New Dr. Seuss Book Becomes Amazon Best-Seller!

Dr Seuss cover - What Pet Should I Get

Tuesday a newly-discovered Dr. Seuss book was finally published — and within hours it had become an Amazon best-seller! “Told in Dr. Seuss’s signature rhyming style, this is a must-have for Seuss fans and book collectors,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “and a perfect choice for the holidays, birthdays, and happy occasions of all kinds.”

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The book is called What Pet Should I Get?, and it features the same two children from Red Fish, Blue Fish. Their trip to a pet store offered Dr. Seuss a perfect opportunity to draw more wild illustrations of animals — including a monkey, a rabbit, and an imaginary creature called a yent. Reviewers on Amazon are applauding the book for its Seuss-ian flavor, saying it’s style and tone feel just like earlier Seuss works. “The book rhymes, of course, and the drawings are bright and colorful…” wrote a retired Navy CPO in Vermont. “Wonderful rhymes and delightful creatures that are sure to entertain the little ones in your family.”

I think it’s funny that Dr. Seuss has now overtaken Harper Lee on the best-seller list at Amazon. (She released a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird just two weeks ago, and it’s currently Amazon’s #3 best-selling book.) Although one Amazon reviewer reported that they’d rush to Walmart to purchase their copy, because “Dr. Seuss books are meant to be held and read.”

But the strangest thing is the audiobook version is read by Rainn Wilson. He’s the actor who played Dwight on The Office — the long-running sitcom where he played the strange assistant to the regional manager of a Scranton paper company. Maybe he’s the perfect choice, with his earnest commitment to the importance of choosing the right animal as a pet. (The audiobook and the print edition were both released Tuesday, and both are available through Amazon.

Several reviewers have pointed out that the book has a fun message about choice and decisions and the children confront the classic childhood dilemma. (“Which pet should we get?” is repeated excitedly throughout the book, and Dr. Seuss is more than happy to illustrate all the many options available to the children.) But there’s an interesting “Editor’s Note” tucked away at the end of the book, telling the story about how they recovered this lost Dr. Seuss book.

And it also reveals which pets Dr. Seuss picked out for himself!

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Amazon Discounts Young Adult Fiction

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer     Malcolm at Midnight book cover by Brian Lies

Homeless Bird cover by Gloria Whelan     Teacher's Pest cover - Lovecraft Middle School book

There’s some wonderful new surprises hidden in the “Young Adult” category of Amazon’s Kindle Store. Every month Amazon selects over 100 ebooks for their special “$3.99 or less” sale. There’s now a whole section of discounted “Young Adult” books, and they’ve discounted some especially intriguing titles!

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Homeless Bird cover by Gloria Whelan

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan ($1.99)

This heart-tugging novel won the National Book Award in 2000 for its stunning story about a young girl and her remarkable personal journey. “Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. But somehow fate charts a different course, and the young girl ultimately must “shed her name and her future and join the hopeless hordes who chant for food.” The story is 234 pages, but it leads to an exhiliarating conclusion. “[C]ast out in a current of time-worn tradition, this rare young woman sets out to forge her own exceptional future. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly– one stitch at a time…”

Malcolm at Midnight book cover by Brian Lies

Malcolm at Midnight by W. H. Beck ($1.99)

Malcom is a rat, a pet at a school with a “secret society” of classroom pets who work together to keep the childrens safe. Suddenly their leader — an iguana — is kidnapped, and Malcolm must prove that he’s innocent of the crime. “This engaging middle-grade novel will have readers rooting for Malcolm,” reads the book’s review at Amazon, “as they try to solve the mystery alongside him.” And best of all, it’s been illustrated by Brian Lies, the creator of one of my favorite children’s picture books, —Bats at the Beach !

Teacher's Pest cover - Lovecraft Middle School book

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman ($3.03)

“Student council president Howard Mergler is actually a sinister bug-monster in disguise — and he’s summoning swarms of roaches, wasps, fleas, and head lice into the corridors of Lovecraft Middle School!” Eww — it’s another creepy day at Lovecraft Middle School, loving described in a series of comic horror novels aimed at young adults. It looks like he’s having fun — the fourth book in his series is called”Substitute Creature” — and the first three books have all been discounted to just $3.03.

Teacher’s Pest is a well-written book that provides young readers with a little spooky fun,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “while also offering them some reassurance that the challenges of middle school are not insurmountable.”

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender ($1.99)

“Heads will roll!” jokes this book’s description at (“…a series of gruesome murders are taking place around the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours the sights, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks like Marie Antoinette…”) This book is recommended for “Grades 7 and Up” , so it’s probably a mistake that it ended up in Amazon’s “Children’s Book” section. It’s a 309-page thriller in which the descendents of French Revolutionaries are apparently being targeted for revenge!

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The Secrets of William Saroyan

William Saroyan

It’s a legend. The Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist was fired from MGM’s film The Human Comedy in 1943. So he adapted his screenplay into a novel, and released it when the film premiered. Then the film was ultimately nominated for five Oscars (including “Best Picture”) and won the “Best Story” Oscar for its fired writer himself, William Saroyan. Later, Louis B. Mayer would recall this as his all-time favorite film…

But Amazon tipped me off to another shocking chapter in the story about the story. More than 20 years later, in 1966, William Saroyan revised his novel yet again — and it was released as a shorter Dell paperback. “The Human Comedy is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “so when I opened this paperback version, I was devastated to realize that the unthinkable had occurred– the text had been altered!” 53 different Amazon customers nodded their virtual agreement to the criticism — or at least, marked the review as helpful. “The ending that I had so cherished in an old hardback version had been hastily re-written, going so far as to conclude with a completely different final sentence.”

This review led me to my own comparison of the two editions — and I’ve created a table documenting just how different the two editions are. Entire passages have been deleted, about the music of the world, and about how nothing good ever really ends. “I do not know how a publisher could in good conscience alter the work of such an extraordinarily gifted writer…” the Amazon reviewer complained. “The Human Comedy is an incredibly moving book and, unfortunately, this paperback edition does not do it justice.”

A page from William Saroyan's The Human Comedy

The hardback edition was 291 pages long, the paperback just 192. But now a community of readers — the book’s invisible fans — were inspiring me. I spent a few weekends immersing myself in both books, savoring William Saroyan’s stirring portrayal of small-town America — and of life itself. (I’m not the only fan of this novel. Tom Hanks will be appearing in a new movie of the book coming out in December, which will also star Meg Ryan and Sam Shepherd…)

There were some more startling secrets in other Amazon reviews. One schoolteacher had lived near the real California town on which Saroyan based the book. After 42 years of teaching, she’d retired, and then in 1999 visited Amazon to share her own insights. The telegraph office described in the novel — as well as the winery — were both real-life businesses which she’d had her students locate on a map! And she announced that she’d be collaborating with Saroyan’s grand-niece on a college course sharing memories about the famous novelist.

Another Amazon reviewer wrote that she’d read the book three times, each at a different point in her life, and each time finding that it had a different flavor. (“This book is like wine; it becomes vintage as you get older…”) But she also shared another fascinating piece of trivia. Saroyan lost his father at an early age, and his uncle — who became a father figure to him — “was taken to war and that was the last he saw of him.” Throughout his novel, the young children in the family grapple with the absence of their own father. “Saroyan dedicated the story to his mother. This is a key element of the story…”

I have my own piece of trivia to share. The same year that the book was published, William Saroyan was married — and he seems to have named one of the characters after his wife. Throughout the novel, a telegram boy worries about his older brother Marcus, who is serving in World War II. In 1943, William Saroyan married a woman named Carol Marcus.

It’s fun to participate in this giant conversation about a cherished novel. “I admit I cried at the end of it,” wrote one reviewer. And another wrote enthusiastically that this was truly “The Great American Novel.” (“Read it or suffer a less fulfilling life than you could have had…”)

Just make sure that you’re reading the right edition!

Original cover for William Saroyan's The_Human_Comedy_(novel)

Cartoonist Kate Beaton Releases a New Kindle Children’s Book!

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

I love comics — especially online comics — so I’m a big fan of Hark! A Vagrant. And last week it’s creator just released her first children’s picture book. It’s fun to see her adapting her simple-yet-imaginative style to a more ambitious project. And best of all, this cutting-edge picture book is available as a Kindle ebook!

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I’ve always liked Kate Beaton’s “peremptory” storytelling, where any premise, historical or otherwise, has to dance along to the cartoonist’s newest whims. She brings the same casual insistence to this story, plaguing her princess with a tiny pony in a land that worships warriors. There’s something exhilarating about the scope of this story, which is either an iconic tale of female empowerment or a parody of our jock-obsessed world. And it’s really nice to see Kate Beaton tackling some full-page drawings, populated with lots of minor characters from around her comical medieval town.

Plus, the drawings look great on the screen of my Kindle. There’s a funny drawing of the princess in her room, which looks like any other child’s room, except it belongs to a medieval warrior. (There’s toys scattered across the floor and a shelf of books over the bed, as the princess lies on her back and idly tosses a baseball into the air — and the horse begins eating her curtains!) And the book’s climax takes place on a big battle field — marked by a “Welcome warriors!” sign. It’s a green, grassy field where warriors are stretching out in their workout clothes, hydrating from a water bottle, or talking to a couch with a clipboard…

The battle itself is a glorious sprawl of details, with crazy colorful people doing funny, silly things. It reminded me a little of those “Fractured Fairy Tale” parodies that they used to include in Bullwinkle’s old Saturday morning cartoon. But don’t worry, no one gets hurt in the battle — even though Otto the Awful charges straight for the princess!There’s people jumping, shouting, and smacking each other with sticks. (Or are those soft plastic tubes, so that nobody gets hurt?)

The whole scene takes two pages — with Prince Pinecone tucked off to the side with her little bug-eyed horse. The busy illustration definitely creates a sense of action, and Beaton even draws someone in the audience wearing a foam finger reading “#1”. (And the man next to him is holding a box of popcorn, and wearing a baseball cap…) When Otto finally charges the princes, Beaton writes that he’s “the meanest warrior of all”! The crowd gasps, and Princess Pinecone grabs for her spitballs…

But instead of charging, Otto suddenly stops to admire the adorable pony — and soon everyone is doing the same thing. “Awww, what a cute little pony!” Otto says, ticking the small animal under its chin. ” Who would want to hurt a roly-poly pony like you?” I have to admit that this turn-around, while funny, was also a little disappointing. “We warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides,” Otto reveals, and the princess has found her new calling.

Or at least, someplace where she can unload all those unwanted cozy sweaters that people kept giving her for her birthday! Now they give her a trophy that proclaims her “most valuable warrior.” War is usually pretty stupid, after all — and what’s more important than getting in touch with your feelings? Like a true work of art, it makes you think — wouldn’t this ultimately have been a better outcome for every battle in the Middle Ages?

It’s always fun to be surprised by the brash plot twists of this gentle Canadian cartoonist. I’d especially liked how Beaton drew the princess in a sweater labeled “Special Girl” (when what the princess really wanted were warrior gifts). That felt iconic to me, like it was making fun of the way young girls are sometimes treated as precious (and passive) princesses, instead of letting them play hard with the little boys.

But by the end of the story, everyone is wearing the princess’s cozy sweaters. And they’ve declared her the most valuable warrior of all — because her little pony is so cute!

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Wonderful Memories on the 4th of July

Each summer I look forward to it: that moment on the fourth of July when I start reading ebooks by some of America’s greatest authors. It’s a way to try to appreciate the true meaning of our “Independence Day” holiday. And some of my all-time favorite American authors now have ebooks available in the Kindle Store — for free!

But I also pause to remember one very special 4th of July…

4th of July parade

There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and one year a friend invited me to ride on his float. So instead of watching the 4th of July parade, I was in the 4th of July parade! What a rush — the whole town, it seemed, was smiling and waving at us as we rode by, and everywhere on that hot afternoon, you saw red, white, and blue. I was feeling a strange euphoria when I finally got home. And that’s when I started reading on my Kindle.

There’s a book called the U.S. A. Trilogy that reminded me of my favorite author, John Dos Passos. He used a stream-of-consciousness technique to mix together newspaper headlines and lyrics of popular songs with longer descriptions of his characters and the challenges they faced in every day life. The book flashes to the lives of his characters before (and after) World War I, and now finally it’s become available as a Kindle ebook. And that afternoon I discovered Amazon’s Kindle Store also has free editions for each of the author’s first four novels!

“The Early Works of John Dos Passos” is available in the Kindle Store as a 514-page collection of those four novels for just $1.99. Amazon named the collection one of their Best Books of 2013 (So Far), and it’s from a publisher called Halcyon Classics. But there’s also a free edition available for each one of the four books in the collection! Dos Passos was inspired partly by his own experiences in World War I, and he writes vivid and intimate stories for the characters in all four of his early novels.

One Man’s Initiation – 1917
Three Soldiers
Rosinante to the Road Again
A Pushcart at the Curb

For $1.99, you can even purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook version for each of these ebooks (except A Pushcart to the Curb.) But because of the Kindle, I was also able to enjoy reading reviews of these American classics from new readers who’d recently discovered them on One reviewer argued that Three Soldiers may be set during the war, but it’s more about one man’s struggle to retain his individuality. (Wikipedia points out that at least one of the soldiers has a military career which is virtually identical to that of John Dos Passos!) And another reader said these four earlier novels really capture the author’s tremendous growth. “It was refreshing to see through this collection how he came to eventually writing the great American classic USA Trilogy and developed a modern style, more complex and textured than any of the other members of the lost generation with the possible exception of James Joyce….”

Of course, I read some other interesting books as part of my all-American afternoon. I flipped through a wonderful postcard-sized print book called Traveling Route 66, which features photographs of highway scenes you might see in the 1950s, from neon signs to various roadside attractions. That book quoted a poem by Walt Whitman called “Song of the Open Road”, which led me to look a free online copy of the complete poem on my Kindle. The poem is also available as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents.

But I couldn’t let the day end without reading at least a few lines of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. What’s forgotten is that poem is part of a larger work – a kind of American version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where six different characters each take a turn reciting a poem on a topic that’s dear to their heart. (It’s also available as a free Kindle ebook.) Tales of a Wayside Inn was written in 1862, during the American Civil War, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was struggling with his wife’s death and the injuries of his son, who was serving in the Union army. In this longer poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is actually referred to as “The Landlord’s Tale”, and after its conclusion, there’s a few more poignant lines that always remind me that holidays are often just a way of remembering, in your own way, all of those who came before you.

The Landlord ended thus his tale,
Then rising took down from its nail
The sword that hung there, dim with dust,
And cleaving to its sheath with rust,

And said, “This sword was in the fight.”

Free 4th of July Kindle eBooks

Thomas Jefferson

I have a tradition for the 4th of July – and it involves my Kindle. Every year, I point my web browser to Wikipedia’s web page with the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Now Amazon’s Kindle Store has a free copy of the declaration available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution). And you can also download the free Kindle edition of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, a great read by a man who’s life was deeply connected to the history of America….

Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”

Wikipedia’s page walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — and also provides the complete text of the famous document, along with some good historical context. As the country celebrates the day it declared its independence, I like taking a moment to read some good history – and my Kindle really makes it easy. I think it’s funny that Amazon customers are now leaving reviews of the Declaration of Independence, which currently has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) In comparison, the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half stars. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)

And because of the Kindle, you don’t have to content yourself with Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life, and it’s available in the Kindle Store as a free ebook!

In fact, more than 200 years later, it’s now become one of Amazon’s best-selling e-books. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…” It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”

It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past… But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came to be online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.