September 30th, 2014
I love baseball — but even if you’re just looking for a good novel, there’s still some great Kindle ebooks about the drama behind the sport. It seems to attract a special brand of optimism, and some surprisingly thoughtful commentary. Words like “triumph” and “hope” are just fancy ways of saying that people fight hard over the course of a lifetime, to try to realize their dreams. And with this year’s post-season about to begin, here’s my picks for the very best Kindle ebooks about baseball.
Ball Four: the Final Pitch by Jim Bouton
I’ve always loved this rollicking memoir by a baseball player, which in 1970 became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues. And Amazon is now selling the Kindle edition of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch”, which includes a fascinating look back — more than 25 years later — by the book’s original author! Ball Four was extremely controversial when it was first published — simply because it was so shockingly candid. (Author Jim Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”)
Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
Coach by Michael Lewis
The author of Moneyball also wrote this heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis had learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in a crucial 9th inning… Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my should and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together… ” And by the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent.
And again if you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
“From here on out, I rag on nobody…” It’s been called one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the movies, but it stems from a stunning 1956 novel. Author Mark Harris wrote four novels about the life of a major league catcher, but this is the novel that people always remember. Robert De Niro starred in the film adaptation — one of his first starring roles at the age of 30 — but the “voice” of the narrator in this novel is impossible to forget. There’s something about sports fiction that makes authors want to reach even further, and this novel follows the same path, describing a friendship between two men that grows slowly as they face an even bigger challenge beyond the baseball diamond.
Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck
This book contains one of my all-time favorite baseball stories, about the day that Eddie Gaedel stepped up to bat. Eddie Gaedel was 3′ 7″ — a midget — but the owner of the St. Louis Browns had snuck him onto the line-up card for the second game of a double-header. “Play ball!” the umpire roared, as the opposing team’s pitcher laughed and conferred with his catcher. (“Pitch him low,” the catcher joked — but the pitcher never could find the strike zone…) Eddie Gaedel walked to first base in his one only — giving him a lifetime perfect on-base percentage of 1.000. And decades later, the owner of that baseball team shared the full story — and dozen of others — with lots of humor and lots of insights drawn from lifetime spent in professional baseball.
It’s a great way to look on a century of great baseball stories — as the 2014 post-season begins!
July 22nd, 2014
There’s a fun new section on Amazon where they’re touting exciting new and interesting Kindle ebooks — called Books with Buzz! “Discover books that have created buzz, excitement, anticipation…” teases a paragraph at the bottom of the page, “and have garnered great customer and critical reviews alike!”
For example, when I visited the page, I was stunned to discover that there’s a new book called The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. A journalist moved to a small Southern town that’s the home of the aging, reclusive author. “Underneath the plain, clear language of The Mockingbird Next Door is an enchanting, atmospheric portrait of two sisters and the southern town they inhabit…” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “The book is compelling and charming,” writes Amazon editor Chris Schluep, “and it brings Harper Lee and her world, both past and present, to full life.”
And there’s a huge variety of interesting titles on the “Books with Buzz” page, as though Amazon’s really trying to find something for everybody. “From mysteries and literary novels to biographies and more, you’ll find highlights of recent and upcoming books that you’ll want to dive into,” they explain. “Our 2013 Books with Buzz titles include Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Returned by Jason Mott (now an ABC series Resurrection), The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck, and a Johnny Carson biography by Henry Bushkin.” (Yes, that was the lawyer that Carson used to mockingly refer to as “bombastic Bushkin”. ) But what I like most is that some of Amazon’s “books with buzz” are new — while others are exciting books that I somehow missed!
It’s also nice that their selection isn’t overwhelming huge, like some of Amazon’s ebook sale pages. If I’m reading this right, there’s just 11 special books that Amazon’s desginated as “books with buzz.” “In 2014 so far, the Books with Buzz selections include The Painter by Peter Heller, Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and the upcoming Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Some of them are thrillers and some of them are poignant and heart-warming novels. But they all seem different than your typical Kindle ebook – -because Amazon’s selected them for this special honor — and it’s a really fun way to browse for new things to read!
For a shortcut to Amazon’s Books With Buzz page, point your browser to
June 7th, 2014
It took a while before I finally noticed that had Amazon started releasing some fun (and very useful) new information. It’s always been possible to check Amazon’s list of their best-selling Kindle ebooks (and print books). But now a new page Amazon also reveals their best-selling authors!
It’s called “Amazon Author Rank,” and it’s updated every hour. (I was really touched to see Maya Angelou rising to the #1 last month, as the news spread about her death…) And each author’s name is followed by a list of their most popular books. It’s a great way to find new books to read — and to discover books that other readers enjoy.
I was really surprised by the variety on the list. Amazon’s most popular authors seemed to be writing in entirely different genres. James Patterson was #6 on Saturday morning — the author of mystery thrillers like Unlucky 13 (in a series he’s named “Women’s Murder Club.”) But right below him was Nora Roberts, the romance novelist, whose most popular books are the three Ireland-themed books in “The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy”.
And the #1 most-popular author on Amazon was the author of some great literary fiction. John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which Time magazine called the best fiction book of 2012, and last month it was chosen by The Today Show as the pick for their virtual book club. It tells the story of two teenagers who both have cancer, “kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm,” (according to the book’s description at Amazon). Amazon applauds the book for shwoing them bravely facing two enormous challenges at the same time. “Watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.
Of course, Amazon’s list also features Stephen King, whose most popular book hasn’t even been released yet! (When I checked on Saturday, Amazon was touting his new mystery, Mr. Mercedes — even though its release date was Wednesday, June 3rd!) And it’s nice to see that George R. R. Martin is still popular. His most popular book is the Game of Thrones box set — the whole Song of Ice and Fire Series (available on the Kindle for just $19.99)
I’m always looking for new books to read. And it looks like Amazon’s Author Rank is going to be a fun new way to find them!
May 31st, 2014
Maya Angelou was a great poet, and a widely-loved author of everything from essays and novels to autobiographical memoirs. And when she died last week — at the age of 86 — Amazon created a special tribute to her on the front page of the Kindle Store. They posted a picture of the author, a short blurb, and a link to her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. But they also linked to a longer summary of her life on one of Amazon’s own literary blogs.
“Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced life fully and uniquely,” remembers Amazon’s post, “working as a young woman in strip clubs, on a cable car, as an actress, and as a journalist….” But it’s even more touching to read the comments that were left by readers. “Maya was one of many angels who has circulated love and goodness with her huge heart and wise mind… Thank you Maya for all that you gave and all that you left us.”
As news spread about the death of the poet, something wonderful happened on Amazon. Maya Angelou rose to the #1 spot on Amazon’s list of their most-popular authors. Released recently (and still labeled as “beta”), Amazon Author Rank shows the most popular author each hour, along with their most popular books. Sure enough, Maya’s #1 best-seller was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
But readers were also buying The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, as well as The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (a massive 1184-page book that gathers together six different memoirs!) And it was touching to see that readers were also buying a special book by the author called Letter to My Daughter. “Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning…”
All these books are available on the Kindle — and there’s another wonderful way to remember Maya Angelou. When you purchase their Kindle ebook versions, Amazon’s offering a special price on the audiobook versions of Letter to My Daughter and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which are both read by the author herself! You can hear Maya’s strong, thoughtful voice reading some of her most inspiring writing. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper,” Maya explains in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
“It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”
May 29th, 2014
It feels like the first week of summer, since all across America people just enjoyed a sunny three-day weekend. It’s the last holiday before summer, and it always reminds me that fun times are just around the corner. And whatever you do this summer, Amazon wants to make sure that your Kindle is freshly stocked with new Kindle ebooks. They’ve just created a special “Summer Reading” page — and it’s really fun to browse through Amazon’s list of Summer Reads!
There’s 1,890 books on the list — but Amazon’s broken them down into some interesting categories. There’s recommendations, “books to explore,” young adult beach reads, and “compelling true stories”. And even these categories are broken down further into subcategories. For example, the “Recommended Summer Reads” has an intriguing new section called “Blockbusters”. It’s a page where Amazon’s called out 20 of the most highly-anticipated of the summer — including some new books by some very popular authors!
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
This Tuesday, Stephen King releases a brand new mystery-thriller in which a killer taunts a retired detective who’s still trying to bring him to justice. This 448-page novel delivers all the rich details of Stephen King’s fiction, as well as a complicated game of cat-and-mouse. King actually flashes to the killer’s point of view, and delivers the narration in a “present tense” style which Booklist said makes the story “feel pretty darn fresh. Big, smashing climax, too.” And Amazon notes on the book’s page that Stephen King is already their #1 most popular author not just in the Horror category, but also for writing Contemporary Fiction!
Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
Stephen King once called Jack Reacher “the coolest continuing series character now on offer,” and Reacher is also one of the most popular characters among Kindle readers. The character’s creator, Lee Child, became one of the first five authors to ever sell more than one million ebooks on the Kindle, and according to Amazon, he’s currently their #14 most-popular author. At the end of this summer, he’ll be releasing the newest Jack Reacher novel — and this time, it’s Personal. That’s the name of the book, and it follows an assassination attempt on the President of France. “Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him…..”
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich
It’s the 21st novel in this best-selling series of comic mysteries, and this one involves a popular used car dealer who’s out on bail — and missing. There’s dead ends and dead bodies, according to the book’s description at Amazon, and no clues for Joe Morelli (described as “the city’s hottest cop.”) Meanwhile, assassins are targetting bounty hunter Ranger (described as “Stephanie’s greatest temptation“), and somewhere in the mix is a crazy grandmother and a pack of feral Chihuahus. This book will finally be released on June 17th, but it’s already become Amazon’s top 10 best-selling books in their Humorous Fiction category! (And of course, Evanoich has also sold more than one million Kindle ebooks.)
If you just can’t wait until June 17th, Evanovich has also just released a new author co-authored with Lee Goldberg — a “Fox and O’Hare” mystery called The Chase!
Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis
They thought she was crazy, but Emmy Dockery is convinced that hundreds of unsolved kidnappings and murders are connected. She’s an FBI researcher on a leave of absence — who’s now covering the walls of her bedroom with newspaper clippings about the crimes. Has she found the one piece of evidence that connects them all? More inexplicable murders are piling up in a book that Amazon describes as “James Patterson’s scariest, most chilling stand-alone thriller yet.”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s page, point your browser to
March 18th, 2014
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?'”
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
March 13th, 2014
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 whatIf.xkcd.com ) 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.
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!
August 24th, 2013
Everyone I know loves Elmore Leonard’s books. He wrote wonderful crime stories that were full of lively characters — and many of his novels were adapted into some very popular movies. (Like Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk, Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, and even Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.) On Tuesday, his agent announced to the world that Elmore Leonard had finally passed away at the age of 87. But fortunately, you can still read a lot of his best novels on your Kindle!
In fact, four of Leonard’s novels are actually available for less than $4.00 in the Kindle Store. (The Bounty Hunters, The Law at Randado, Forty Lashes Less One, and Escape from Five Shadows.) Nine more books have been priced between five and six dollars — including Out of Sight (which you may remember as the 1998 movie starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez). Four more novels are available in the six-dollar range, and there’s even a three-novel collection that you can purchase for just $9.99 — the “Elmore Leonard Classic 3-Book Collection,” which bundles together Get Shorty, Tishomingo Blues, and Killshot.
In fact, every Leonard novel in the Kindle Store is currently priced at less than $11.00. I have to admit that I’m especially intrigued by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (which Amazon describes as ” the perfect writer’s – and reader’s – gift.”) And Be Cool — the sequel to Get Shorty — is priced at just $9.78. For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by Elmore Leonard, just point your web browser to:
On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a fascinating article describing just how much fun the author had when he was writing his book. “He thinks of, say, ‘two guys in a room, talking,’ usually about some criminal endeavor, and lets them ‘audition’ for leading roles. He shapes them by intense research – i n 1978, he hung out with the Detroit police’s homicide squad, an experience that shaped the rest of his writing – and then lets them wander deeper into trouble.
“If any passage sounds like ‘writing,’ he rewrites it. This nets two to four pages a day. The next morning, he’ll read over those pages and ‘add cigarettes and drinks and things like that’ and press forward…”
One of my favorite books by the author — which had one of his most intriguing titles — was When the Women Come Out to Dance. Published in 2002, it was a collection of nine different stories, each one about a female character who confronts the author’s trademark mix of challenging plot twists and some very untrustworthy people, according to the book’s review at Amazon. “In this collection of new and recently published short fiction, Leonard demonstrates the superb characterizations, dead-on dialogue, vivid atmosphere, and driving plotting that have made him a household name.” But I like how their review acknowledged that Elmore Leonard always seemed to have a real sympathy for every character — even the ones who aren’t helping the detective solve his case. “Once more this master of crime illustrates that the line between the law and the lawbreakers is not as firm as we might think.” (It’s available as a Kindle ebook for just $8.99).
Ironically, I used to always get Elmore Leonard mixed up with James Ellroy — since both men wrote crime stories. Confusing things even further, on Saturday — and Saturday only — Amazon’s offering a discount on James Ellroy’s first novel. (Brown’s Requiem has been reduced in price to just $1.99.) “In honor of the two year anniversary of Kindle Daily Deals, more than 65 of our most popular titles are $2.99 or less,” Amazon explained on their special daily deal web page.
I guess it just goes to show you that there’s a lot of great authors in the world — and a lot of wonderful ebooks waiting in the Kindle Store.
August 22nd, 2013
Amazon’s still offering big discounts on the Kindle editions of books by Kurt Vonnegut. But I’d also like to share one of my personal favorite stories about the famous author — and a precious experience from a visit to Los Angeles. The Paley Center for Media preserves recordings of old and rare programs in a museum in Beverly Hills. So in 2006, I paid them a visit to watch the only television broadcast whose script was actually co-authored by Kurt Vonnegut himself!
It was an adaptation of a story which Vonnegut would later publish in “Welcome to the Monkey House,” though in 1953 the only place it appeared was the Ladies Home Journal. Five years later, Vonnegut’s sister died, within a few days of her husband, and as he adopted their children, Vonnegut wondered — at the age of 36 — whether he should give up writing altogether. But somehow in that same dark year, his name ended up on the teleplay of a very dramatic episode of G.E. Theatre.
It was hosted by Ronald Reagan, and starred a young Sammy Davis Jr. in the story of a black soldier whose troop passes by a German orphanage shortly after World War II. (One online review calls it “one of the great moments in television history,” since it was one of the first starring roles ever for a black actor on TV.) A black boy in the orphanage mistakes the lonely soldier for his father, and “Private Spider Johnson” soon has to make a very difficult choice. Reportedly even the production crew cried during the broadcast’s final scene, when the solider collapsed to his knees, sobbing.
It’s never been released as a DVD, but I watched on a viewing station at the museum. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the story of the orphans left behind by the war. (“Had the children not been kept there…they might have wandered off the edges of the earth,” Vonnegut wrote, “searching for parents who had long ago stopped searching for them.”) The story’s title is D.P., which stands for “Displaced Persons” — the technical military term for the desperate children. And it’s because of this story that my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book has always been “Welcome to the Monkey House”.
Earlier this month, Amazon had discounted the Kindle edition of this 354-page collection of Vonnegut’s short stories to just $8.99. (For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by Kurt Vonnegut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KurtVonnegutEbooks ) I’ve met so many people who tell me that Kurt Vonnegut is one of their favorite authors, so it’s nice to be able to remind them that he’s now available on the Kindle. Here’s a list of just some of Kurt Vonnegut’s books which are now available in Kindle editions!
Breakfast of Champions
The Sirens of Titan
Welcome to the Monkey House
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Fates Worse Than Death
Bagombo Snuff Box
August 4th, 2013
I was surprised last week when Amazon had a special announcement about Kurt Vonnegut. And it was accompanied by discounts on some of his most famous books. Amazon’s also obtained the exclusive rights to seven previously-unpublished stories by the famous author. And right now, there’s even another short story by Kurt Vonnegut that’s available in Amazon’s Kindle Store for free!
Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, and it was later hailed as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. But he’d already enjoyed earlier success in 1963 with a satirical science fiction fantasy novel called Cat’s Cradle. Its Kindle ebook edition is on sale now at Amazon for just $8.99.
For a shortcut, just point your web browser to
Amazon calls Cat’s Cradle Vonnegut’s “most ambitious novel,” and there’s a fun story about how it actually brought Vonnegut some recognition in a very surprising form. In the 1940s, Vonnegut had dropped out of the anthropology program at the University of Chicago after they’d rejected each idea he’d proposed for a thesis. “Twenty years later,” Vonnegut once told The Paris Review, “I got a letter from a new dean at Chicago, who had been looking through my dossier. Under the rules of the university, he said, a published work of high quality could be substituted for a dissertation, so I was entitled to an M.A. He had shown Cat’s Cradle to the anthropology department, and they had said it was halfway decent anthropology, so they were mailing me my degree!”
Amazon calls Cat’s Cradle “one of Vonnegut’s most entertaining novels…filled with scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks caught up in the game [who] chase each other around in search of the world’s most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature.” For an additional $3.95, you can also purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook edition of Cat’s Cradle on the same page. “At one time, this novel could probably be found on the bookshelf of every college kid in America,” Amazon writes in their review, adding “it’s still a fabulous read and a great place to start if you’re young enough to have missed the first Vonnegut craze.”
But it’s now also part of a fantastic project that Amazon has launched called Kindle Worlds. They’ve secured the legal right for authors to self-publish Kindle ebooks which are set in the fictional worlds created by other authors — including Kurt Vonnegut. “This is a natural extension of his legacy,” announced Donald C. Farber, a trustee of the Kurt Vonnegut Trust, “and a testament to the enduring popularity of his characters and stories.
“Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, is going to quickly become a Kindle Worlds favorite.”
The Kindle also has another connection to Kurt Vonnegut, according to Amazon’s press release. “In 2012, Amazon Publishing’s Kindle Serials released Sucker’s Portfolio, an exclusive serialized collection of seven previously unpublished works by Vonnegut.” Checking today, I see the 199-page collection is still available in the Kindle Store for just $3.99.
And there’s also some other great Vonnegut discounts on Vonnegut ebooks. Right now you can buy Welcome to the Monkey House as a Kindle ebook for just $8.99. This 354-page collection showcases some of Vonnegut’s great early short stories, some of which were originally published in science fiction magazines. Many of the others appeared in the most popular magazines of the 1950s, including Collier’s, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, and even Playboy.
For 99 cents, you can also buy a nice collection of two more short stories by Kurt Vonnegut — “The Big Trip Up Yonder” and “2 B R O 2 B”. But the second one is also available for free, with at least one Amazon reviewer calling it “A thought provoking short story.” In a future where the population has been stabilized at exactly 40 million people, every new birth requires that another life be displaced, according to their review, and “The easiest way to accomplish this is to call the Federal Bureau of Termination (phone number: 2 B R (naught) 2 B)…”
“You’ll have to read the story to find out what happens next…” they warn. adding “Just be sure to leave yourself a little time at the end to contemplate the story, and re-read or peruse various bits of it. You won’t be disappointed!”
For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by Kurt Vonnegut,
just point your web browser to:
July 16th, 2013
Michael Lewis has written at least five books which reached the New York Times best-seller list — and two of them were adapted into Hollywood movies. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game shares the story of Michael Oher, a troubled teenager who (after being adopted in high school) goes on to become a professional football tackle. And Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game tells the story of how Oakland’s low-budget baseball team devised a player-recruiting strategy which led to a 20-game winning streak in 2002, and ultimately revolutionized the sport of baseball. Lewis has also written some surprisingly insightful books about the financial industry, including Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. So I was delighted to discover some free caches of Michael Lewis’s writing online — along with an easy way to deliver them to my Kindle!
In the sports section of a tiny California bookstore, I’d discovered a wonderful Michael Lewis book from 2005 that I’d never heard of before. It’s a heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in the 9th inning. Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life has a good point to make about today’s education system. But in typical Lewis style, he couples it with a great story.
Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my should and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together.”
By the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent. So I looked up the book on Amazon, where used hardcover editions of Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life are available for just one cent (plus shipping). “This is exactly the type of book you would want to send your grandchildren,” wrote one reviewer at Amazon, “or have your own children read.” There’s also a Kindle edition, which costs $8.99 — but then I discovered a delightful surprise.
One of the reviewers pointed out that the widely-spaced book was simply re-publishing a 9000-word article that Lewis wrote for the New York Times magazine. So I pulled up the article online, and then send it straight to my Kindle using the plug-in that Amazon built for my web browser. I don’t usually send articles to my Kindle for reading later – but this was the length of a small book.
just point your browser to
And as I was preparing this article, I discovered that it’s not the only Lewis book which is based on articles that are available online. Even his newest book Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (released in 2011), is available in its entirety online – at least, according to a review on its web page at Amazon. “The entire book with the exception of a short introduction is available for free online…” the reviewer points out. “You can still find it for free by searching for ‘Vanity Fair Iceland’ All other articles can be found for free on VF’s website; just search for ‘Michael Lewis Vanity Fair’ and then click on the index of his articles.”
It looks like the reviewer is correct. Michael Lewis is the managing editor of Vanity Fair magazine, and the site includes an archive with all of his past articles. They’re all there, with enticing titles like Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds and The Man Who Crashed the World.
So the next time I’m craving the sharp insights of Michael Lewis, maybe I’ll just send those web pages to my Kindle!
May 6th, 2013
There’s a special place in Kindle History for George R. R. Martin. In 2011, the author of the Game of Thrones series became only the 11th author to sell over one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle Store. “Groucho Marx once said, ‘I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,'” he joked when he heard the news, “but even Groucho might have made an exception for the Kindle Million Club.” And then he thanked his editor, his publisher, “and most of all, my readers.”
In fact, the print edition of A Dance with Dragons was Amazon’s fifth best-selling book for 2011. (Before it was even released it was already one of Amazon’s top 100 best-selling ebooks, just from pre-order sales.) At the end of the year, Time magazine even put Martin on their list of the 100 most influential people in the world. And this December, Martin will release yet another book based on his popular Game of Thrones series — this one titled “The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister.”
I’ve been trying to explain just how intensely fans feel about George R. R. Martin — and I came across a fascinating statistic that Barnes and Noble shared with The Wall Street Journal last summer. Most people who started reading the ebook version of A Dance with Dragons (on a Nook) actually finished the book, spending an average of 20 hours reading the 1,040-page novel. “An elaborate series like this is great on Kindle,” Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content noted when Martin crossed sold his one millionth ebook in the Kindle Store, “because you can turn the last page of book three at 10:30 at night, then buy book four, and be on its first page at 10:31!
And some of my readers seem to be doing exactly that. (One proudly told me that the first book they’d ever bought on their Kindle was Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, which is book one in the Game of Thrones series, and “Since then, I’ve bought the rest too!”) But the best testimonial I’ve seen actually came from my girlfriend, who wrote an enthusiastic explanation of just how easy it is to get hooked on George R. R. Martin’s series — especially if you own a Kindle! I wanted to publish it below, as either a book recommendation — or maybe a warning!
* * *
Recently my cable company opened up On-Demand to show Game of Thrones to hook people so they would then pony up the money for HBO. I happened to be really sick that week and I watched two seasons of Game of Thrones in three days. Awesome! Engrossing! Fascinating characters, snappy dialog, plots thick with intrigue! Damn you, cable company, I got HOOKED!
I posted on Facebook, hoping to find someone with HBO who was also hooked so I could invite myself over to watch every week. I planned on offering my brownies as bribes (I’ll bring delicious brownies if you let me come watch…). But alas, no response. Did I cave? NO.
Because, I READ. Yes, folks, before there was the HBO series, there were books, by the same author, with the same story line and the same characters. Imagine that! I was jonesing to find out what happened to Tyrion and Arya and Dany, so I pulled out my Kindle and, just like the ads on TV, had the book in my hand in 30 seconds. Oh joy!
I started with the third book (A Storm of Swords), which picked up where the second season left off and started racing through the chapters. The third book in the series introduces a few new characters, but is set mainly in the same places as the first two seasons, so I easily picked up the narrative thread and devoured the book. Still recovering from the illness, I dragged myself home from work, crawled into bed, and went off to Westeros.
From my recent Advanced Writing Workshop (shout out to Linda Watanabe McFerrin), I admired the way each chapter is it’s own short story, with an intriguing start (“The invitation seemed innocent enough, but every time Sansa read it her tummy tightened into a knot.” “He woke to the creak of old iron hinges.”) and bang-up finish. Then you jump to another character in another corner of the universe and the first line is so intriguing you get sucked in again. Great writing, great technique. Very hard to put down.
I must say, however, that I’m glad I started with the HBO series. There are a LOT of characters and having seen actors in the roles, it made it a lot easier to keep them straight. I finished the Storm of Swords in a week (I read freakishly fast. According to the Kindle, it’s print length is 1216 pages.) No problem! Back to the Kindle store and in another 30 seconds, A Feast for Crows is available for my reading pleasure.
I jumped in eagerly, but started getting bogged down. This book introduced a lot of new characters, and by introduced, I mean described them, explained where they were from and the entire history surrounding their tiny part of the world, sometimes going back centuries. And religions! Fire (“the night is dark and full of terrors”), Water (the drowned men), the Old Gods (trees), the New Gods (The Seven), then the holy place where Arya finds herself where all gods are One. Some of my favorite characters became minor actors while these new characters took center stage. We followed Brienne, the Maid of Tarth on her ill-fated search for Sansa Stark, which was by-and-large pretty boring. George (R. R. Martin) is really, really into details in this book. Or maybe it’s just the slew of new characters. The plot stops at the 91% mark, and the remaining 9% is list upon list of characters, separated by House, with info about the houses thoughtfully provided. Still, I slogged through and followed the plot lines, hoping that more Tyrion and Arya and Dany would appear. But no, just a lot of Brienne, Jon at the Wall, Bran being carried by Hordor, and Jamie Lannister, whose golden luster is wearing off.
Wanting to find out What Happens Next, I went back to the Kindle store and got A Dance with Dragons, thinking that Dany would finally get to riding her dragons, and THEN, boy, some interesting stuff was going to pop! But alas, a lot of this book was also full of boring details, and I found myself paging quickly through most of the book without reading. A whole NEW set of characters, three slaver cities, all with people and history, a long sea voyage for Tyrion (boring despite the storms), and Dany going about the boring task of ruling, when she should be out riding dragons. I sped through the book, skimming to get the gist of the plot line, and was disappointed that nothing was resolved at the end.
A trip to Google assured me that the sixth novel in the series will be out this summer. I’m hoping that there’s a lot fewer new characters (we have enough history already), a lot fewer descriptions of traveling (boring) and a lot more plot (pretty please). George has promised two battles, one North by the Wall and one South in the slaver cities.
Even with the overload, I’m anxious to find out what happens. These are really fascination books, well written and take me to a place I’ve never been. I feel the cold at the wall. I feel dirty and cold when the characters ride through the rain.
But what I really want for Dany to take her dragons to the Wall and waste all the Others with their fire. Alas, it looks like that is going to be a good 2,500 pages away.
* * *
April 19th, 2013
I love stories like this. A 33-year-old social worker in rural East Texas — working 11-hour days — finds the time to write her first amateur novel about first love, and self-publishes it in Amazon’s Kindle store. “I was just writing it for fun,” Colleen Hoover later told the Associated Press. She’d published the book and a quick sequel in January of 2012, and “By June, both of her books hit Amazon’s Kindle top 100 best-seller list.
“By July, both were on The New York Times best-seller list for e-books. Soon after, they were picked up by Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. By fall, she had sold the movie rights…”
Colleen had been living in a mobile home for seven years when she started to write, along with her husband and three kids. (In the summer, the temperature never dropped below 90 degrees, according to a post on her blog.) That June, she wrote “It’s surreal. Seven months ago, we were struggling to make ends meet.” But her ebook sales provided enough money to move herself and her family into “a real house,” which they’re renting until they finish building a home of their own. “[T]his post may be a bit personal,” Colleen writes, “but I don’t really care. I just want you all to know what a difference you’ve made in my life….”
Colleen’s first ebook was a novel called Slammed, and it opens with funny stories about growing up in a crazy family, only to lead to a story with “all the magic and confusion of first love,” according to the book’s description on Amazon. (“Not long after a heart-stopping first date during which each recognizes something profound and familiar in the other, they are slammed to the core when a shocking discovery brings their new relationship to a sudden halt…”) That book begged for a sequel, which Colleen published in February of 2012 , titled Point of Retreat. (“It will require something truly extraordinary to keep this couple together…”) But her story also offers hints about the future of the ebook publishing industry.
The story of her success is preserved in a wonderful series of blog posts where Colleen shares the surprise as her self-published ebooks start passing higher and higher milestones. (“5,000 reviews? Holy crap!”) Colleen had actually given up on finding a publisher for her books — more than six years earlier. In fact, there’s a remarkable story buried deep in Colleen’s blog. Her mother didn’t have a computer, so Colleen actually printed out her posts from a blog on MySpace, and delivered the hard copies to her mother. Going through them now, nearly seven years later, she discovered one that she’d written in 2006 in which she announces that she’s giving up on her dream of ever becoming a famous author!
Colleen had actually researched the publishing industry in 2006, and “The time spent writing and editing and trying to sell your book to a publisher and the actual money you make working on all of this calculates to earning about .50 cents a day for an average writer.” But 17 months later, Amazon released their first Kindle — and suddenly aspiring authors had a new way to find their own audiences. “Good thing I didn’t listen to myself,” Colleen wrote on her blog this February, adding “It also says a helluva lot about how much the publishing industry has changed.”
She’s still writing new books, and will be releasing two more novels over the next month. (This Girl on April 30th and Losing Hope on July 9th.) And last week she announced she’d signed a new two-book deal with Atria Books for two novels to be released in 2014. The first one will be Maybe Someday, an adult contemporary romance, and the second one, Ugly Love falls into a category(which she describes as “OH MY DEAR GOD! COLLEEN IS GOING TO HELL FOR WRITING THIS!”
“So yeah, this should be FUN…!”
April 9th, 2013
Another celebrity died on Monday — Annette Funicello — though if you’re past a certain age, you may not remember her. As a teenager in the 1950s, she became famous on Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, and in the 1960s found new popularity in drive-in comedies like Beach Blanket Bingo. By the 1970s she was probably best-known as the spokesperson for Skippy Peanut Butter, but she still achieved the status of an icon just by symbolizing a more innocent time. And there’s two ways that she’ll always be connected in my mind to the Kindle — and the world of books.
Annette released a fun and inspiring biography in 1994 — called A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes. She describes the picture-perfect life that she’d had growing up, working with Walt Disney himself, and getting to meet all of her favorite teen idols. She actually spent her 16th birthday with the actor who played Zorro, who carved a big ‘Z’ in the frosting of her birthday cake! There’s some funny stories about her family and her grown-up life too, but the sweet surprises turned dramatic when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As big as the shock was, “the outpouring of love and support was just overwhelming.” Annette said later she was also gratified to hear from others with the same condition that they’d taken strength from the way she’d come forward about her illness. “They’re not embarrassed to use their canes or to be in a wheelchair because if I can do it, they feel they can too,” she says — building up to the big quote that always brings a tear to my eye.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
Her biography was never released as a Kindle ebook, but it’s available as an audiobook, which in some ways is even better. It’s remarkable to hear the familiar voice of Annette Funicello coming out of my Kindle and telling the story of her life — especially one day after she died. This audiobook even has some background music, so it’s very well produced. But Annette actually appeared as part of another strange series of books — nearly 40 years before!
Yes, there was the time in the history of publishing when authors cranked out entire novels — often close to 200 pages long — about movie stars, like Shirley Temple, Gregory Peck, and even Lucille Ball. These were fictional stories, usually mysteries, where one of the characters actually was the movie star. (Take a look at some of these titles…)
Betty Grable and the House of Cobwebs
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume
Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse
Shirley Temple and the Spirit of Dragonwood
Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter
Lucy and the Madcap Mystery
Later, there were even books based on TV shows, like The Munsters: The Great Camera Caper and The Monkees: Who’s Got the Button? There was even a comic novel based on Gilligan’s Island. But I think Annette Funicello probably holds the record for appearing in the most celebrity mysteries — and each one was set in an intriguing location like the Arizona desert, the California mountains, or a glamorous estate.
Annette: Sierra Summer
Annette: Desert Inn Mystery
Annette: Mystery of Moonstone Bay
Annette: Mystery at Smuggler’s Cove
Annette: Mystery of Medicine Wheel
The plots are predictable. (Annette has a friend whose parents will lose their hotel unless Annette can discover the legendary lost treasure — or something like that.) “Each book capitalized on the star’s popularity by featuring a colorful picture of her face on the front cover,” one
collector remembers, “along with eight silhouettes of Annette on the inside covers.” The books were published between 1960 and 1965, and I like how the article notes that Annette “played her part in a forgotten era in American book publishing.”
Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful…
April 6th, 2013
I really loved Roger Ebert. I started watching his movie reviews on TV back when I was in high school, and for decades to come I thought he had the greatest job in the world. He’d just watch movies, and then tell people whether he’d liked them! But Roger Ebert was also an excellent writer, and fortunately, he’s left behind some fantastic Kindle ebooks!
In fact, Ebert was a pioneer in Kindle ebooks. Just two days before his death on Thursday, Ebert announced that he was re-launching his popular web site as “Ebert Digital” — and he’d already begun marketing his movie reviews through Amazon’s Kindle Store. He was always “the people’s critic,” and he’d found a clever way to keep his prices low. Ebert started releasing his movie reviews in special smaller collections which he called “Ebert’s Essentials.” Each ebook had a unique theme, which somehow made them that much more appealing.
For example, six months ago Roger released “30 Movies to Get You Through the Holidays”, a 94-page collection reviewing movies “to watch together to celebrate the season or movies to watch alone to survive the season!” And less than a year ago, the theme was “25 Great French Films” — which included a special treat. If you read the ebook using one of Amazon’s Kindle apps on an iPad, iPod, or iPhone, it included video clips from most of the movies (taken from their promotional trailers). And best of all, both of these ebooks cost less than four dollars.
There were other interesting bargain-priced collections too. Ebert titled his collection about film noir “27 Movies from the Dark Side.” If you wanted something more inspirational, there was also “33 Movies to Restore Your Faith in Humanity”. Even if you’d just been dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend, Roger Ebert had recommendations for you. Last May he released a special collection of reviews which he called “25 Movies to Mend a Broken Heart.”
Of course, my favorite book by Roger Ebert was probably his collection of negative reviews — “Your Movie Sucks” — and there’s a funny story about where that title came from. Comedian Rob Schneider had taken out full-page ads in Hollywood newspapers back in 2005 just to attack movie critic Patrick Goldstein, who had sharply criticized Schneider’s recent movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Schneider mockingly suggested that Goldstein wasn’t qualified to critique the movie, since his movie reviews had never won a Pulitzer Prize. “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize,” Ebert wrote in his own review in the Chicago Sun-Times, “and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
I purchased a copy of the ebook, and soon found I was tempted to highlight nearly every single sentence, because each one of them made me laugh out loud. In a forgotten movie called The 51st State, Samuel L. Jackson played a character named Elmo McElroy. Ebert couldn’t resist warning jokingly that “Only eight of the seventy-four movies with characters named Elmo have been any good…” And writing about The Fantastic Four, he asks, “If you could burn at supernova temperatures, would you be able to stop talking about it? I know people who won’t shut up about winning fifty bucks in the lottery!”
But the best thing about Roger Ebert was that he could make me laugh and smile while simultaneously making some very thoughtful points. In one of his last books — a memoir titled “Life Itself” — he wrote a warm and poignant passage with his theory on why dogs beg for food at the table. “I never met a dog that didn’t beg at the table. If there is a dog that doesn’t, it has had all the dog scared out of it. But a dog is not a sneak thief like a cat. It doesn’t snatch and run, except if presented with an irresistible opportunity. It is a dinner companion. It is delighted that you are eating, thinks it’s a jolly good idea, and wants to be sure your food is as delicious as you deserve. You are under a powerful psychological compulsion to give it a taste, particularly when it goes into convulsions of gratitude. Dogs remember every favor you ever do for them and store those events in a memory bank titled Why My Human Is a God.”
Of course, that passage suggests some of the fondness that went into the cookbook he released in 2010 — which represented a new kind of triumph for the film critic. Ebert’s personal web site had also become hugely popular, and in 2008, a post about rice cookers had generated hundreds of comments. So the 68-year-old writer collected together the best recipe suggestions and comments into a charming 128-page book which, according to its description on Amazon, also includes Ebert’s “discerning insights and observations on why and how we cook”. The book was published just two years ago, showing the famous critic could share his enthusiasm about more than just movies. And a writer at Salon also shares a story about the book’s other significance.
Four years earlier, Ebert fought a fight against cancer which included the removal of his lower jaw. This left the writer unable to speak or eat, which he wrote about openly, treating it like another life experience which held its own fascination. Writing a cookbook “became an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion,” he told Salon’s interviewer in 2008. He added that “I think I was somewhat frustrated by not being able to eat and I wanted to live vicariously” — and she notes that he typed the words into his laptop computer, which then spoke them out loud on his behalf.
ABC News ran an article Thursday which added this too onto Roger Ebert’s list of lifetime achievements. “By showing the ups and downs of cancer over the last decade, Ebert…illustrated that cancer patients can continue with life, even if that life is forever changed, said Dr. Michael Neuss, chief medical officer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, who was not involved with Ebert’s care.
“I think he broadened our understanding of cancer based on his incredible courage and incredible strength and genuine demeanor through this tough time.
“It has to show people that we do treat cancer patients and that things do happen, but you keep going.”
All of Roger Ebert’s Kindle ebooks are available at tinyurl.com/EbertEbooks