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Google puts 1.5 million free books on your cellphone

February 5, 2009 | 12:02 pm

Google Book Search Everyone has an excuse for not reading so much anymore: Books are heavy, I spend all day reading on my computer, time is short (especially now that "Lost" is back on TV). But Google, in its quest to make you learn about new things, isn't hearing any of it. The company said today it has made 1.5 million books available for iPhones and cellphones that run its Android operating system.

"We envision a future where people across the globe can search, discover and access the world's books from any device," Google spokeswoman Jennie Jarvis said in an e-mail. The company is also exploring ways to sell copyrighted books through the same platform, she said. It's an exploding market: E-book sales increased 58% last year.

I know what you're thinking: If I can read only 10 books a year, how am I supposed to get through 1.5 million?

There are lots of winners available, such as "Pride and Prejudice," "The Jungle Book" and "The Awakening." And Google promises more to come. But don't stress too much: Since all of the titles are in the public domain, many probably wouldn't rank near the top 700 of your must-read list.

There's "Some Problems of Lotze's Theory of Knowledge," by Edwin Proctor Robins and James Edwin Creighton; "The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby," by Charles Kingsley; and "The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie."

Still, if you're a nerd (and let's face it, if you're reading a post about books and cellphones, there's a decent chance), you may be interested in hearing how Google made its books available ...

... in a more phone-ready format.

It extracted text from the page images through a process called Optical Character Recognition, which guesses which letters are forming the words on the page. That means that rather than deal with big, cumbersome files on your phone, you can read the books just as you would any other Web page.

Book Search still has some kinks to work out: A phrase from the title "Old Chinatown: A Book of Pictures" reads like this on an Android phone: "from themomentwhen you sailed between those brown-and-green headlands... " But Google says it's still perfecting the optical character recognition technique, and it allows you to tap on a page that has mistakes so you can see the original text.

Worth noting for the skimmers among you: Mobile book search lumps together a bunch of pages onto one screen, so you can scroll down rather than turn virtual pages. That makes it easy to blow through chapters with the roll of a finger.

Books there are light, free and easy-to-skim. Now what's going to be your excuse for not reading?

-- Alana Semuels