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…
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
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 Amazon.com. 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.”