When I was a wee, little thing, even shorter than I am now, I got my first library card. I would make my parents take me to the library every week so I could get a bunch of books to read, for free! It boggled my mind that people got anything done with so many books out there they could read, without paying for anything. Now, I know that we do pay for it through taxes and what-not, but reading books for free still boggles my mind. The web, in all of it's wonderfulness, has made it even easier for me to read for free.
There are a number of websites, apps, and such that allow you to read for free, legally. There are also a number of sites that allow you to read illegally but I won't go into that. It is illegal and wrong to read someone's work without someone paying them for the privilege especially when there are ways to read them for free, like the library. The library has lots of books you can read for free and if you don't have a library card, go get one [right now, my blog can wait].
The following are only some of the ways in which you can legally read for free over the interwebs and its numerous iterations.
Project Gutenberg started the ebook trend by putting works in the public domain on the web for anyone to access. [As an aside, the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart died recently. He helped create a revolution in reading, by moving books into the digital age that has since allowed the development of ereaders, digital libraries, and much more.] This site, although a tad outdated and clunky still offers the best access to the classics and works whose copyright has lapsed. However, the mobile site, is a lot easier to navigate and works well on smartphones. If you want to read anything from Bewoulf and Shakespeare to Doyle and Stocker, they have it. Works that have been placed onto the web by them also have ended up on a number of other websites and services, such as iBook, the Kindle, the Nook, Kobo and others.
Open Library is another website that offers access to lots of great books you can read for free. This website, a project of the Internet Archive, is incredibly ambitious as it wants to create a webpage for every book ever published, ever. It currently has at least 20 million books on record and encourage edits/additions/etc from the public in order to help meet their goal. In addition to this very ambitious goal, this site also offers some very spiffy things, like scanned books, Protected Daisy which reads books out loud, and the ability to see if a book you want is at your local library.
Litfy is another website that provides free legal access to books. This website is still in beta and requires you to sign up [also free] to get access to all of the features, but in return it offers a much better user experience than Project Gutenberg by organizing books by genre, offering user ratings and reviews, excerpts, and more. There is also a social component, which every website seems to have these days; this allows you to "follow" authors, connect with other people reading, and reminds me a lot of GoodReads.
Overdrive, [I am not providing a link as which Overdrive site you end up at depends on which library system you are a part of] a site you can access through your local library, has access to both ebooks and audiobooks. You can borrow them for up to 21 days and read/listen to them on your computer and a number of portable devices, including the Kindle and Nook. Overdrive's other great feature is that it offers access to new and popular works, just like your library.
In addition to these sites that focus on providing free access to ebooks, there are countless other ways to read ebooks for free. The Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, etc stores all offer books and short stories for free. Most often, the books being offered are from Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, Google, or some other effort to offer access to books in the public domain.
As an aside, as much as I enjoy reading books on my computer/phone/iPad, I will always like reading physical books, but I acknowledge the benefits to ereaders. In the end, as long as I get to read, I don't really care about the platform. If posting these sites helps someone go out [or stay in] and read, good because not enough people do.