Open up and say aaaaaaaa

Free Reading No. 1: a series of bulletins. 

Those who get Manchester Review of Books on paper will already know that we run a column on secondhand books. LRB don’t. Having a paper dedicated only to shiny things coming out of the big production machine tells us something. Secondhand books are a big part of the real life of readers. The essential things are the dog-eared, the worn, the written-in.

The ‘free read’ is also a big part of the life of the serious reader. Of course there are unpaywalled quality websites, some newspapers, high quality blogs. There is also the directory of open access journals, DOAJ.

But for a couple of decades there was another, secret layer. This one is for literary types. Academics. Nerds. Academic-nerds. Obsessive readers. All of the literarily in-too-deep. Recently, access to to this layer has been difficult.

For instance there was Aarg. I will call it ‘Aarg’, although it had, in its time, a fluctuating and sometimes absurd number of a’s. Aaaaaaaaarg. As sites had to close and be re-hosted, the name was both changed and not changed by using extra a’s.

Because Aarg was a site which allowed humanities scholars to upload research, books and papers, in fact whole collections of papers by important intellectuals. They would download, indexed in neat zip files. A dream.

Of course, Aarg was dodging the capitalist players of the information industry for a heroically long time and was eventually closed. Aarg allowed users to cross reference and update the files with better copies, or with text-scanned versions. And it was not a Wiki.

Those who knew, those like me who had become addicted, we met in back rooms before the lockdown to console each other over Aarg’s death. Aarg was beautiful. It stood for Artists, Architects, and Activists Reading Group. It was created by Sean Dockray around 2000.

Aarg was a lifeline of a sort, especially for those outside academic tenure, with no access to a university library. Its closure hit hard. And even with full university access, Aarg threw up things you would never get in the library.

Before I knew what the acronym stood for, I thought that ‘aarg’ was the frustrated cry for that one last thing you haven’t access to, the one thing you need right now to finish a piece of writing:

‘Aaarg! I just need that weird article by Benjamin, but I don’t have that book!’

And onto Aarg you would go, to find it, at your peril, because to go into that place was to go into a beautifully designed wormhole. Just looking at the stream of latest uploads was like walking into the lost Library of Alexandria in spectral form. Grey and white lists of arcana scrolled into infinity through the glowing mist of Aarg’s clean white background.

I was so in love with Aarg. After it was closed, like a delusional widow, I kept a URL file in a folder to periodically go back and check that it was really dead. There was that possibly dodgy, possibly Russian site, to get some things from, but it wasn’t the same any more.

Today I clicked my Aarg ‘widowlink’ to find that it now redirects you to has an enigmatic subtitle in ‘we’re still the & in copy & paste’. A series of Courier font headings roll down the page like a poem:

Same image, next day
G comme gauche
Le despotisme occidental
A Sick Planet
The Three Ecologies
Plastic Island Revisited

AirBnB Go Fuck Yourself
I Want a Dyke for President
The War Is Coming
Nos humanités
Sans soleil
Actual Air

But each line is a link to a text document. For instance ‘G com Gauche’ takes us to a discussion between Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. Something is happening. At the foot of the page are links to, ubuweb, monoskop, libgen, scihub,, oml and

Ubuweb is the creation of Kenneth Goldsmith and others. An institution now, but an important cultural storehouse. Monoskop is well-known and I find rather tame. At I watched Godard talking on Instagram. Libgen has the feel of Aarg, its design is very classy.

Pirate Care has Memory of the World Library tagged on as its ‘syllabus’. This is an older site, running back when Aarg did. I don’t think it is adding new material. Sci-hub promises free research, but is asking for a Google Chrome extension to be installed.

Here is a huge and necessary disclaimer: I don’t know if downloading that extension is an OK thing to do, or if it is inviting Spyware. Someone would have to advise me.

I am, however, using Libgen. You can hit a ‘random’ button and get a curveball from the archives. Now that, for the surrealist in me, is fun.

Please keep Manchester Review of Books updated on this topic.

– Steve Hanson

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