Posted in Reading, Writing

8 Ways to Read Books for Free

Or how to treat yourself to a free book for Christmas

It’s a well-known fact that when times are hard, people scale down their treats-to-self.

During the last recession, Leonard Lauder of the Estée Lauder cosmetics company coined the phrase the lipstick index to describe the phenomenon that when women can’t afford a new outfit, they’ll content themselves with a smaller luxury item such as a lipstick.

Thanks to Anastasia Anastasia for making this photo available on Unsplash

Lipsticks don’t do it for me. I’d rather buy a book any day.

We’re lucky that books are still a relatively affordable treat, in keeping with the vision of the visionary Allen Lane. In 1935, he spotted a gap in the market for quality fiction in paperback form, compact enough to fit in a jacket pocket and no more expensive than a packet of cigarettes.

Enter the Penguin, to be sold on railway stations alongside tobacco, chocolate and other comfort buys for travellers.

For a while, all three were also sold on the platforms in vending machines known as Penguincubators (more on those – with a picture – here).

Still today their prices are a close match. A tenner will buy you a paperback or a packet of 20 cigarettes (or indeed a lipstick).

But even in the hardest of times, an avid reader needn’t go without a book. How better to escape from the stresses of everyday life than through the pages of a good story?

So here are my top tips to keep you reading this winter, whether or not you’ve budgeted for books.

1) Revisit your bookshelves. I bet you’ll find books you haven’t yet read or which you’d enjoy rereading. Suddenly buying new books won’t seem to essential.

2) Read free samples online. Many ebook stores such as Amazon allow you to read the first 10% of any book for free. Find a book of short stories with more than ten tales, and you will probably find at least one whole story within that free sample.

3) Join the mailing lists of authors who offer free ebooks as welcome gifts. On my author website you can download a free 12,000-word novelette, The Pride of Peacocks. (Click here to join my Readers’ Club – the story is free exclusively to Readers’ Club members.)

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library4) Look out for Little Free Libraries (– the heartwarming legacy of a son who founded this community bookswap programme in memory of his late mother, a former English teacher. Little Free Libraries are everywhere! Over 150,000 of them, in fact, in over 100 countries – and one of them is right here in Hawkesbury, on my front wall (pictured here with a Matilda scarecrow during a village Scarecrow Trail)We also have the Books on the Bus box at the bus stop. Down the hill in Horton, there’s a Little Free Library in a disused phone box. I suspect more phone boxes house bookswaps than telephones these days. (I’m currently writing a short mystery story about phone box libraries, to be published in a charity anthology in the spring – more news on that soon!) 

5) Click on the classics. Copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death, and there are organisations such as Project Gutenberg that publish free digital downloads of such books as an act of community. Help yourself to the Project Gutenberg free edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol here.  

photo of Gordon with Liz, volunteer librarian
Hawkesbury’s Community Library opens in the Village Hall every other Friday

6) Use your public library. We’re spoiled for choice round here – we’ve the Community Library in the Village Hall, plus public libraries also nearby in all directions – Yate, Wotton, Nailsworth and Tetbury.

7) Download the Borrowbox app, which enables you to access your local public library resources from the comfort of your phone, downloading ebooks and audiobooks. 

8) Let’s end with a seasonal tip: send your wishlist of books in a letter to Father Christmas this year. They’re the easiest presents to wrap, and his elves will thank you for it. 

Wishing you a very merry Christmas, with lots of lovely books in your Christmas stocking.

This post was originally written for the December 2022 issue of Hawkesbury Parish News


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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