In the midst of the pandemic, everything is shutting down. That includes bookstores and libraries, and if you’ve already read through the books you have at home you might be wondering where you can find more. We are here to help. Here is a helpful list of websites where you can download free genre books online to read on the digital device of your choosing. Some also offer audiobook options, if you need something to listen to while deep-cleaning your house, or stress-baking (like I’ve been doing). Stay inside, and read some free genre books online with these resources.
The genre publisher offers free monthly books online via their website. This month’s offering is Redshirts by John Scalzi. This book will be available as a free download until March 21, 2020, after which another free novel will be available. They also offer free weekly short stories from their many talented authors such as N.K. Jemisin and Charlie Jane Anders. So make sure you bookmark the site, or sign up for the mailing list.
A volunteer-run website with over 45,000 titles available. We linked to Project Gutenberg recently in our list on books about plagues and pandemics. The website has plenty of free genre books to read.
On their science-fiction shelf they have offerings from authors like Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Samuel R. Delaney, Phillip K. Dick, Cory Doctorow, Andre Norton, Robert Silverberg, Jules Verne, Kurt Vonnegut, H.G. Wells, and many more.
The fantasy shelf is brimming with titles from early luminaries of the genre. This includes all of the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum (fun fact: these were the first books I ever read as a child as referenced in my Comic Years bio). You can also find classics like the Peter Pan books by J.M. Barrie, the Alice in Wonderland books by Lewis Carroll, and an extensive collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe.
All the titles on Project Gutenberg are free to read and download, but they do accept donations in case you have extra cash and want to contribute to the future of free reading.
3) Open Culture
Another open source website that has many of the same public domain classics as the others. Open Culture also has offerings from Italo Calvino, Arthur C. Clarke, Paulo Coelho, Neil Gaiman, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, and Oscar Wilde. They also offer online courses and lectures from various authors such as Margaret Atwood and Joseph Campbell, if you are looking to get educated while in isolation.
Another resource we have recommended in the past, Overdrive and Hoopla work in conjunction with your local library to lend out digital titles. A little bit different from the others on the list, this website does require you to have a valid library card in order to use their system. However once you plug that in, you can go searching for anything that your library has to offer and check out ebooks and audiobooks for a set amount of time. A nice perk to this system is that titles are automatically returned at the end of the lending period, which means you will never accrue late fees.
Since these websites are based on your local library selection, the odds are good that you’ll be able to find most titles you’re looking for. If you need some recommendations for genre fiction, check out some of our top 10 lists below.
5) Open Library
A project of the Internet Archive (sponsor of the Wayback Machine) Open Library is an “open, editable library catalog, building towards a web page for every book ever published.” Not only can you read genre books online for free via the website, but with so much time on your hands right now maybe you might want to consider contributing as well. Much like Wikipedia, anyone can contribute and the more people adding information the better.
Their science-fiction section has over 12,000 listed works (fantasy is also included within this genre). There is also a nifty little graph showing the rise of genre fiction in publishing over time, which I find fascinating. There is also a list of the most prolific authors in the genre, with Isaac Asimov right at the top. Interestingly, right beneath Asimov is Animorphs author K.A. Applegate, and it appears that many of the classic YA shape-shifting alien invasion novels are available to read online. So if you need a hit of that nostalgia, or if you have kids looking for things to read that is definitely a good place to start.
Among the variety of authors available are genre titans such as Anne McCaffrey, Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, Terry Pratchett, and many many more. There is also a word cloud of related subjects so you can really narrow in on a particular topic. Like if you were really into books about life on other planets, Open Library has you covered.
Since we published this article, there has been some discussion on Twitter about the legality of Open Library. Apparently the website has a bad habit of ignoring author copyright and posting books that are not in the public domain. We recommend utilizing one of the other websites on this list. However if you do find yourself reading a newer book from this website, we recommend purchasing the title directly from your author or an independent bookstore. Authors deserve to get paid, and as much as we love free stuff it is not an excuse to steal from the hard-working writers of the world.
For more support during these frightening times, be sure to follow Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter. We will be updating daily with things to keep you sane, entertained, and occupied while stuck at home.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.