I've been resistant to the idea of reading books online, and while I've been amazed by products such as the Kindle, I'm still pretty adamant about reading books while holding the real deal in my hand. Sure, I'll use the computer to read a few newspaper articles in the morning, random magazine articles, essays, blogs...but it's a little more difficult to curl up with your laptop and read for an hour (or several.)
However, today was the first day I visited Google Book Search. The homepage didn't show anything that I was all that interested in reading, so I looked for something I've been wanting to read for a while, the collection edited by Dave Eggers, The Best American Nonrequired Reading. The most recent edition I could find in my quick search was from 2003, but I was immediately able to access the whole text.
I'm sure there about a million arguments for why books should not be available online, but I have two things to say in defense of free online reading. First, it's highly unlikely that I would read the entire book online. What's far more likely to occur is that I will try it out, read a few pages or click on (one of my favorite features on the search tool) the "Popular Passages" link. If it piqued my interest, I would do one of two things: click on the link in the sidebar to actually buy the book OR go to the bookstore and buy it there, where I would probably succumb to temptation and purchase at least two or three other books at the same time.
Second, Google has better predictive software than anything I else I ever come across. I imagine a perfect Google world in which they find books that I might never find myself, recommending little known authors that become some of my favorites. Of course, this is just a little daydream. But if anyone can fulfill it, I think it's Google.