Book Review: Yesterday’s Classics E-Book Collection
August 27, 2013 | 8:09 pm
By Joanna Cabot
It’s my last week of summer vacation, and I’ll be spending it planning for the coming school year. I have been delighted to find a growing niche of publishers that are targeting the back-to-school market with specialized e-book collections, and this e-book collection comes from one such publisher.
Yesterday’s Classics is part of a website called The Baldwin Project, which formats children’s classics and offers them in print, via email subscription, or online as a plain-text website or interactive learning portal. The first 225 releases are available in Mobi or ePub, in a bundle that they were kind enough to provide for me to review.
The books cover a range of genres: Many are history-themed, but there are some literature and poetry collections, religion, biography and nonfiction as well. The collection comes with a no-frills PDF guide that breaks down the titles by genre and provides a description and a suggested reading level. I found this useful to refer to as I sorted through the titles, but I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a little more.
A more robust curriculum guide with suggested reading sequences would have been handy, as well as some more info about the authors and subjects that are included. It’s such a big collection; more guidance for pathways to using it would have been nice.
The collection was easy to download. Each purchaser receives a link to 13 zip files in the format of their choosing (if you need both formats, you can email the company and they’ll provide you with a second download link for free). The download link is active for a week or for nine attempts, whichever comes first, but the actual files themselves have no DRM; I was able to easily load them into Calibre for sorting.
That was actually my one annoyance with this collection: the sorting. Two-hundred twenty-five books is a lot to wade through, and unfortunately the metadata was not as clean as it could have been. All the titles had the words “Yesterday’s Classics” appended to the end of them, so I had to go through and clean that up first. The author names were reversed, showing lastname, firstname, and that had to be fixed too. There were tags that needed tidying, because I’m anal about stuff like that.
It also irked me a little that not all of the covers were matching; another collection I’ll be reviewing soon had consistent covers throughout the set that were even color-coded by reading level, and it was just a little more polished-looking. A chunk of these did have very nicely done covers in a consistent, matching style, so I’m not sure why they didn’t do this for all of them. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would have been a nice touch, especially for books they’re charging money for.
As for the books themselves, they were beautiful. Some of them (but not as many as you would think) are available for free at Project Gutenberg or in horribly messy PDF through the Internet Archive or Google Books. All of them can even be read for free, online, via the company’s own website. But my stance on public domain books has always been that it’s sometimes worth paying for a nicely done copy. I find typos and OCR issues really annoying; too much of it ruins the book for me. I also like to have a table of contents and other signs of care and attention. I’ll pay for that if it’s done right. I think e-book collections like these are valuable for people who will read and enjoy these books.
The collection is targeted mainly to homeschoolers, but I could see it being useful in a school setting too. My school does study some of the topics covered here: fairy tales, ancient civilizations, poetry for kids, and so on. Many of us have laptops and tablet devices these days, and it’s handy to have everything in one place for planning, even if you do plan to use a paper book during the actual lesson.
I’d also love to set up a Calibre library on one of the lab computers so students could bring in their own devices and use them during personal reading time; a collection like this would be a worthwhile investment for something like that.
It would be useful if the Yesterday’s Classics people tidied up their website; it’s a bit confusing to sort out the offerings since there’s the plain-text, the downloadable package, and a new subscription side too. And I wasn’t sure if the $49.95 price was really a special offer, or if it was meant to be permanent. It says it’s only for August, but I’ve seen it listed as a “limited time” offer since Christmas, when I first found out about it.
I do think that at less than $1 per book, it’s a worthwhile value. But in a perfect world, I’d like—for that kind of money—to see the covers polished up a little and the book guide bulked up.
Buy the 225-title Yesterday’s Classics e-book package ($49.95 for Mobi or ePub)
Note: The author’s rating of four e-readers out of a possible five was calculated by averaging her rating of 4.5 “for the books themselves, which are very nicely done,” and her rating of 3.5 “for the overall experience, which could use some tweaking.”