A Book in the Public Domain: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge

July 14, 2022 | Lucas

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TPL Reading Challenge 2022

There are so many different books to choose when it comes to this category for the Reading Challenge, but what exactly is the Public Domain?

The public domain is the space where no intellectual property rights exist. This means that works in the public domain may be used without any restrictions whatsoever (free books!). For a book, this means that it is in the public domain when the copyright has expired. Each country has different laws for when copyright expires. In Canada, copyright expires on a book 50 years after the death of the last living author of the work.

The Public Domain contains a lot of classics and childhood favourites but it also has some unique and interesting gems, like pulp fiction, cookbooks, magazines and comics.

I personally love to read graphic novels and there are some quirky superheroes from The Golden Age of comics with names like:

Doll Man Cover

Doll Man, the first superhero with a shrinking power created by Will Eisner. He first appeared in Feature Comics #27 (December, 1939).

Nightshade's Shadow Goes to Work

Nightshade, a wealthy scientist who learns to control his own shadow through the mystical arts. The shadow could stretch, become solid and possessed more than human strength. He first appeared in Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October, 1941).

The Clock

The Clock, a district attorney who brings justice to the bad guys. His catchphrase is "The Clock…STRIKES!" The Clock is also the first masked hero in American comics appearing in Funny Picture Stories #1 (November, 1936).


Public Domain Sources

Here are some sources to find Public Domain books. Some of these sources also include music, software and film:

Comic Book Plus

Contains over 40,000 comic books, pulp fiction, magazines, fanzines, comic strips and more, in English and other languages. 

Europeana Collections

Contains millions of cultural heritage items from institutions across Europe, including artwork, books, music, newspapers, archaeology, fashion, science, sport and much more.

The HathiTrust Digital Library

Contains over 17 million digitized books, serials and other print materials in English and other languages.

Internet Archive

A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites and more.

Project Gutenberg

Thousands of volunteers have digitized over 60,000 eBooks since 1971.

The Public Domain Review

A website dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature and ideas that focus on works in the public domain.


Staff Recommendations

These books were picked by our staff for "a book that is in the Public Domain".

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

This one is a childhood favourite of mine that I've read countless times at every stage of my life (I love it so much I got a tattoo of it)! A short and sweet story about the magical bond between a child and their most special toy, and a parable of sorts about how our experiences and scars are part of what makes us who we are.

Because this is the public domain category, if you want to be a stickler, make sure to read an edition with the original illustrations by William Nicholson - some of the newer illustrations may still be under copyright!

– Kasey (Librarian)


The Blue Castle

Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

An irresistible romance by numbers; a mysterious tall, dark and handsome stranger - check, a missing heir to a fortune - check, a girl from an established (but oppressive) family who breaks free and decides to make it on her own - check. Somehow it is a rather forgotten novel by our renown author, maybe a bit predictable here and there, but still a good and entertaining read. Plus a decent take on the theme of siblings' and cousins' rivalry.

– Anna (Librarian)


Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A captivating story with gothic and romantic elements. I love Bronte’s luscious, unhurried nineteenth-century prose, and the way she embeds a critique of the position of women in Victorian society into the story. Jane, an orphan girl, lives with cruel relatives until being packed off to a charity school. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall where she finds love with the mysterious brooding Mr. Rochester who has a shocking secret. The stories behind this novel are fascinating, especially the disagreement between Charlotte and her author sisters Emily and Anne, who apparently insisted that the heroine of a novel must be beautiful. Charlotte disagreed and set about defying the accepted norm of the time with the creation of Jane, one of the most memorable characters in fiction though she is “poor, obscure, plain”. I always found Charlotte’s determined, intelligent, independent Jane to be more relatable and loveable than Emily’s beautiful and capricious Catherine, from Wuthering Heights.

– Maureen (Librarian)


Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

A raw and sad book about a starving writer. The book is heart-wrenching, at some point the main character tries to pawn his coat buttons just so he has enough to eat. He still tries to maintain an air of dignity and tries to hide how desperate he is. When the shopkeeper gives him too much change, instead of greedily holding it on for himself (which he desperately needs) he shares it with others. He asks to spend the night in jail pretending he is a successful journalist who is locked out. He refuses to admit to himself that the night spent in jail – with a roof over his head and a blanket to sleep under – was a welcome event. Keeping up the ruse, in the morning he refuses the free breakfast provided for the less fortunate, even though he is starving. You can really feel his despair as he struggles, this is not a happy book but it is beautifully written.

Can also be used for:

  • a book about solitude
  • a book about time

– Pauline (Librarian)


Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners by James Joyce

A wonderful collection of short stories where Joyce strives to portray a realistic look at life in Ireland in the early 1900s. His characters still seem alive and relevant almost a hundred years later, capturing their humanity in few words. Don't be scared off if you once read twenty pages of Ulysses and then left it on your bedside table for a year – this is Joyce writing in a very different and more natural style.

Can also be used for

  • a book about a city

– Michael (Digital Content Lead)


At Swim-Two-Birds

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

This is a very funny, strange and early example of meta-fiction. It starts as a first-person story by an unnamed Irish student of literature who is writing several other stories while at war with his uncle who thinks he's a layabout. Meanwhile, the narrator starts interacting with his characters and vice versa, undoing our understanding of what's happening and what is "true". Kind of a mix between Borges and Monty Python.

Can also be used for

  • book with "two" in the title
  • a book written under a pen name

– Joel (Librarian)


Journey to the West

Some of the best-known classic novels from dynastic China:

  1. Water Margin by Shi Nai'an
  2. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  3. Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong
  4. Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

All four novels are epic, have memorable characters and are incredible works of art. They range in age from the 14th to 18th century. Journey to the West is probably the most well-known of these among Canadian readers due to a 1942 translation by Arthur Waley. Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King is everywhere in popular culture.

There are dozens of adaptations, plays, films, tv series based on these novels. I just recently read a sci-fi novel inspired by Sun Wukong called Monkey Around by Jang Jadie.

Other categories:

  • Journey to the West can be used for A Book About Magic.
  • Dream of the Red Chamber for A Book About Family.

– Emily (Librarian)


The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The story of Edmond Dantes, who is imprisoned for the crime of treason which he didn't commit. While in prison, he learns of treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. Throughout his 14 years in prison, he is determined to escape and find the treasure, so he can use his newfound riches to exact revenge on the three men who plotted his imprisonment. I never thought a book that's almost 200 years old and over 1000 pages could end up being such an entertaining page-turner. The book is also set in an interesting time period where parts of the story intersect with real historical events.

I also discovered that Edmond's story is partly inspired by Dumas' own father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. His story is detailed in The Black Count: glory, revolution, betrayal, and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Although his mother was a slave, his father was a French nobleman which allowed Thomas-Alexandre to rise through the ranks of the French military. He served in the French Revolutionary Wars and in Egypt under Napoleon. Like Edmond, Thomas-Alexandre was captured and imprisoned, but for two years. Dumas' father's story is fascinating not just for his influence on French history, but also for the subject of slavery and race in the French empire.

Other Categories:

  • A book about time

– Rathees (Librarian)


French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "une oeuvre dans le domaine public" - there's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!

Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the recommendations from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group. You can read the entire thread, even if you don't have a Facebook account.