Fun Moments in eBook History with Stephen King

Stephen King Kindle horror story ebook - UR

Stephen King lived his own amazing story. He travelled back in time to the year 2000 in order to write the first massively successful ebook. Or something like that. At least, that’s what I was thinking when I first discovered that Stephen King actually released the first mass-market ebook over 10 years ago, and within 24 hours he’d achieved an amazing 400,000 downloads!

In the story, a young man has a strange adventure while hitchhiking to the hospital bed of his sick mother. (Fans may remember the novella, which was called Riding the Bullet, and is still available as a Kindle ebook.) Stephen King’s profits may not have set a record, since according to Business Week more than 90% of those readers downloaded that book for free. But Stephen King still remained a pioneer in ebooks, and it was just five years ago that he finally read his first book using the Kindle.

“The advance publicity says it looks like a paperback book, but it really doesn’t. It’s a panel of white plastic with a screen in the middle and one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves. Full disclosure: I have not yet used the teeny-tiny keyboard, and really see no need for it. Keyboards are for writing. The Kindle is for reading…”

I really like the way Stephen King described WhisperNet as “the electronic ether, where even now a million books are flying overhead, like paper angels without the paper, if you know what I mean.” And soon King had decided to write his own spooky story that was about the Kindle itself! After writing the article Amazon had asked his agent if King wanted to write an original story for the release of the Kindle 2. “I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle. Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird.”

That story is called Ur (and you can still download it to your Kindle for just $3.19.) “At the time the Amazon request came in, I’d been playing with an idea about a guy who starts getting e-mails from the dead,” King wrote in Entertainment Weekly. “The story I wrote, Ur, was about an e-reader that can access books and newspapers from alternate worlds. I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn’t bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I’m still standing.”

Since then, Stephen King seems to have developed a good relationship with Amazon. Just a few months ago, he provided Amazon with a special list of his three favorite books from 2012. (Say You’re Sorry, And When She Was Good, and The Good Son. And on Amazon’s list of the best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2011, Stephen King had two books in the top 50. If you’re browsing through magazines in the Kindle Store, you can even have Amazon send you a free edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the magazine where King first published the short stories which became the first volume of The Dark Tower. Sign up for your free subscription by pointing your web browser to . It’s “the best fiction magazine in America,” reads the endorsement from King himself.

It must be exciting to spend 12 years writing ebooks, only to see digital book-reading technology make its way from the world of fiction into the real world!

Click here to download UR

And if you want to travel back in time to 2000, Riding the Bullet also appeared in a King collection called “Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.”

Amazon CEO Applauds “the Transition We’ve Been Expecting”

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

I always enjoy hunting for nuggets of information when Amazon makes their big announcements to stockholders. Today Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, revealed something new to think about. Amazon did sell more printed books this December than they had the year. But it was the smallest increase ever in the 17-year history of Amazon — a rise of just 5%.

Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble announced plans to close 200 bookstores over the next 10 years — about one-sixth of all stores. That’s America’s single-largest chain of bookstores — and Borders bookstores already declared bankruptcy in 2011. It’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s not a lot of growth now in the sale of printed books. Today Amazon’s CEO identified this trend as “the transition we’ve been expecting.”

And for comparison, he added that after 5 years, “eBooks is a multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast – up approximately 70% last year.” After that stunning statistic, there wasn’t much left to say — except a big thank-you to all the people who’ve started buying ebooks from Amazon. “We’re excited and very grateful to our customers for their response to Kindle and our ever expanding ecosystem and selection.”

Amazon also shared some other interesting bits of trivia about the Kindle. For example, since it was introduced in September, the Kindle Fire HD has continuously remained Amazon’s #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished for product “across the millions of items available on Amazon worldwide.” And by the end of the year, Amazon’s worldwide best-seller charts showed that the top four spots had all been claimed by Amazon’s digital readers and tablets — the Kindle Fire HD, the Kindle Fire, the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle.

Amazon has always insisted they’re willing to lose a lot of money over the short term, as part of a grand master strategy of growing their customer base over the long-term. So they probably want investors to focus on this number: in just the last three months of 2012, Amazon’s sales totalled $21.27 billion. That’s up more than 22% from the same period a year ago — an increase of $3.84 billon. And Amazon’s sales figure would’ve been even higherif it hadn’t been for fluctuations in the world currency market, which cost Amazon another $178 million.

I don’t know how Wall Street is going to react to Amazon’s numbers, but I’m impressed. For the last three months of 2012, they averaged over $236 million in sales every single day. And as Kindle owners, we’re all part of that number – and a big piece off Amazon’s long-term strategy.

The Kindle makes it even easier to buy things from Amazon — even when you’re lying on your couch!

Stephen King releases a Kindle Exclusive


Stephen King did something strange on Friday. He crept into the Kindle Store, and released a new exclusive that he’d just finished writing. But it wasn’t a horror novel, or even a scary short story. Instead, it was a personal essay about something dangerous in the real world. Stephen King released a Kindle Single called Guns.

For a shortcut, just point your web browser to

It’s a surprisingly good read, trying to offer the same understanding of our universal fears that have characterized his novels. Using taut prose, he describes how the media reacts to the horrors of a shooting. (“Few of the trigger-pullers are middle-aged, and practically none are old. Some are young men; many are just boys. The Jonesboro, Arkansas, school shooters were 13 and 11…”) According to a British newspaper, he’d just finished writing the essay less than 10 days ago. “Once I finished writing Guns I wanted it published quickly,” King announced in a statement on Friday, “and Kindle Singles provided an excellent fit.”

Amazon was delighted. (“It’s exciting to offer a way for a brilliant writer like King to publish quickly,” Amazon added in the same press release, “and to reach a large audience of loyal readers and new customers.”) David Blum, editor of Kindle Singles, said that they’d agreed to publish King’s essay within hours of receiving it. “By that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication…”

It’s already become the #1 best-seller in the nonfiction section of Amazon’s store for Kindle Singles. (Though ironically, the #2 best-seller in the nonfiction section is a parody about the life of Vice President Biden by The Onion.) But King had another reason for publishing this 25-page essay as a Kindle Single, according to the article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He “wanted it published as soon as possible, given the Obama administration’s looming battle with the National Rifle Association and its allies.”

America is in the middle of a nationwide debate about the possibility of new gun control laws. And King’s essay “stresses that he is an unapologetic gun-owner with at least half a foot in the conservative camp of the US divide,” the Guardian notes. But he’s calling for a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, calling them weapons of mass destruction. “When lunatics want to make war on the unarmed and unprepared, these are the weapons they use.”

The essay also takes a surprising turn when King remembers that some teenaged gunman claimed that their inspiration came from a story written by Stephen King — the 1977 novel Rage. King wrote it when he was a teenager himself, and later published it under his pen name, Richard Bachman. According to the Guardian, King’s essay “did not apologise for writing Rage — ‘no, sir, no ma’am’ — because it told the truth about high-school alienation and spoke to troubled adolescents who ‘were already broken’. However, he said, he ordered his publisher to withdraw the book because it had proved dangerous.”

“My book did not break (them) or turn them into killers,” reads a quote from King’s essay on The Huffington Post. “[T]hey found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

King remains firm in his opposition to censorship, but also criticizes the staunch gun advocates who take an absolute position which he characterizes as “to hell with the collateral damage”.

I didn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgement it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do. Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people until the powerful pro-gun forces in this country decide to do a similar turnaround. They must accept responsibility, recognizing that responsilibity is not the same as culpability. They need to say, ‘we support these measures not because the law demands we support them, but because it’s the sensible thing.’

Until that happens, shooting sprees will continue.

Presidents Using Kindles?

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book

I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 16 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the first inauguration of President Obama in 2009, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” That same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle, and a few weeks later, even Laura Bush told an interviewer that she has one too.

Maybe this week’s inauguration has me thinking about the presidents and the Kindle. But it’s isn’t just that the Kindle is being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush soon released his new autobiography. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging, I decided then — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrate the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculated that that was over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan. In 2010, you could buy seven different ebooks by Jimmy Carter… But today, there’s now 30 of them in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

It’s a fun way to notice that the world really is changing. Even president Obama released a new book in 2010 — and of course, decided to make it available on the Kindle. It was a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. And this will be the first generation of children who end up reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

What’s even more interesting is when that book was first released, it wasn’t released as a Kindle ebook. It was only available as hardcover children’s picture book when it first came out. (“Tell the Publisher!” Amazon suggested on their page for the book. “I’d like to read this book on Kindle…”) First it wasn’t available on the Kindle — and then it was…

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. Two years ago, one political blog even reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app. But 12 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in just a few years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!

A Free eBook for Inauguration Day

So America inaugurated a president on Monday. But there’s a fun way to give it some context with your Kindle. In 2010 I was delighted to discover all the presidential inaugural addresses are available as a free Kindle ebook! What did other presidents say in their own famous speeches? They’re all there, from Bush and Clinton down through Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy…all the way to the very first presidential inaugural address ever given, by George Washington.

It was on a balcony in New York City that Washington stood, and history records that he seemed nervous. “[N]o event could have filled me with greater anxieties,” he begins his speech, than to have received the news that he’d been elected America’s very first president. Washington opens his speech by describing his home, “a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection,” saying that he’d hoped to settle down there and spend his old age there in comfort. (He was already 57…) And he says modestly that he’s worried about the difficulties ahead, and hopes his countrymen will still have some affection for him if some new incapability appears later — “as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me!”

I love using my Kindle like a time machine, and you can also travel forward a few years to read the inaugural address of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, respectively. President Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, insisted on reading his entire two-hour inauguration speech – the longest in U.S. history – during a cold and rainy day in Washington D.C. He refused to wear a hat or coat, possibly trying to remind the audience that he was still the tough military general that had served in the War of 1812. And ironically, he died three weeks later after catching pneumonia.

Wikipedia insists that long speech was unrelated to Harrison’s death, but it’s still fun to sneak a peek at the hopes he held for the four years he never got to see. Every famous president from American history has their own inauguration speech — President Kennedy, President Truman, and one especially poetic address by Abraham Lincoln. And it was during his inaugural speech that Franklin Roosevelt made one of his most famous statements.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was just 28 years later that President Kennedy was inaugurated, and that speech is also in the collection, featuring an optimistic call to duty. (“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”) I’m looking forward to reading all the speeches, and it’ll be fun to flit around from century to century.

And of course, you can always use the web browser on your Kindle to read a transcript of the newest presidential inaugural speech…from Monday!

Amazon Discounts 100 More eBooks to Just $3.99 or Less!

Author Lydia_Lunch
I can’t believe January is almost half over, and I forgot to check out Amazon’s Kindle Store for this month’s selection of discounted ebooks. Every month Amazon chooses 100 ebooks to offer at a special cheap price — just $3.99 or less. And some of this month’s ebooks look really interesting!

Remember, you can browse the whole selection at

Top Chef: The Cookbook by Top Chef

My girlfriend loves watching cooking competitions on cable TV, and one of her favorite shows is Top Chef. But we didn’t know that the creators of the show have released an “official companion” ebook that includes 100 recipes from the show’s first three seasons. The book’s description promises there’s also “lavish” photos giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the show itself, along with interviews with some of the contestants (as well as their judges!) “On one hand it’s a collection of gourmet recipes,” wrote one reviewer at Amazon, “with lush color photographs and handy preparation times.” They only had one complaint — the wished the recipes warned you about how many calories you were eating, “but the instructions are thorough and easy to follow!”

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman wrote some great science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Sandman graphic novels, and Coraline (which was adapted into a movie by Tim Burton). But in 2008, he wrote a fascinating work of “children’s literature” that drew its inspiration from traditional Norse mythology, according to the ebook’s description, taking readers “on a wild and magical trip to the land of giants and gods and back.” A brave young Norwegian boy encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle in the woods — only to discover that they’re the gods Loki, Thor, and Odin, cast out of Asgard by a particularly troublesome Frost Giant.
The ebook is just 130 pages long, but judging by its description at Amazon, it looks like a wonderful story. “It’s going to take a very special kind of twelve-year-old boy to outwit the Frost Giants, restore peace to the city of gods, and end the long winter.”

Lots of Romance novels…
Amazon’s got a whole section for discounted romance novels this month (including one by best-selling romance author Joan Collins that’s called “Poor Little Bitch Girl.”) But I just have to take special note of something else. Amazon’s also discounted 16 “romance” novels — and there are five romance novels with the word “Duke” in their title! Amazingly, each one is by a different author, including “The Way to a Duke’s Heart: The Truth about the Duke,” which apparently is volume 3 in the “Truth About the Duke” series. You can almost imagine your own story if you take these four apparently unrelated books, and then arrange their titles in the right order.

The Tattooed Duke
She Tempts the Duke
What a Duke Wants
The Duke and I

But if those are too fanciful for you, Amazon’s also offeing a discount on an intriguing modern memoir…
Paradoxia by Lydia Lunch

I remember hearing a recording of a spoken word performance by Lydia Lunch in the 1980s, and she’s transformed her frank, honest style into a career as an influential poet and writer. “Paradoxia contains frank and often shocking confessions,” warns Amazon’s description, promising that the author “relays in graphic detail a predator’s diary, revealing the true psychic repercussions of sexual misadventure. From New York to London to New Orleans, Paradoxia is an uncensored, novelized account of one woman’s assault on the male of the species.”
And don’t forget that Amazon’s also continuing their “Daily Deals” as well — offering a big discount a new ebook every day (for just 24 hours!) It looks like this year, Amazon is offering several ebooks at a discount every day. (For example, on Sunday there was a science fiction deal, a discounted “teen literature” book, a romance daily deal — and 2,000 different ebooks for students that had all been discounted up to 80%.) For a shortcut, you can always find all of Amazon’s daily deals at

If you can find some time in January to do some reading, Amazon’s got lots of ebooks to choose from!

Amazon Adds Your Favorite Songs to the Cloud

Amazon had a big announcement on Thursday — especially if you own a Kindle. They introduced AutoRip, “a new service that gives customers free MP3 versions of CDs they purchase from Amazon.” Now when you buy a music CD from Amazon, they’ll automatically add digital versions of every song for you into Amazon’s “Cloud Player”. And to inaugurate this new feature, I discovered that Amazon actually went back in time, and delivered digital versions of songs I’d purchased more than 10 years ago!

“You may have noticed that songs from 8 CDs you have purchased from Amazon were added to your Cloud Player library,” read the e-mail that Amazon sent me. “This means that high-quality MP3 versions of these songs are available for you to play or download from Cloud Player for FREE.” There’s a music tab on the Kindle Fire, but you can also enjoy the music on most of the e-ink Kindles, too. Just use your USB cord to upload the mp3s onto any Kindle that has audio capability!

In fact, you don’t even need a Kindle to enjoy the new digital music. There’s an “Amazon Mp3” app that’s available for free for most smartphones, including the iPhone, the iPad, and Android phones. I like listening to music at work, but I hadn’t gotten around to uploading any mp3s to my new smartphone — and that’s where the app really comes in handy. One day at work, I discovered that the mp3s that I’d bought earlier from Amazon were already waiting for me on their server.

You can tell that Amazon’s excited about this feature. “What would you say if you bought music CDs from a company 15 years ago,” explained Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “and then 15 years later that company licensed the rights from the record companies to give you the MP3 versions of those CDs…and then to top it off, did that for you automatically and for free? Well, starting today, it’s available to all of our customers – past, present, and future – at no cost. We love these opportunities to do something unexpected for our customers!”

And of course, Amazon’s press release took a shot at the way digital music is being sold by Apple. “In many cases, customers can buy an AutoRip CD, including the free digital copy, for less than they would pay for only the digital album at iTunes,” their press release boasted Thursday. But they also touted an even simpler advantage. “No more waiting for the CD to arrive!”

I was so impressed, I had to check the fine print to make sure — but their offer really is as good as it sounds, going back more than 14 years. “Customers who have purchased AutoRip CDs at any time since Amazon first opened its Music Store in 1998 will find MP3 versions of those albums in their Cloud Player libraries,” explains Amazon announcement, “also automatically and for free. More than 50,000 albums, including titles from every major record label, are available for AutoRip, and more titles are added all the time – customers can just look for the AutoRip logo.”

Once back in 2003 I bought myself a two-CD compilation of 32 songs by the Beach Boys — and this weekend, I noticed that every single one had turned up in my Cloud Player as a digital .mp3. Next time I’m listening to music at work, that ought to make things a lot more cheerful.

A Special Free eBook – about My Dog!

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

My girlfriend actually cried when I showed her her birthday present last year. I’d written her a Kindle ebook about her dog!

I’d told her I’d hidden her present somewhere in the apartment — not in the kitchen or in the living room, but somewhere close to the bed. “Is it on your nightstand? Nope, there’s nothing here but your Kindle… But let’s turn it on anyways and take a look. Well, there’s nothing here on your home page. But maybe we need to look in the Kindle’s store…”

I’d told her it was a scavenger hunt, and the first clue would come up when she typed in her dog’s name. So she did — and there he was! She saw a picture of her own dog staring back at her — as the cover of a Kindle ebook.

She sat there, stunned. Smiling, but stunned. Her eyes moistened. She didn’t move for a few seconds. I think she thought that I’d hacked into Amazon’s Kindle store somehow, and pasted her dog’s picture onto one of their ebooks. But then she pressed the button that brings up the ebook’s description on

Lucca is a cuddly Cocker Spaniel dog who belongs to a woman named TC. “I love TC very much,” reads the caption on one photo. “And she loves Lucca….”

Since I’d wanted to give her a special gift, I watched her face nervously to see her reaction. She’d started to read the rest of its page on Amazon, but then got too excited, and just downloaded the ebook straight to her Kindle. And when she opened it, every page seemed to dazzle her.

Dedicated to TC

with love

on a very special birthday

“TC says Lucca is the best dog in the world.
He cuddles with you on the couch while you’re watching TV…”

Last year TC had given me a smartphone for Christmas with a built-in camera, and I’d used it all year long to snap photos of her dog. (There’s 32 of them in the book.) Whenever Lucca did something cute, there was that camera in my pocket on the Christmas-gift smartphone. And that spring when our dog became friends with the cat downstairs, I was able to get some great pictures.

Dog Lucca and cat Finch become friends

You can see those pictures in color if you download the book to your smartphone (or to your Kindle Fire tablet). But the dog’s charm always jumps out from his shaggy face, even on a regular black and white Kindle. If you want to see a preview, just point your computer’s web browser to – but the whole ebook is free through Thursday, so you could just download the whole ebook to your Kindle (or to one of the free Kindle apps), and then give our dog a look, from this special URL. Dog

TC never did read the rest of the book’s description at Amazon, but I think she would’ve liked it. (“This ebook collects pictures with clever captions into a quick look at the life of a very happy pet dog…Our Dog Lucca takes you on a visit to that happy house where Lucca lives – and introduces you to a very charming dog.”) It’d feel a little weird to be making our pet dog into something famous, so if it became popular we’d probably donate most of any proceeds to an animal rescue shelter. Lucca is a “rescue” dog, and sometimes we wonder if that’s made him extra sweet.

But as I walked past our Christmas tree that year, at least I knew that Lucca had helped make my girlfriend’s birthday feel magical.

Download the ebook to your Kindle and see the dog ebook that made TC smile Dog

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

My Favorite Moments from Amazon’s Ads

eBook Screenshot of the Amazon Kindle Zest ad with the Cheerios
I love Amazon’s Kindle ads. (I’ll be watching TV — muting every single commercial with my remote — when I’ll suddenly shout out “Kindle!”) It’s always fascinating to see them trying to capture the mystique of the Kindle. Here’s my list of some of the very best moments.

The Kindle has its own page on YouTube (at ), so every time I visit it, I end up watching all the other cool Kindle ads that I haven’t seen. One of my favorites shows a little boy telling his grandmother what he wants in the book that sbe’s going to give him for a Christmas gift. (“Mayan temples. Or race cars. Or spelunking… Or martians. Or any kind of alien, really…”) The joke is that his wise grandmother is able to give him all of those things — by giving the boy his own Kindle, so he can download any ebook he wants!

It’s exciting to see digital readers making the “big time” of network television. But I thought it was funny that there was another Kindle ad that had an even stranger connection to Christmas that was much more subtle. The official title of the ad was “Zest” — it’s the one with shots of the Kindle in everyday life. In the ad, the Kindle was everywhere — on a bus, in a jewelry drawer, in a back pocket, getting licked by a dog…

But another shot shows Cheerios splashing across the screen of a Kindle — and they’re covering the page of another ebook. It’s Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, the sixth book in a series of funny books about life as a shopaholic. And in this one she ponders the next generation of shoppers, starting with her two-year-old daughter Minnie. The Kindle in the ad has turned to a poignant page where, as her daughter leaves a card for Santa in a wishing well, the narrator remembers leaving her own greedy Christmas letters.

…long and involved, with illustrations and pictures cut out of catalogs, just in case he got confused.

A pair of pink-faced girls of about ten, all giggly and whispery, are posting their wishes, and just the sight of them gives me a rush of nostalgia. It seems wrong not to join in. I might jinx it or something.

Dear Father Christmas, I find myself writing on a card. It’s Becky here again. I pause and think for a bit, and then quickly scribble down a few things.

I mean, only about three. I’m not greedy or anything.

Minnie is drawing earnestly all over her card and has got felt-tip on her hands and her nose.

“I’m sure Father Christmas will understand what you mean,” I say gently, taking it from her….

Reading that, it made me wonder what would’ve happened if she’d gotten a Kindle for Christmas instead. I once joked that maybe Amazon was sending hidden messages in the ebooks they were displaying on the Kindle’s screen in their ads. In this case, the message would be about shopping on Amazon. But I finally concluded it was just Amazon’s way of recommending some good books…

And by the way, remember that you can also download the cheerful, bouncing song from this ad for free from It’s a song called “Lovers’ Cravings” by a British music producer who goes by the name of Bibio!

The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

There’s a tradition I like to observe at the start of a new year. It’s remembering a moment when time itself seemed to turn into something you could hold in your hands. It gave me a magical feeling about books — and about the authors who write them. And it seemed like it turned “history” into a special glow you could almost feel…

Surfing the web, I’d discovered that Mark Twain once co-authored a play with a forgotten writer named Bret Harte. Their legendary meeting was even depicted in an advertisement for Old Crow whiskey (above). Here’s how Twain himself described it.

“Well, Bret came down to Hartford and we talked it over, and then Bret wrote it while I played billiards, but of course I had to go over it to get the dialect right. Bret never did know anything about dialect…”

In fact, “They both worked on the play, and worked hard,” according to Twain’s literary executor. One night Harte apparently even stayed up until dawn at Twain’s house to write a different short story for another publisher. (“He asked that an open fire might be made in his room and a bottle of whiskey sent up, in case he needed something to keep him awake… At breakfast-time he appeared, fresh, rosy, and elate, with the announcement that his story was complete.”) I was delighted to discover that 134 years later, that story was still available on the Kindle, “a tale which Mark Twain always regarded as one of Harte’s very best.”

Bret Harte’s short story (as a free Kindle ebook)

Biography of Mark Twain by his executor (as a free Kindle ebook)

Right before Christmas, I wrote about how Harte’s words had already touched another famous writer — Charles Dickens. Before his death, 58-year-old Dickens had sent a letter inviting Bret Harte for a visit in England. But ironically, that letter didn’t arrive until after young Harte had already written a eulogy marking Dickens’ death. It was a poem called “Dickens in Camp,” suggesting that to the English oaks by Dickens’ grave, they should also add a spray of western pine for his fans in the lost frontier mining towns of California…

But two of Harte’s famous short stories had already captured Dickens’ attention — “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” John Forster, who was Dickens’ biographer, remembers that “he had found such subtle strokes of character as he had not anywhere else in later years discovered… I have rarely known him more honestly moved.” In fact, Dickens even felt that Harte’s style was similar to his own, “the manner resembling himself but the matter fresh to a degree that had surprised him.”

The Luck of Roaring Camp and other stories
Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens (Kindle ebook)

So on one chilly November afternoon, I’d finally pulled down a dusty volume of Bret Harte stories from a shelf at my local public library. I’d had an emotional reaction to “The Outcasts of Poker Flats” — and an equally intense response to “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” But Harte’s career had peaked early, and it seems like he spent his remaining decades just trying to recapture his early success. (“His last letters are full of his worries over money,” notes The Anthology of American Literature, along with “self-pitying complaints about his health, and a grieving awareness of a wasted talent.”) Even in the 20th century, his earliest stories still remained popular as a source of frontier fiction — several were later adapted into western movies. But Harte never really achieved a hallowed place at the top of the literary canon.

Yet “The Luck of Roaring Camp” was the first ebook I’d ordered on my Kindle. I’d checked for print editions but hadn’t found a single one at either Borders, Barnes and Noble, or a local chain called Bookstores, Inc. Days later, I’d decided to try my public library, where I discovered a whole shelf of the overlooked novelist (including an obscure later novel called The Story of a Mine). And that’s when I noticed the date that the library had stamped on its inside cover.

“SEP 21 1905.”

Bret Harte library book - checked out in 1905Close-up of library check-out date for Bret Harte book

I felt like I was holding history in my hand. The book was published just three years after Harte’s death in 1902, and there was an old-fashioned card, in a plastic pocket glued to the inside cover, which showed some of the past check-out dates, including FEB 12 1923 and APR 8 1923.

Bret Harte library book - old check-out datesCheck-out dates for old library book

More than a century later, my local librarians had tagged this ancient book with an RFID chip so you could check it out automatically just by running it across a scanner. A computerized printer spit out a receipt, making sure that the book wouldn’t remotely trigger their electronic security alarm when it was carried past the library’s anti-theft security gates.

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

A Big Surprise in Amazon’s 2012 Best-Sellers List

Three Surprising Books Were Among Amazon's 10 Best-Sellers of 2012

On New Year’s Eve, I wrote about how Amazon’s 10 best-selling ebooks of the year were also their best-sellers when combining both print and ebook sales. But there was an even bigger surprise if you looked at Amazon’s list of the best-selling print books of 2012…

Amazon’s 2012 Best-Selling Print Books

1. Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E. L. James

2. Fifty Shades Trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed 3-volume Boxed Set by E. L. James

3. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen

4. Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn

5. Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

7. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

8. The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! by Mark Hyman M.D.

9. The Amateur by Edward Klein

10. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

There, six of the ten best-sellers are books which didn’t even appear among the top 10 best-selling ebooks of 2012. (Which, yes, means they also didn’t appear on Amazon’s “combined” list of the 10 overall best-sellers when combining print and ebook sales). Fifty Shades of Grey books still held the #1 and #2 spots, and the #4 best-selling print book was Gone Girl, which was the #2 best-selling Kindle ebook (and also #2 on Amazon’s “combined” list). But there was only one other book which all three lists had in common — No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden” by Mark Owen. Six other books reached the top 10 on Amazon’s list of the best-selling print books of 2012 — without ever reaching the top 10 in Kindle ebook sales (or on Amazon’s “combined” list of print-plus-ebook best-sellers).

Take another look at those six best-selling print books.

5. Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly Martin Dugard

6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

7. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

8. The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! by Mark Hyman M.D.

9. The Amateur by Edward Klein

10. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

These books didn’t just fail to make it into Amazon’s list of the top 10 best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2012. None of them even made it into the top 20! Amazon’s #5 best-selling print book of 2012 (Killing Kennedy) was only the #39 best-selling Kindle ebook. Amazon’s #6 best-selling print book of 2012 (The Power of Habit) was only the #42 best-selling Kindle ebook. Even The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s first book since the Harry Potter trilogy, only reached the #24 spot on the Kindle best-seller’s list for 2012, though it was #7 on the print best-sellers list. And the #9 best-selling print book — an “expose” about Barack Obama called The Amateur — only reached #45 on Amazon’s list of the best-selling Kindle ebooks of the year.

I thought there was something poetic about the fact that the last book on Amazon’s list of the top 10 best-selling print books was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. But it got lost in the noise of the Kindle Store, apparently, since it only rose to the #81 spot on Amazon’s list of the best-selling ebooks of 2012. And the biggest surprise of all was The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now. It was Amazon’s eighth most-popular print book for all of 2012 — and yet it doesn’t even appear on Amazon’s list of the 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2012!

What can we learn from these numbers? There’s a small contingent of “print book readers” whose tastes are wildly different than those of Kindle ebook readers. “Maybe they’re all habit-bound introverts who all have low blood sugar,” I joked to my girlfriend. It’s not a question of the availability of the books in either format, since every one of those print books is also available in ebook format — and the opposite is also true.

I’ve always wondered what books were being read by those last few hold-outs — those people who refused to surrender to the rise of the ebook and the digital reading devices. And Amazon may have just provided the answer in their list of the best-selling print books of 2012!

My New Kindle Word Game!

Throw in the Vowel 2

Guess what? I just released a new word game for the Kindle!

Check it out at

It’s called “Throw in the Vowel 2”, and it’s available on all of Amazon’s e-ink Kindles. (Even the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX as well as the Kindle Touch, the Kindle Paperwhite, the new Kindle and the Kindle 3…) It’s a big moment, and as corny as it sounds, I really want to share the excitement. And you can be one of the very first people to play “Throw in the Vowel 2” if you download the game this week from Amazon’s Kindle Store!

Or, as it we put it in the game’s product description at Amazon, “Return to the land where words can be created by combining the correct sets of letters.” (I still get a thrill every time I see that magical three-dimensional fantasy-land that our graphic designer created for the game’s background.) And I really love the way those mists almost seem glow for real whenever you pull the game up on a Kindle Paperwhite. With the newer Kindles, you can create words just by touching the “clue boxes” on the screen!

But no matter which Kindle you’re using, there’s never any typing involved, and you don’t even need to re-arrange any of the letters, since they’re all already in the order that they’ll appear in the final word. You just need to “throw in the vowel” in your head — figure out which box of vowels will match with a box of consonants to form a commonly-used English word. (For example, the box with OIOU matches with the box BVS, since the letters can combine to form the word OBVIOUS.)

Screenshot of the Kindle game Throw in the Vowel 2

My girlfriend complained that in the first version of our game, some of the words were too hard to find — so this time we started the game off with a couple of easier puzzles. But there’s still 750 “devilishly clever” words, as my friend Len Edgerly once described it. (“It’s a very simple game in concept,” he announced on his Kindle Chronicles podcast this weekend, “but devilishly hard to work through, so it’s satisfying when you have some success with it!”)

I was delighted that he noticed the game’s built-in hints, and called its other navigation features “quite elegantly done.” And he seemed to have a message for Kindle owners who are looking for a fun alternative to ebooks. “If you like word games, you should try it out. And if you bought the original version of the game, I’m sure you’re going to be glad to see there’s a whole new set of another 750 words….”

But the person’s who’s most excited about this new game is probably my business partner, Dr. Jeffrey Prince, who came up with the idea for these games several years ago. We first met at a start-up biotechnology company more than 20 years ago, and even back then he told me he’d always wanted to write a new brain-teaser game. Now Jeffrey’s in his sixties, but in 2005 he’d suggested that we finally make this dream come true. So I’d mocked up a prototype of the game, and for the next few years, we kept trying to improve it…

Actually, we spent a lot of the next five years cheerfully trying to stump each other with new variations on our puzzles, but now it all seems worthwhile. We’ve now not only released Throw in the Vowel on the Kindle, but also a second wonderful game in the same series. And when Throw in the Vowel 2 finally launched in Amazon’s Kindle Store, I asked Jeffrey how he was feeling — and promised that I’d let him have the last word when we first announced our game. And it turns out he was just as excited as I was, and said “We’ve been thrilled by the overwhelming positive reaction to our game.

“And we’ve worked hard to make the sequel just as much fun to play!”

Check it out at

Throw in the Vowel 2

The 50 Most Useful Kindle URLs

Digital Publishing vs. the Gutenberg press

Once a year, I assemble my “master list” of shortcuts to the most useful pages for Kindle owners – like all of the free ebooks and blogs that Amazon’s been making available. But this year there’s also twelve new links which tell the story of 2012 — highlighting all the new faces that finally joined the Kindle universe!

Instead of trying to memorize a bunch of complicated URLs, I’ve created shorter, easier-to-remember addresses that still lead to the same pages.

And all 50 of them start with …


100 Free Kindle eBooks
Amazon’s 100 best-selling free ebooks are always available on this list (which is updated hourly!) And of course, the other side of the page also shows the 100 best-selling ebooks which are not free…

I love how Amazon is always giving away free mp3s — and you can always find a complete list at this URL!
It’s that cute song from Amazon’s 2010 Kindle Christmas ad. (“Snowflake in my pocket, let’s take a sleigh ride on the ice…”) At this URL, you can download a free mp3 of the song “Winter Night” by Little &Ashley.

Every month, Amazon picks 100 ebooks to offer at a discount of $3.99 or less. There’s always a new selection on the first day of the month, so if you visited the page on the last day of the month, you’d see 100 discounted books — and then the next day you’d see an entirely new selection!

If you’re in England, Amazon’s created a different page for their bargain ebooks — go to

And if you’re in France, there’s also a different URL for your (English-language) bargain ebooks — it’s at
In addition, Amazon’s also created a special “Daily Deal” page, where they pick a new ebook each day to sell at a big discount for 24 hours. Past deals have included a James Bond novel by Ian Fleming and Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night — and I’m always surprised by the variety.

Amazon will also announce their Daily Deals on Facebook at
Amazon will also just e-mail you every “Daily Deal,” so you never have to worry about missing one of them!
Every day Amazon also offers discounts on a new item — sometimes even expensive electronics equipment. And you can always find them all at

My favorite newspaper comic strip is Dilbert, about the life of an office cubicle worker. In 2012, creator Scott Adams finally collected all the comic strips together into a series of ebooks that you can buy for your Kindle!
Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Green Lantern! D.C. Comics all finally became available in the Kindle Store this year, including new, single-issue digital versions (and even some free “preview” editions!)
In September, Amazon also released a free full-length “graphic novel” called Blackburn Burrow. It’s a fascinating horror comic book set during the Civil War that you can read in color on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone, or in black-and-white on the Paperwhite, the Kindle Touch, or the Kindle.
George Takei is the 75-year-old TV actor who’d played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But now he’s also a huge internet phenomenon — and this December, he finally released his first Kindle ebook, called Oh myy! (There Goes the Internet)
Doonesbury, the long-running newspaper comic strip by Garry Trudeau, is now finally available on the Kindle — in four massive ten-year retrospective collections!
Playboy announced in September that for their 50th anniversary, they’d release 50 of their best interviews as 99-cent Kindle ebooks. They’re now available in the Kindle Store, including fascinating and sometimes even historic interviews with famous figures from the last 50 years, including Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jon Stewart.
One of the biggest stories of 2012 was the presidential election — and two political scientists actually published a free ebook during the campaign to explain what was really happening!
There’s a new format for Kindle ebooks that premiered this year called the “Kindle Serial.” Famous authors will now deliver new additional installments of their ebooks just as soon as they’ve finished writing them! The link above takes you to Amazon’s “Kindle Serials” store.
This year The Simpson’s made a joke about the Kindle — though ironically, there are aren’t any ebooks about The Simpsons anywhere in Amazon’s Kindle store – or any ebooks by Matt Groening. But at least you can watch episodes of the Simpsons TV show on your Kindle Fire tablet or on Amazon’s “Instant Video” page — including the episode where they make their joke about the Kindle!
If you’ve signed up for Amazon’s free two-day shipping service, they’ll also let you watch a ton of movies and TV shows for free on your Kindle Fire! (Or over the internet…) Browse the complete selection on Amazon’s “Prime Instant Video” page.
One of the biggest stories of the year was the release of all J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels as Kindle ebooks.

Two Maurice Sendak URLs
Where the Wild Things Are was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, a beloved children’s book author who died in 2012 at the age of 83. Though his books were never released in Kindle Format, you can still download the full-length novel adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are that was written by Dave Eggers at And you can even buy a DVD at Amazon of the rare 1970s adaptation of Sendak’s stories into television cartoons with narration by Peter Schickele — at

At the end of the year, Amazon released this fun list of their top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2012.
There’s another list where Amazon’s editors also choose their selections for the “Best Books of 2012”. It’s a special web page with their picks in 30 different categories, including the best print books, the best Kindle ebooks, and the best biographies, mysteries, and even cookbooks!
Curious about what were Amazon’s best-selling books for 2011? This URL takes you to a special Amazon web page where they’re all still listed — 25 to a page — along with a link to a separate list for the best-selling ebooks of the year. The #1 best-selling print book of 2011 was the new biography about Steve Jobs (followed by “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever.” ) But the #1 and #2 best-selling ebooks were The Mill River Recluse and The Abbey — neither of which was even available in print!

You can also review Amazon’s picks for the best books of the autumn of 2011 at And here’s an even handier trick. Amazon also creates a special page each month for the best newly-released books, and they’ll always take you to that page if you point your browser to the URL

Amazon’s Customer Service has drawn rave reviews. (If your Kindle is broken, Amazon will usually mail you a replacement overnight!) This page collects all of Amazon’s support URLs. And at its far left, there’s a special link labelled “Contact Kindle Support,” which leads to the support phone numbers for 10 different countries, as well as an online contact form.
Amazon lets you return any ebook within 7 days, no questions asked. Just remember this address — — and you’ll always be able to get a refund if you’re not satisfied with your purchase.


It’s my list, so of course it includes shortcuts for three very special projects…
An original word game for Kindle became one of the top 100 most-popular for the year — and I’m it’s co-author! Check it all the fun at, and discover why 28 people gave it a five-star review! And we’ve just released a brand-new sequel which you can see at
“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name!”

I wrote a special “mystery poem” that was finally published in November as a funny, illustrated ebook. There’s cartoon-y pictures which show four turkeys in a farmer’s pen on Thanksgiving Day. The farmer’s approaching with an axe — but one of the turkeys has a plan to escape! (“Can the farmer figure out which one? And can you?”) The short “Turkey Mystery Rhyme” is only 99 cents — a real bargain for a fun, holiday smile.
Lucca is a cuddly Cocker Spaniel dog who was rescued from an animal shelter, and he now adores his new family — my girlfriend and me! My girlfriend’s been telling her friends how she received “the best present ever” — this short collection of funny photos of her dog, along with sweetly humorous captions that tell the story of his life. (Like the day he met that white cat that moved in downstairs…) If you want to preview a “sample chapter first, go to — but the whole “short picture scrapbook” is only 99 cents, and it offers a nice peek at a very wonderful dog…

Amazon has a web page devoted just to all the games you can play on your Kindle. (There’s over 200 of them!) It’s fun to see all the colorful game “covers” collected together into one magical toy store-like page.

And there’s also a list of the 100 best-selling games for the Kindle — plus a list of all “Hot New Releases” — at (For the Christmas season, Amazon’s 25 most-popular games are still on sale for just 99 cents each, including Scrabble, Monopoly, and the new Kindle version of Battleship!)
Here’s the shortcut to a free web page where you can play chess against a computer. But you can also pull the page up in your Kindle’s web browser, so I named the URL “KChess”!


Amazon gave away free “trial issues” of the Kindle edition for several magazines earlier this year — and now the same URL points to a page where you can always download free magazine apps! The apps deliver full-color magazine content straight to your Kindle Fire — or to your Android smartphone. There’s one for each of these six popular magazines.

     Entertainment Weekly
     Real Simple
     National Geographic
     Better Homes and Gardens
Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine has been publishing short SciFi stories and commentary for over 60 years — including the works of many famous authors. In 1978 they published Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” short stories, and in 1959 they ran Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” as a serial. (They also published the novella “Flowers for Algernon” and short stories by Harlan Ellison, and even published a short story by Kurt Vonnegut in 1961, which later appeared in his collection “Welcome to the Monkey House.”) Amazon’s now offering free Kindle subscriptions to a special “digest edition”. (The print edition, published six times a year, is a massive 256 pages.) The digest includes all the editorial content – editor’s recommendations, the “odd books” section, film and book reviews, plus cartoons and ‘Coming Attractions’ (highlights of each issue) – along with one short story. (And if you want the full 256-page version sent to your Kindle, you can subscribe for just 99 cents more.)

It’s my blog! (That’s the URL for its page on the Kindle Store.) If you want to tell your friends how to find me, this URL makes it easy to remember. Just practice saying “TinyURL com/MeAndMyKindle” and soon we’ll all be sharing the latest Kindle news together.


I love Amazon’s Kindle TV ads — and you can watch them all online at One of my favorite ones is this British commercial for the Kindle and the Kindle, at
Their was a spectacular new TV ad when Amazon announced their new Kindle Fire tablets. It showed the evolution of print from a quill pen dipped in ink to Amazon’s latest full-color multimedia touchscreen tablet. But I loved the song they played in the background, by a new Louisiana-based band called the Givers. (“The words we say today, we’ll say… we’ll see them again. Yes, we’ll see them again…”) I’d called it an ode to all the self-published authors who are finding new audiences on the Kindle — and at this URL, you can hear the entire song on YouTube!
In 2011 Amazon also ran a fun series of TV ads where a blonde woman insists she prefers things like “the rewarding feeling of actually folding down the page” of a book instead of reading a Kindle — though each ad invariably ends with her borrowing her friend’s Kindle instead.

But in September, when Amazon announced their new line-up of Kindles — including one for just $79 — they released one final ad where that blonde woman finally buys a Kindle for herself. To watch it on YouTube, point your computer’s browser to
Before she became “the woman from that Kindle commercial,” actress Amy Rutberg appeared in a zany stage production called “The Divine Sister.” Playbill (the official magazine for theatre-goers) had her record a backstage peek at the theatre and its cast for a special online feature — and it’s a fun way to catch a peek at another part of her career. That URL leads to the video’s web page on YouTube, and there’s also a second part which is available at
On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a special segment in 2011 when Borders bookstores announced that it was going out of business. (“Books! You may know them as the thing Amazon tells you ‘You might be interested in’ when you’re buying DVDs…”) Correspondent John Hodgman delivered some silly suggestions about how bookstores could re-vitalize their business model — like offering in-store appearances where customers could heckle authors while they’re writing novels. Or, simply converting bookstores into historical tourist attractions demonstrating the way books used to be sold in the 20th century.

Ever wonder where all the Kindle owners are? Someone’s created an interactive online map, where Kindle owners can stop by and leave “push pins” showing their location! There’s big clusters on the east and west coast of America (though you could still leave the first push pin for Montana or Nevada!) It’s an adapted version of one of Google’s maps of the world, so you can also spot “Kindlers” in Iraq, Romania, and Ethiopia. And if you click on the push pins, you’ll find the Kindler’s name and sometimes a comment. (One Kindler in Spain simply posted: “Tengo un Kindle DX!”)

And here’s the most useful URL of all.

It’s a shortcut to this page — so you can find all of these URLs in 2013!

Happy New Year!