Neil Gaiman - 1602 graphic novel cover Lost Cat book
Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesEllery Queen - The Greek Coffin Mystery

Amazon’s discounting Kindle ebooks again — over 113 of them! Every month they choose over 100 books to discount for their “$3.99 or less” sale, and this month’s selections include a mind-boggling graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, a fascinating new perspective on the life of a cat, and an ebook that one reviewer called “one of the greatest mysteries ever written”.

For a shortcut to the discounted Kindle ebooks, point your browser to

Here’s some of the most interesting selections…

Neil Gaiman - 1602 graphic novel cover

1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert ($3.99)

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign comes to an end, strange thunderstorms cover all of Europe — and she summons her royal advisors, Sir Nicholas Fury and Dr. Stephen Strange. It’s a fascinating blend of real history with characters from the Marvel comic book universe, as the British monarchy confronts the appearance of “witchbreed” among them who possess unexplainable super powers. (There’s a daring blind minstrel named Matthew Murdoch, and a young boy who’s fascinated by spiders by the name of Peter Parquagh…) It’s a complete graphic novel that’s wildly imaginative, collecting all 8 issues of Neil Gaiman’s original stories (which gave Marvel comics an entire alternate universe for future stories). And it’s presented in full color on Kindle Fire tablets (and any Amazon Kindle app), and also in black-and-white for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite. And you’ll never guess what happens when the royal family receives a visit from the Incredible Hulk…

Lost Cat book

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton ($1.99)

A loving couple loses their cat, but then it happily returns just a few weeks later. Where did it go? It’s a mystery that the couple sets out to solve in this delightful true story which is both funny and heart-warming. “Using GPS technology, cat cameras, psychics, the web, and animal communicators,” explains the book’s description on Amazon, “the authors of Lost Cat embarked on a quest to discover what their cat did when they weren’t around. Told through writer Caroline Paul’s rich and warmly poignant narrative and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton’s stunning and hilarious 4-color illustrations, Lost Cat is a book for animal lovers, pet owners, and anyone who has ever done anything desperate for love…”

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith) ($2.99)

It’s in the “romance” section of Amazon’s book deals, but this updated Jane Austen classic has a twist. Zombies! This surprise hit became a New York Times best-seller in 2009, for its fresh, original take on a classic romance about love and society in pre-Victorian England. This book playfully weaves the old plot into a new one. (“Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry?”) And while Jane Austen is listed as the book’s “co-author,” you’ve never seen Mr. Darcy in a situation like this…

Ellery Queen - The Greek Coffin Mystery

The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen ($1.99)

It’s one of America’s most famous mystery writers, and one of his first novels (when the young detective was still trying to prove himself). As the son of a New York cop, Ellery Queen was a “headstrong young genius,” according to this book’s description, and he confronts a very complicated case that involves a
blind man’s house next to a mysterious church graveyard. One reviewer on Amazon called the 299-page novel “Quite possibly one of the greatest mysteries ever written,” citing “delicious twists and turns”. They list a dazzling array of clues (and red herrings), and several reviewers came to the same conclusion: “The grand finale is mind boggling.”

Remember, for a shortcut to each month’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
you can always point your browser to:

Dog licking a Kindle from Amazon TV ad

Ad: Zest
Song: “Lover’s Cravings” by Bibo

Amazon is actually giving this song away free — just point your browser to . It provided the background music for one of Amazon’s most likeable Kindle commercials, and it’s part of a larger trend. Looking back over the history of Amazon’s advertising, you can see more example of the thoughtful ways they’ve presenting their new digital reader. And they’re using some very special songs to help share the idea that a Kindle can really become part of your life

This “zest” ad offered a nice collection of cheerful clips showing the Kindle in several cozy (although somewhat unlikely) places! (Like in a basket on the handlebars of a bicycle, or even getting licked by a dog…!) And to set the right tone for this bouncy ad, Amazon ultimately selected just the part of the song where the vocalist is singing “la la la,” over a guitar and the rhythm of clapping hands and set of maracas. But it turns out that when you download the longer (free) version of the song from Amazon, it’s actually got some very thoughtful lyrics. The song is by a British music producer named Bibo, but sometimes I like to think of it as commenting on the way that ebooks can resurrect great works of literature that were written centuries ago…

     Lovers’ names, carved in walls,
     overlap, start to merge.

     Some of them underneath.
     (Maybe) they appear, in graveyards.
     (Maybe they) fade away, weathered and
     overgrown. Time has told.

     Meaningful hidden words,
     (Sudden)ly appear, from the murk.
     (Maybe they’re) telling us, that the end
     never was, Never will.

     Words have gone. Meaning will
     (never) disappear, from the wall.

Screenshot from new Amazon Kindle television ad - The Book Lives On

Ad: The Book Lives On
Song: “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” by The New Pornographers

When Amazon lowered the price for their lightest Kindles to just $139, they also released a new ad that was clearly aimed at a younger market. It showed bright-faced young 20-somethings enjoying their Kindles in casual settings — on the grass, in a coffee shop, lying outdoors in the city, or while jogging past a lake. And to give this ad a dynamic feeling, Amazon used a recently-released song by a hip Canadian indie band called “The New Pornographers”, which delivered a near-nonsensical stream of positive-sounding words. “Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go. Shout it out… Sweet talk, sweet talk…”

But using the rest of the song’s lyrics would’ve just been confusing!

     A mistake on the part of nature,
     You’re so fair and so fey that you’ll sit anywhere.
     I’ve pencil sketched the scene.
     It’s feeling Byzantine.

     Mistakes on the part of nature,
     The living proof of what they’re calling love,
     On certain sideway streets
     Where things that don’t match meet.

     A mistake on the part of nature,
     You are a tall glass, a blast from the past.
     Yeah, things were simpler then.
     You ask exactly when.

     A mistake on the part of nature.
     It’s forgiven. Move on.
     Won’t wear my Sunday suit to walk that street.
     That would feel Byzantine…

     Amnesia becomes ambition.
     Ambition becomes a new sort of
     Charming simplicity,
     Like always, Byzantine…

Singer Annie Little - from the first Amazon Kindle TV commercial Fly Me Away

Ad: “Fly Me Away”
Song: “Fly Me Away” by Little & Ashley

Even Amazon’s earliest ads for the Kindle had the same theme: trying to make this new technology seem friendly, comfortable, and easily approachable. In fact, for their first ads, they held a contest to see who could create the best home-made ad for Amazon — and the winning entry was slapped together in less than a week! “We misread the contest rules and thought it said ‘Make your own Amazon Kindle commercial,’” remembers one of the ad’s two creative directors — a photographer who specialized in stills, with no experience moving pictures. But their solution was to film 30 seconds of stop-motion animation, showing off all the fantastic places you can imagine when you’re reading on a Kindle.

The ad eventually won Amazon’s contest (leading to a series of six more ads) — and its music matched the theme perfectly! “Fly Me Away” is a tender acoustic duet about “Silver Moons and paper chains, Faded maps and shiny things…” But making the charm even more authentic is the fact that the song’s vocalist, Annie Little really is the woman who actually appears in the ad — and she’s signing a duet with her real-life fiance! (Marcus Ashley…) It took two different 7-hour sessions to complete all of the stop-motion animation around — but the visuals and the song both delivered their fanciful message about how Amazon (and their Kindle) offer “A million different ways to go”.

     Silver Moons and paper chains,
     Faded maps and shiny things.
     You’re my favorite one-man show.
     A million different ways to go.

     Will you fly me away?
     Take me away with you,
     My love.

     Painted scenes, I’m up all night.
     Slaying monsters, flying kites.
     Speak to me in foreign tongues.
     Share your secrets one by one…

     Now I can’t think what life was like
     Before I had you by my side.
     Can’t say what I’d do without you,
     Knowing what it’s like to have you.

     Hidden walk ways back in time.
     Endless stories, lovers cry.
     In my mind I’ve been set free.
     Will you take this Journey, you and Me?

     Will you Fly me away?

     Take me away with you, my love!


Wow! There’s another surprise discount from Amazon — this time on the high-definition version of their Kindle Fire tablets! Normally the 7-inch model costs $169 — but Amazon’s lowered its price to just $129! And Amazon’s also offering big discounts on their super-high-resolution Kindle Fire HDX tablets.

For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s discounted tablets, point your browser to

But if you look carefully, you’ll see that Amazon’s big 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HDX has also been discounted by $40 — to just $339! And the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX has also been discounted, to just $199. Both these devices come with all the high-end special features — like a built-in camera and Amazon’s special “Mayday” button for live customer support. The only catch is it’s a “limited-time offer”. Amazon hasn’t said when these discounts will end, but if you’re already looking for a high-definition Kindle, this is a good way to save some money.

Amazon sent me a promotional e-mail about the discounts on Sunday,tying the promotion to the NCAA “March Madness” playoffs. “Watch Every Game Live” reads a headline one the tablet. And apparently, these Kindle Fire tablets are “an official tablet of the NCAA”. But it’s a promotion that makes sense, since this is the one time of year when sports fans plan on watching lots of end-of-the-season basketball games.

So if you’re going to be watching them anyways, why not watch them in high-definition video on your handheld Kindle Fire tablet?

Remember, for a shortcut to all of Amazon’s discounted tablets, point your browser to

Monty Python book coverDorothy Must Die book cover

Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of EverythingThe Sinister Six - Superior Foes of Spider-Man graphic novel cover

The whole month of March is “National Reading Month” in America — and Amazon has set aside a special collection of books to celebrate. “What Will You Read This Month?” asks the headline on their special web page — which links to Amazon’s picks for “The Best Books of the Month.” So what books did Amazon choose for honoring National Reading Month?

For a shortcut to Amazon’s page, point your browser to

Here’s some of the highlights…

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

“They say she found a way to come back to Oz,” reads a warning on the back of this book’s cover. “They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe…” It’s an exhiliarating act of imagination — or re-imagination — and author Danielle Paige turns it into a thrilling 464-page fantasy novel. She delivers a fresh new story about Amy Gumm — “the other girl from Kansas” — who must stalk that dreaded scarecrow and overcome all of Dorothy’s other allies. “I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked…. And I have a mission.” It looks like a great read!

Dorothy Must Die book cover

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About _____* I Learned from Monty Python by Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey

It’s an irresistible title, and the cover of the book fills in the rest of the sentence, explaining that the classic British humor show taught us about everything from history, art, poetry, and religion, to philosophy, media, the French, and fish slapping. But the pair of critics who created this 336-page masterpiece share a fond response that suggests the comedy ultimately delivered a positive message. “[T]hat we can laugh at the world instead of mourning its inequity, that we can expose evil through the light of satire and can banish hatred by laughing at the idiocy of the bully…” One reviewer for The Washington Post notes the irony that over the years the show has been embraced by the mainstream culture that it used to mock, quoting Eric Idle (one of the comedy troupe’s founding members) as saying,”Nowadays I miss people who hate us!”

Monty Python book cover

Amazon’s “Best Books of March” page also touts “The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency”, a new collection of the best humor pieces from the McSweeneys web site (which was co-founded by Dave Eggers!) I laughed out loud just reading the titles of the site’s pieces, which include “What I Would Be Thinking About if I Were Billy Joel Driving Toward a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano.” (“I’m not doing it. I’m just not. I know I say the same thing every year, but this time I mean it….”) Each piece offers fresh and clever takes on our popular culture, past and present. Unfortunately, this particular book is only available in paperback. But if you’d like to sample their humor on your Kindle, there is an ebook edition for an earlier collection with its own pithy title: Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney’s, Humor Category

Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything by Donald Link

He’s an award-winning chef from New Orleans, but according to the book’s description on Amazon, Donald Link “also has a knack for sniffing out a backyard barbecue wherever he travels.” His new book offers 110 recipes (and 100 color photographs) — but also interviews with barbecue “pitmasters”, and visits to colorful southern characters. (Like a Mississippi honey-grower to a Texas lamb ranch with their own pet llama!) This book offers a loving look at some great southern food — everything from slow-cooked barbecue pork, fresh Gulf seafood, Kentucky bourbon. But besides all of the welcoming treats, there’s also a fun look at the people who are cooking them!

Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man Volume 1: Getting the Band Back Together by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Last summer a new comic book debuted with a stunning premise. It’s a story about Spider-Man — but it’s told from the perspective of his arch enemies! Can “The Sinister Six” pull off their big heist…or are they already being stalked by Marvel’s other crime-fighting vigilante, The Punisher? The first six issues of this comic are all collected here in a color trade paperback — that’s 136 pages — though unfortunately, it isn’t available yet in a Kindle edition. But it might be fun to savor this collection in full-sized pages, since according to one Amazon reviewer, “Almost every panel of every issue has something that makes you smile or giggle…”

The Sinister Six - Superior Foes of Spider-Man graphic novel cover

Although Amazon’s Kindle Store does have nearly 200 other Spider-Man graphic novels to choose from!

And remember: for a shortcut to Amazon’s other March picks, point your browser to


“The BBC believes you only read 6 of these books” reads the headline on one page. “How many have you read?” It’s followed by a list of 100 literary classics, including Pride and Prejudice, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jane Eyre and the Harry Potter series. Book lovers all around the web (and on Facebook) are taking this irresistible quiz, but there’s just one problem with it.

It’s a hoax. The BBC never made any such claim.

I’ve searched the BBC’s web site, but there’s no mention there of any list of books that they supposedly believe people aren’t reading. With a quick Google search, I found more web pages where people were posting the same list — even as far back as 2009 — and even a couple pages where people were asking the same question I did: why doesn’t the original list anywhere on the BBC’s web site? Finally I discovered an obscure blog post from 2009 where someone in the comments (named Julie) had finally tracked down the answer. The original list apparently dates back to 2007.

But it wasn’t from the BBC — it was from the Guardian newspaper. And they never claimed that most people hadn’t read more than 6 of the books…

Instead, their list was titled 100 books that “you can’t live without”. It appears to be based on a poll of their readers, which might explain why the results contain so many British authors. Six of the 100 books were written by Charles Dickens, and four were written by Jane Austen. Yet there’s not a single book by Mark Twain — or Ernest Hemingway, or William Faulkner.

But it’s still nice to know that there other people who like some of the same books that I do. (Yes, I have read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as The Wind in the Willows…as a free Kindle ebook!) But as I was going through the list, trying to see if I’ve read more than six of its titles or less, I start to wonder if there’s a better way to see if I’m reading enough great books. And the best thing I read today was probably the response from the blogger who first figured out (in 2009) that this challenge was a hoax.

“So, feel free to see how many of those hundred books you’ve read,” Julie writes. “As a reader, I always find it fun.

“However, know that the BBC isn’t judging you.

“The only thing you’ll discover is if you’ve read the same books that a bunch of people in the UK couldn’t live without…”

A Confederacy of Dunces

Cover of Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

It’s almost an even bigger surprise. Amazon announced their picks for “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” (as chosen by the editor’s of Amazon’s book section.) But deep within Amazon’s press release, they also revealed which books their editors most wished had made it onto their list — but didn’t! The results are a surprisingly eclectic collection of new and classic fiction. And Amazon’s also published an entirely different list of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” — this one chosen by actual readers!

For the reader’s list, point your web browser to

“We set out to build a roadmap of a literary life without making it feel like a homework assignment,” explained Amazon’s editorial director for Kindle ebooks (and printed books) at — and I like how they let other readers participate in the list building. But it was also fun just to hear about which books had received the most votes. In fact, Amazon’s press release, Amazon identifies six books where the decision was unanimous. Each one of Amazon’s editors felt these books should be included on their “lifetime” list.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Only the last two are available in Kindle editions (which might explain why Amazon was reluctant to include them on their list). But when preparing their press release, Amazon had also asked each editor for their own personal pick of a book which they’d most wanted to include — and the results were very surprising. The books are from different centuries, with authors from different countries, writing about different themes, and for audiences at different reading levels. This list made me smile, since each one is a purely personal pick, a collection of “beautiful losers”, if you will — each one fondly remembered by somebody.

Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

But fortunately, Amazon has also published a second list of books for a lifetime, an entirely different selection that was chosen by readers! The polling happened on the GoodReads web site, and in this case, it’s “readers to the rescue”, since this second list does include some of those “beautiful losers” that didn’t quite make it onto Amazon’s own list. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came in at #28 on the “reader’s list”, and Les Miserables came in at #69. And the readers at GoodReads also came up with some original choices of their own!

One of my favorite science fiction book’s make it onto the “reader’s list” — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, which came in at #57. And the reader’s also chose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (#45) and Stephen King’s The Stand (#53) — plus A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), which ranked #64 in the voting. Even an Agatha Christie mystery made it onto the list — And Then There Were None, in the #85 spot. This definitely feels like a list of books that’d be fun to read.

If there’s a theme running through this list, it’s the kind of books that you’ve probably seen your friends reading. Besides agreeing with Amazon’s choice of The Lord of the Rings, the “reader’s list also included The Hobbit. And where Amazon had included Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the readers at GoodReads picked three more books about the boy wizard — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#42), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#62), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#72). Amazon had also included The Hunger Games, but the “reader’s list” went ahead and added the other two books from the series — Mockingjay and Catching Fire.

Part of the fun of this exercise is knowing that we all have our own favorites. (That’s why we get so excited when we spot one that made it onto somebody else’s list.) But sooner or later we’ll have to look outside our own bubble, and that’s when the real fun begins.

If you were looking for new books to read, which list would you choose?

For see the reader’s choices, point your web browser to

Amazon Chooses 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
A very special list just appeared within the pages of It’s described as “A bucket list of books to create a well-read life,” and it’s been lovingly assembled by the editors of Amazon’s book sections. “Over many months, the team passionately debated and defended the books we wanted on this list,” reads a statement from Amazon — and I smiled when I saw some of my favorite books among Amazon’s picks. But every book on that page means a lot to somebody. “We talked and argued and sifted and argued some more,” explains some text at the bottom of Amazon’s web page, “and came up with a list, our list, of favorites.”

For a shortcut, point your browser to

I was surprised to discover that some of the books are available for free, and I was glad Amazon’s list included On the Road by Jack Kerouac — as well as Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (another personal favorite of mine). At first I was a little surprised that they’d also included Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo” memoir about taking a “Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream”. But then I re-read the book’s first paragraph, and remembered what an intense read it had been.

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…’ And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas…”

The same list also includes some children’s classics, like Where the Wild Things Are and The House At Pooh Corner. In fact, there’s books for all ages, including young adult novels like A Wrinkle In Time and The Phantom Tollbooth. Amazon explains at the bottom of their page that “We wanted the list to cover all stages of a life (which is why you’ll find children’s books in here)…” It’s a nice philosophy, along with the fact that they included some extra-fun choices because “we didn’t want the list to feel like homework.”

That explains how their list came to include Stephen King’s The Shining and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. (Though I’m glad they also included Raymond Chandler’s classic noir detective story, The Long Goodbye. ) Other “fun” titles include David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day and Kitchen Confidential by chef Anthony Bourdain. And there’s even some “blockbuster” fantasy and science titles – as well as some classics!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Hunger Games
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians)
Farenheit 451

Kindle versions are available for most of the books — but not all of them. (That’s one of the list’s biggest surprises.) In fact, 17 of the 100 “books to read in a lifetime” that Amazon recommends are only available in print editions. But there’s also six classic novels on their list which are not only available on the Kindle — they’re free.

Pride and Prejudice
Great Expectations
The Age of Innocence
Of Human Bondage
The Wind in the Willows
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

A list like this will always provoke a discussion. (For example, I’m glad Amazon included Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, but that same author wrote a memoir about his high school baseball coach which I thought was much more inspiring…) But the real point of a list like this is to pique our curiousity about what other great books may be waiting for us out there that we haven’t read yet. Amazon’s introduction to the list sums it all up with just six words.

“So many books, so little time. ”

For a shortcut, point your browser to

Death is Wrong Kindle ebook

I was stunned to discover a 28-year-old author had published an ebook titled
“Death is Wrong.”
Hoping to inspire life-extending medical research by future generations, science fiction author Gennady Stolyarov has also launched a campaign to give away 1,000 free copies of his “transhumanist” picture book to children. “My greatest fear about the future is not of technology running out of control or posing existential risks to humankind,” he writes in an online essay. “Rather, my greatest fear is that, in the year 2045, I will be 58 years old and already marked by notable signs of senescence, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my morning coffee, and wondering, ‘What happened to that Singularity we were promised by now? Why did it not come to pass?

“Why does the world of 2045 look pretty much like the world of 2013, with only a few cosmetic differences?’”

For a shortcut to the ebook’s page on Amazon, point your browser to

You have to admire the ambition of author Gennady Stolyarov. He’s set out to create a better world by educating young readers early about the newest scientific discoveries on aging, and also sharing inspiring stories about long-lived plants and animals “that point the way toward lengthening lifespans in humans.” Stolyarov writes online that he’s trying to help avoid a future where as an aging man, “as I stare into that mug of coffee, I would recognize that it will all be downhill from there, especially as ‘kids these days’ would pay no more attention to technological progress and life-extension possibilities than their predecessors did.”

It’s mind-blowing to even imagine a world where death can be cured just like any other disease. And it’s really inspiring that self-publishing gave this dreamer his platform — so he can share his ideas with the rest of the world. Who knows? Maybe he could inspire medical miracles by the next generation. And the Kindle didn’t just provide a platform for this author’s ebook. It’s also helping to fund the construction of a powerful clock that will run for 10,000 years!

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is funding the project, and though it sounds like a science fiction story, he’s already purchased a remote chunk of land in Nevada where the “Clock of the Long Now” can be housed. “We humans have become so technologically sophisticated that in certain ways we’re dangerous to ourselves,” Bezos is quoted as saying. “It’s going to be increasingly important over time for humanity to take a longer-term view of its future.”

The project has other influential backers, according to Wikipedia, including science fiction author Neal Stephenson and musician Brian Eno (who came up with the name “Clock of the Long Now”.) It makes me smile if only because they’re dreaming big dreams, and that’s partly why the clock is being built. “Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment,” writes futurist Stewart Brand on one of the project’s web pages. “Such icons reframe the way people think.

So maybe it’s just one small step from that to teaching a generation of children that “Death is Wrong”…

For a shortcut to the ebook’s page on Amazon, point your browser to

XKCD cartoonist publishes a What If book

It’ll be six months before it’s even released. Yet it’s already become Amazon’s
#2 best-selling book!
It’s by the cartoonist who draws the popular online comic strip XKCD. And ironically, this book is titled “What If?”

For a shortcut to his book’s page — and an earlier collection of
the author’s comic strips — point your browser to

It’s like a surreal story from one of the author’s own comic strips. In our yet-to-happen future, his book decides to travel backwards through time, stopping off in March of 2014 to inform Amazon’s best-seller list that yes, in our coming timeline this book will be widely read. Ironically, the book’s complete title is “What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.” (Like what would happen if you threw a baseball at 90% the speed of light? )

“…the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them so hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles… They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma…

“A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered ‘hit by pitch’, and would be eligible to advance to first base.”

For years the cartoonist — Randall Munroe — has been fielding these wild questions on a special “sub domain” of his comic strip’s web page ( at ) The answers are illustrated with some of his endearing stick figures and simple diagrams – but there’s always been real science in the paragraphs of text that accompany them. What’s really amazing is he only announced his plans to publish this book yesterday — in a blog post entitled “What if I wrote a book?” His fan base was so thrilled, a huge number apparently rushed over to Amazon to pre-order their copies!

To encourage them to buy, the author even created a special cartoon just to answer one more question.

XCKD author publishes What If

They may also have been intrigued by the fact that this book will contain new material in addition to some of the author’s favorite questions from his web site. “As I’ve sifted through the letters submitted to What If every week, I’ve occasionally set aside particularly neat questions that I wanted to spend a little more time on,” Munroe wrote in his blog post. “This book features my answers to those questions, along with revised and updated versions of some of my favorite articles from the site….)

But there’s one more fascinating data point. Right now, the unpublished book doesn’t even appear on Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks. It’s got me wondering if most of Amazon’s customers are just buying Kindle ebooks now. So it’s much easier to get to the top of Amazon’s list of print best-sellers — because Amazon’s selling so few printed books!

Anna Zielinski in a blue bikini reading a Kindle at the beach in Amazon Paperwhite TV ad

I was really proud after identifying which novel Amazon was showing being read in their latest Kindle commercial. (It’s Gone Girl, the best-selling 2012 thriller by Gillian Flynn.) But one of my readers had entirely different question. “I am more interested in who that woman is enjoying the book,” they e-mailed me last week.

“Since you’ve done a search into the book, I’m hoping you can figure it out!”

Here’s your answer: it’s Anna Zielinski, and she used to be a professional cheerleader! For two years she cheered on the San Antonio Spurs, an NBA basketball team, as one of their “Silver Dancers” — until she switched to career in acting. She’s appeared in various episodes of lots of different TV shows — including Bones, Castle, Without a Trace, Lie To Me, and How I Met Your Mother. Ironically, in 2005 she had a small part in Samuel L. Jackson’s movie about a basketball coach — in which appeared as a cheerleader!

Just 12 years ago, she was launching her career by starring in stage plays in Dallas — like Viva Las Vegas with Lou Diamond Phillips, as well as stage productions of Moulin Rouge and Chicago. But she was also getting chosen for some high-profile commercials, touting everything from Burger King to Black Angus and Southwest Airlines. She turned in a great performance as the saleswoman at a Saturn dealership, re-assuring a customer who’s confused by the fact that Saturn also sells sportscars. For a shortcut to that ad on YouTube, point your browser to

But now she’s best-known just for reading ebooks. “Anna Zielinski is the face – and body – in some of Amazon’s Kindle ads…” begins a profile in Business Insider. She always appears reading in a binki — which is usually black — and in her first ad she teased an iPad owner who couldn’t read its screen because of the sunlight. “Poolside Girl in Kindle Ad Plunges a Nation Into Civil War,” joked a headline at CBS Moneywatch, which noted that within two days the ad had racked up nearly 1 million views just on YouTube (after it received a high-profile link from the technology blog Engadget ).

But I’d blame that 2010 controversy on the commercial’s script, which Zielinski delivered perfectly. She gently reminded the poor iPad owner that her own beach-friendly Kindle had only cost her $139.

“I actually paid more for these sunglasses!”

Anna Zielinski wears a bikini in Amazon's sunglasses TV commercial for Kindle

I’m fascinated by the Kindle, and the way that it’s actually revolutionized how we’re reading and purchasing books. But Amazon’s always been very cautious as they’ve introduced this device into our world. For years their TV advertisements have worked very hard just to seem casual and relaxed, offering only a few simple lines of narration (often with fun and funny visuals). The real key to Amazon’s ads might be their music — which give each spot its special friendly and playful tone.

So which songs did Amazon choose to represent the Kindle?

Anna Zielinski in a blue bikini reading a Kindle at the beach in Amazon Paperwhite TV ad

Ad: Vacation Getaway with Kindle Paperwhite
Song: Chupee by Cocoon

“We have gone to the country, in your old car…” begins the gentle duet by the French band Cocoon, as a strumming ukelele is joined by an acoustic guitar and the sound of hands clapping. The complete song also featured a flute — and some lyrics about how that car trip ultimately went awry. “We have lost our way so many times…”

     Eating your Chupa Chup,
     A plane is making a loop.
     The beavers are so cute.
     A tree gave me a fruit…
     Hello, hello.
     I take you on a trip…

It’s a good choice for an ad about relaxing in the sun reading your Kindle. And there’s a lovely music video for the song on YouTube, which shows the two singers relaxing in the forest — when they’re suddenly discovered by animated creatures who dance on their keyboard — and walk off with their acoustic guitar! (For a shortcut to the video on YouTube, go to )

Ad: Pack Your Kindle
Song: “When They Fight, They Fight” by The Generationals

I’d first refered to this as Amazon’s “Secret Summer Commercial,” since it first aired in England in the summer of 2012, showing “lots of happy people enjoying their Kindle while they’re ‘on holiday’ at the beach.” The first words on the screen are “Pack Your Kindle,” before a montage of cheerful scenes shows scenes from a fancy summer resort (all of which include a Kindle) — like a tall glass of lemonade on a table, or a woman reading by the pool.

Kindle in bathing suit back pocket beach ad

The playful song that sets the tone for this ad even opens with a “wolf whistle”, and it’s by a Louisiana band called The Generationals. Though the ad only used two of their song’s lyrics — “I love you baby,” and “Oooh, ooh ooh….” — the parts of the song that Amazon left out are actually much darker (and would actually have completely contradicted the ad’s cheerful message!)

     When they fight, they fight!
     And when they come home at night they say,
     ”I love you, baby.”

     Was it too much too soon,
     Or too little too late?
     He got the message she left on his car, in the rain.

     And then the words they come to you,
     driving away.
     You just can’t let it go…

     And when it all comes crashing down,
     what can you do,
     to find what you’re looking for?
     And then the words will come to you,
     driving through the rain.

     But there’ll be no one there to say them to anyway…

Ink well from Kindle Fire ad

Ad: “From Kindle, Fire is born”
Song: “Words” by The Givers

When Amazon released their first Kindle Fire tablets, they created some excitement with an ad that depicted the entire history of the written word. “The instruction we find in books is like fire,” began the narration — reading a quote from Voltaire — over footage of a quill pen. “We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes property of all…”

And Amazon found the perfect song to accompany that ad. (To listen to the entire song on YouTube, go to ) The Givers, another band from Louisiana, begin with an echo-y harmonica mixed with some aimless synthesized notes and a violin, before it’s transformed by a pounding beat into a howl about how “The words we say today. We’ll say, and we’ll see them again. Yes, we’ll see them again…”

     So I choose my words so carefully,
     like the sun, make it glow, or they glare at me.
     Well, I choose light.
     I like that warm,
     keep me up at night.

     And I pry that door of honesty
     And as the warmth shines in, it dawns on me
     That I choose light
     To guide me through my actions at night…

     So just hold up. Don’t fold up.
     Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know
     You’ll see it again.
     Yes you’ll see it again

     And if your notion is in motion
     Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know
     You’ll see there’s no end.
     Yes you’ll see there’s no end, end, end, end…

     And if the waves ride high, then so will I.
     Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know.
     And you’ll see them again.

You’ll see them again…

Get a Kindle for just $49

March 4th, 2014

Amazon Kindle just $49

Today only, Amazon will sell you a Kindle for just $49! And they’ve also reduced the price of their Kindle Paperwhite to just $99. “Celebrate National Reading Month” reads the headline next to the offer on Amazon’s front page – and when you click through to the offer, they reduce the offer to just six word. “Today Only: Get $20 off Kindle!”

For a shortcut, point your browser to

And for a shortcut to Amazon’s March Kindle ebook discounts, go to

Monday was “Read Across America” Day, a special event where schools (and schoolteachers) take time to celebrate the joys of reading. Last year movie star Uma Thurman read The Cat in the Hat to more than 250 schoolchildren to promote the event (which saw over 45 million schoolchildren participating!) Every child in Manhattan got a free copy of The Cat in the Hat as part of the special celebration. But today, Amazon’s celebrating the joy of reading by giving big discounts on their most popular Kindles!

The $20 discount for Amazon’s smallest Kindle comes out to a 28% savings (since it’s usually priced at $69). But the Paperwhite has consistently been one of Amazon’s more popular Kindles, so it’s nice to see Amazon’s also lowering its price.

Amazon Discount on Kindle Paperwhite

Remember, this sale is for one day only. So if you’re in the market for another Kindle — and you want to save $20 — today’s your day!

For a shortcut, point your browser to

Amazon Kindle 399 ebook sale

I love the beginning of each month, because it’s when Amazon announces new discounts on a special selection of Kindle ebooks! It’s one of the best things about being a Kindle owner — there’s always plenty of bargains to explore, which makes it easy to try out new authors and explore some new genres. And this month, Amazon’s discounted some relatively new ebooks — including an Agatha Christie story that’s never been published before!

For a shortcut to all the discounts, just point your browser to

Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly by Agatha Christie ( $0.99)

It’s a new, never-before-published mystery by Agatha Christie — and it’s available only as an ebook! Just released in November, this novella was originally authored in 1954, and it holds a special place in the Agatha Christie canon. She slipped in references to her own local neighborhood into this story — including her very own home of Greenway — and she’d planned to donate the money earned by this story to her own local church’s fundraiser for a stained glass window. But in the end, the novella itself took a strange turn, according to the book’s page at Amazon, when Christie decided to enlarge its 75-page story into a longer, full-length mystery (which she released in 1956 as Dead Man’s Folly ). Instead the church received the proceeds from another mystery story featuring her Miss Marple character. And now the original novella version of this Hercule Poirot mystery has finally also been published!

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut ($3.99)

This is the very first novel ever written by Kurt Vonnegut, just seven years after he’d been liberated from a Nazi P.O.W. camp in 1945, and 17 years before Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut first studied anthropology, then became a technical writer (and publicist) for General Electric — which inspired this startlingly imaginative piece of science fiction, according to Wikipedia. Vonegut had witnessed some computer-operated “milling machines” that were already cutting the rotors used in sophisticated engines and gas turbines. “Player Piano was my response to the implications of having everything run by little boxes…” the author told Playboy Magazine in a 1972 interview. “To have a little clicking box make all the decisions wasn’t a vicious thing to do. But it was too bad for the human beings who got their dignity from their jobs!”

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende ($1.99)

Isabel Allende wrote the novel “House of the Spirits” in 1982, and she’s also won numerous awards, including induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. But just three years ago, at the age of 68, she applied her “magic realism” to the city of New Orleans, delivering this rich piece of historical fiction that’s set in the late 1700s. “Allende is a master storyteller at the peak of her powers,” reads a quote from the Los Angeles Times on the book’s page on Amazon. It’s exciting that Amazon’s included this among this month’s selections for discounted Kindle ebooks. But I was really surprised they included it in the “Romance” section — “What the Duke Desires” and “How to Discipline Your Vampire”!

What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries ($1.99)

Last year I wrote wryly about how Amazon had discounted five different romance novels which all contained the word “Duke” in their title! But give some credit to Sabrina Jeffries, who has was chosen last month to be the first romance author interviewed by USA Today for their new column about historical romance novels. Her historical romance novels reached the New York Times best-seller list — she’s written 36 of them, with titles like Never Seduce a Scoundrel and Married to the Viscount. Fans of historical romance will be pleased that a new Jeffries novel was released just six weeks ago — When the Rogue Returns — and that Amazon has discounted her previous novel to just $1.99!

The Motley Fool versus the Kindle

February 28th, 2014

The Motley Fool logo

We live in an interesting time. In less than 20 years, Amazon’s grown from a no-profit bookstore into a giant that sells everything. And yet, is the company really earning a profit? I always enjoyed the analysis at The Motley Fool, which make questions like these sound like a fun bar-stool conversation. And this month they published a brand new article about Amazon’s Kindle tablets — revealing that when it comes to selling ebooks, movies, and TVs, Amazon has finally found a sweet spot.

“A year or two ago, it was hard to find much evidence that Amazon’s Kindle strategy was working as expected,” writes Adam Levine-Weinberg (a senior analyst for the Fool web site). Back when Amazon first launched their Kindle Fire tablets, it didn’t result in a massive increase in their sales of movies and ebooks. “Amazon’s North American media sales rose just 15% in 2012,” writes the analyst, “slightly below the 2011 rate and well below the growth rate of most of Amazon’s other segments.” And in fact, through June of last year, the growth in Amazon’s media sales actually seemed to be decreasing from what it had been in the previous year.

But by December, the year-to-year comparisons were telling a happier story. Over the previous 12 months, Amazon’s sales of e-books, movies, and TV shows grew by a whopping 21%. There’s an interesting caveat. Apparently Amazon actually earns three times as much money on “electronics and general merchandise” as it does on ebooks and media sales. But as things start to cool off on the gadget-selling business, investors will be delighted to see that Amazon’s actually selling more media to view on those gadgets…

Of course, the Fool hasn’t always been bullish about everything Amazon does — and it’s really fun to look back at what they’ve written about the company over the years. Back in 2010, they complained about the metaphors Amazon used to avoid giving specific numbers about how many Kindles they’d actually sold. One article complained it’s “like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician. They all tell you what they think you want to hear…but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion!”

So it was a big deal in December of that year when Amazon finally did reveal a number — sort of. “Amazon still isn’t coming clean with how many Kindle e-book readers it’s selling,” the site reported, “but at least now we know that it will be in the ‘millions’ this holiday quarter alone.” They headlined their article “It’s Raining Kindles!” and soon there was even more big Amazon news. Last year a business analyst at The Motley Fool pointed out that people who join Amazon’s Prime program ultimately use Amazon for the majority of their online shopping, and end up spending more than twice the amount spent by non-Prime members!” (The average Prime member spends $1,200 a year on Amazon’s web site….) And with their latest increase in the sales of digital media, The Motley Fool reached the only conclusion possible.

“Amazon’s quest for long-term dominance in the market for books, music, and movies is back on track!”

Woman in bikini reading at beach in Amazon Kindle Paperwhite ad

Watching TV, I just spotted a brand new ad for the Kindle. (Amazon’s touting the Kindle Paperwhite, so their ad shows a woman in a bikini enjoying an ebook in a beach chair — while the unhappy people around her struggle to read their own tablets in the bright sunlight.) There’s a short shot of the clear, crisp letters on her Kindle’s screen, and it always makes me want to ask the same question.

So what ebook is she actually reading?

Fortunately, you can pause the video long enough to read some of the sentences — and if you type them into Google, you can reveal the secret answer. It turns out that the woman at the beach is deeply engrossed in a 434-page thriller by Gillian Flynn. It’s called Gone Girl, and it became a best-seller in 2012 just a few weeks after it was released, ultimately selling more than two million copies.

For a shortcut to the ebook, point your browser to

It tells a darkly intriguing story about an unhappy couple that’s been married for five years — when the wife suddenly goes missing on their fifth anniversary. That’s why the book is titled “Gone Girl”, and the title of the chapter being read in the Kindle ad is “THE DAY OF…”

“…through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

My eyes flipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian flutter­ing of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awaken­ing was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime! 6-0-0 the clock said—in my face, first thing I saw. 6-0-0. It felt different. I rarely woke at such a rounded time. I was a man of jagged risings: 8:43, 11:51, 9:26. My life was alarmless.

At that exact moment, 6-0-0, the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-god self. Its reflection flared across the river toward our house, a long…”

You can read the whole chapter onlineNPR Books published a much longer excerpt back in May of 2012 when the thriller was first released. I cheated and read a summary of the book’s plot on its page on Wikipedia, and I’ll just say that as expected, this book definitely has a lot of plot twists! And apparently there’s also a movie version that’s in production starring Ben Affleck as the possibly-murderous husband!

But best of all, you won’t have any trouble reading this page-turning thriller in the bright sunlight at the beach — as long as you’re reading it on your Kindle!

For a shortcut to Gone Girl, point your browser to