Eucalyptus

iPhone application produced by Things Made Out of Other Things.

I have a tendency to hibernate through January. The weather is miserable, and post-holiday lethargy sets it, and all my neuroses and fanatic streaks come out to play. Last year I spent an inordinate amount of time killing zombies in Fallout 3, and this year, well, this year I spent an inordinate amount of time killing darkspawn in Dragon Age: Origins (I’m not proud). But I’ve burnt out on that game and now I’m indulging in another realm of dorkiness: I’m obsessed with the Eucalyptus app on my iPhone.

Eucalyptus is not a game; it’s e-reader software that allows you to search and download from the vast archives of Project Gutenberg. Thousands upon thousands of books—virtually any title you can think of with an expired copyright—are available for free within seconds, and Eucalyptus keeps everything tidy, organizing by author or title and showing at a glance how far you’ve paged through the virtual books. The program is elegant and intuitive and, best of all, readable. The size of the text can be adjusted, the “pages” turn with fluid grace, and on a crowded train, it’s easier to pull out a palm-sized phone than a six-by-nine hardcover. I’ve become so attached to Eucalyptus that it’s no longer reserved for commutes and queues; I’ll curl up in bed to read from my phone, which is, I admit, kind of weird.

Having such a colossal library at my fingertips makes me giddy. I’ve reread Jane Austen’s oeuvre, which was fun because I realized my favorite has changed again. When I was a teenager, I loved Pride and Prejudice best; when I was in my early twenties, I preferred Emma; and now that I’m pushing thirty, I see that Persuasion is superior to them both. I’ve taken the opportunity to read Paradise Lost in its entirety (not just the parts I studied in school), which I’ve been meaning to do since I read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. It was slow-going at first, but Milton’s Satan fascinates me, and his portrayal of Adam and Eve’s relationship is both infuriating and touching, and once I got past the throat-clearing in Book I and settled into the poetry, it was lovely (you know, when it wasn’t infuriating). And later, after I saw Sherlock Holmes, I downloaded a few stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and renewed my dislike of the his iconic detective—also fun in its way.

I’ve returned to some of the greatest hits of my childhood—The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and A Tale of Two Cities—and have begun venturing into the long list of titles and authors I’ve always meant to read but never gotten around to. The Age of Innocence comes first, and then I intend to try The Wings of the Dove and Vanity Fair and Madame Bovary, perhaps with a detour into an unfamiliar Dickens novel or a P. G. Wodehouse story.

It’s still slightly odd, reading a book from a screen rather than a page, but I can feel myself starting to get over that. I’ve thought about buying Kindle for iPhone so that I can experiment with new e-books, not just the old Gutenberg titles, but right now that still feels like a leap too far. And besides, the forced limitation to expired copyrights has been good for me. I’d forgotten how cutting Persuasion is and how beautiful. I’d forgotten the quiet profundity of The Secret Garden, the way it always makes me cry. And I don’t know when I would have gotten around to Edith Wharton or Henry James were it not for Eucalyptus. Ironically, it took the new to make me discover the old.