Reading is a great hobby, but can often be quite pricey if you opt to purchase your books brand new. Just the cost of a single hardcover can add up to $40.

So, whether you’re an avid bookworm or an author yourself, free literary resources are particularly useful. And especially during these difficult times, I think we could all use some low-cost options for staying engaged and entertained.

Here are my top five recommendations for literary resources to access while on a budget:

1. Crash Course Literature

While it’s mainly geared towards students (whether at the high school or post-secondary level), Crash Course is an excellent YouTube channel for anybody interested in learning more about complex literary concepts.

The channel covers many different subject areas like Psychology, Physics, and History, but I’d personally recommend their Literature series. Presented by John Green (the best-selling author and ‘VlogBrother’), the videos summarize/analyze classic works such as The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and Hamlet.

Green does an amazing job of breaking extremely nuanced ideas into concise (and entertaining!) terms. When I was in high school and studying for the AP Literature exam, these videos were super useful. In fact, when I wrote the final exam, I specifically referenced Green’s analysis of The Catcher in the Rye in my essay.

But you don’t need to be a student to find these videos useful; pretty much anyone could benefit from watching the series. For example, the general public often regards Shakespeare’s works as dense, boring, and difficult to understand. I used to think the exact same thing. 

Until I studied Shakespeare in university, I was turned off by the language. Now, I love to read his work and see modern performances of his plays. But you don’t need to pay hefty tuition fees to have that same experience; the Crash Course video library is like having access to college lectures in your pocket. Definitely check it out if you’re curious about literature in general.

2. The Poetry Foundation website

The Poetry Foundation website is another great, free resource that specifically focuses on poetry. As a poetry lover, I often use their site to read individual pieces from authors that I enjoy.

There’s no need to go out and buy every single poetry collection you find interesting — sites like this re-publish many famous poems. 

I appreciate that this specific website is extremely accurate in terms of its spelling, punctuation, and line breaks. If you simply Google search the name of a poem you want to read, many websites that will pop up, but not all of them are true to the original versions. Opt for reputable sites like The Poetry Foundation, which are very precise in their re-printing.

Their homepage also features handy sections like the “Poem of the Day,” which can help you easily expand your reading horizons. The site is great for anyone interested in reading more poetry (and it certainly won’t break the bank).

3. Project Gutenberg

Another awesome resource is the Project Gutenberg website. It’s an extensive archive of free ebooks (with a focus on older works of literature, since their copyright licenses have now expired). It’s a great way to find digital copies of classic novels and plays.

For example, as I mentioned, I studied Shakespeare while I was in university, and I used Project Gutenberg to get free copies of his plays. Since they were written hundreds of years ago, they are definitely aren’t bound by copyright. 

My print copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is extremely heavy, so the digital versions of the plays were convenient to have (I could even read them on my e-reader or phone while commuting to class).

Give it a look if you’re not too focused on reading brand-new, best-selling books; there are many classic texts available for free to keep yourself busy.

4. SparkNotes

Ah, the infamous SparkNotes: the best friend of students cramming for English exams on books they never read. While many people use SparkNotes as a complete replacement for reading books, that’s not really what it’s designed to be.

Rather, SparkNotes is a comprehensive hub of literary information. It has No Fear Shakespeare (a tool for translating Shakespearean language into modern-day English) and countless Study Guides for classic works of literature (which include plot summaries, analyses, break-downs, and even mini-quizzes).

I worked as an English tutor for a short time, and I loved to use SparkNotes with my students. Whether they were in elementary school or taking AP classes, I could always find useful features to help explain complicated texts. The mini-quizzes were especially handy, since I could use them to test my students’ knowledge quickly and easily.

I’d recommend treating SparkNotes much like Crash Course Literature; they’re tools that can help you understand classic works of literature much easier. But they don’t replace the act of reading — that’s still on you. 

5. The Toronto Public Library (or your local library)

Lastly, perhaps the best free literary resource of all is the humble local library. For me, that’s the Toronto Public Library system, which is a pretty fantastic option. 

There are countless ways to benefit from a library card — some of which require physically visiting your local branch, but many of which can be done from home. 

For example, a valid TPL card gets you free access to the career learning platform, Lynda.com (now ‘LinkedIn Learning’), which usually costs about $30+ per month as an individual. It also gives you access to resources like Overdrive (for ebooks + audiobooks), PressReader (for digital newspapers + magazines), and Kanopy (for streaming movies).

So, if you’re social distancing at home and in need of some free reading material, see what’s offered online from your local library — it could save you a ton of cash on digital media subscriptions.

Wrapping up

Thanks, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog. Use the sidebar to easily subscribe, so that you can get free weekly content for writers delivered straight to your inbox. You can also learn more about my writing and editing services by browsing the rest of the site. 

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite, free literary resource?

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