one of the following.

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After confirming you the next step is to subscribe in iTuens and confirm your subscription when prompted.


The next step is to click on the podcast area and then on Add Old Episodes.  By default iTunes only downloads the first chapter of the book and this step ensures you have the entire book downloaded. Once on the Add Old Episodes screen you’ll want hit Add All and then Done.

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Now there is one final step.  By default iTunes plays one chapter of the book and then stops.  To set iTunes to play one chapter after another you’ll want to go into the settings area and select Play Order > Newest First and finally click Done.

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That’s it.  Your podcast is all set up and ready to play.  Just click on the first chapter to start listening.  If interested you could also plug in an iPod or iPhone and sync the podcast onto your device so that you can listen on the go.