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
March 3rd, 2013
Dr. Seuss’s birthday was this weekend, and I’d decided to celebrate it by downloading some of his books onto my Kindle. Unfortunately, most of Seuss’s classic books aren’t available in Amazon’s Kindle store. But I still found some fun ways to remember the life and work of Dr. Seuss using my Kindle.
There is one Seuss ebook you can download to your Kindle — a collection of his first work as a satirist and commercial artist. Dr. Seuss — who’s real name was Theodore Geisel — was born on March 2nd in 1904, and by the 1920s he’d already begun publishing his own funny cartoons and illustrated stories. There’s some political cartoons in this collection, and he even wrote and illustrated an informational pamphlet for soldiers in World War II. It seems like a good way to appreciate the rest of his career, and get a glimpse at the artist before he created The Cat in the Hat. Some Amazon reviewers complained that the text is small and hard to read on some Kindle screens, and reviewers at Publisher’s Weekly warned that it’s not a the collection of sweet children’s stories that you might be expecting. But they acknowledge that this 172-page ebook “occassionally reveals images reminiscent of Geisel’s famous characters: Yertle-ish turtles standing atop each other’s backs and Horton-like elephants….”
Green Eggs and Ham and Other Servings of Dr. Seuss
An audiobook read by Jason Alexander, David Hyde Pierce, and Michael McKean
Dr. Seuss’s rhyming stories should make great audiobooks — and his publisher’s lined up some fantastic celebrities to read them! For $11.95 you can load this collection of 9 complete Dr. Seuss stories onto any audio-enabled Kindle — with some very funny readings by Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander, Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce, and comic actor Michael McKean (who you may remember from This is Spinal Tap or Laverne and Shirley). There’s even some whimsical music in the background of these stories — you can hear a five-minute sample if you point your web browser to Amazon’s web page for the audiobook. Here’s a complete list of the 9 stories available in this collection!
Green Eggs and Ham read by Jason Alexander
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish read by David Hyde Pierce
Oh the Thinks You Can Think! read by Michael McKean
I’m Not Going to Get Up Today read by Jason Alexander
Oh Say Can You Say? read by Michael McKean
Fox in Socks read by David Hyde Pierce
I Can Read With My Eyes Shut read by Michael McKean
Hop on Pop read by David Hyde Pierce
Dr. Seuss’s ABC read by Jason Alexander
The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites
An audiobook read by John Cleese, Kelsey Grammer, Billy Crystal, John Lithgow, Walter Matthau, and more
Another audiobook of Dr. Seuss stories features an even more impressive cast of readers. Imagination Studios lined up 11 different celebrities, and then had each one of them read a different (complete) Dr. Seuss story. This longer collection offers more than two hours of Dr. Seuss — you can hear an eight-minute sample at Amazon’s web site where Kelsey Grammer reads The Cat in the Hat. But I’m more intrigued by the other readers, which include John Cleese, Dustin Hoffman, and Walter Matthau (reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Here’s a complete list of the 11 stories available in this audiobook, along with the celebrity who reads it!
The Cat in the Hat read by Kelsey Grammer
Horton Hears a Who read by Dustin Hoffman
How the Grinch Stole Christmas read by Walter Matthau
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? read by John Cleese
The Lorax read by Ted Danson
Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose read by Mercedes McCambridge
Horton Hatches the Egg read by Billy Crystal
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back read by Kelsey Grammer
Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Gertrude Mc Fuzz, and The Big Brag
read by John Lithgow
The Day I Met Dr. Seuss by Anne Emerick
Amazon’s Kindle Store rescued another work of fiction about Dr. Seuss which otherwise might never have been published. Author Anne Emerick admits that she never actually met Dr. Seuss — though she’d tried to arrange an interview with him back in 1989 (when Seuss was still alive). But she transforms her curiosity about the author into a charming rhyming story of her own — which, unfortunately, was rejected by every publisher she showed it to. Some literary agents praised her “great creativity”, though, and 23 years later, “I came to the realization that many people enjoyed the story,” the author announced in a press release, “and so why not share it with other Dr. Seuss fans.”
“This story is dedicated to Theodor Seuss Geisel,” she writes in the book’s introduction, calling him “a literary legend whose work continues to brighten our days while helping children learn to read.”
January 31st, 2013
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 tinyurl.com/FreeSciFiMag . 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.”
January 27th, 2013
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.
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.
January 9th, 2013
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
December 5th, 2012
He’s the TV actor who’d played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But now he’s also a huge internet phenomenon — and he’s written a great ebook about the experience. It’s called Oh myy! (There Goes the Internet), and last night George Takei surprised fans by announcing it had just become available on the Kindle (in addition to the Nook). “Surprise!” he posted on Facebook. “The folks at Amazon sped through my approval process, and my new book…is now as available as Katie Holmes.”
It’s already racked up 35 five-star reviews — though that’s understandable, since George Takei has over 3 million followers on Facebook. “(As a starfleet officer, Sulu was dedicated to peaceful exploration,” Forbes magazine once wrote. “But when it comes to Facebook, he’s a conquerer.”) What surprised me even more is that his book is just how much I enjoyed the book. It’s a warm and thoughtful read, and it’s also genuinely entertaining.
That’s partly because he has a great story to tell. At the age of 75, George Takei has become one of the most popular people on Facebook, and he brings his humble humor to the tale of his success. “I’m not sure exactly when this shift occurred,” he writes, “but it delights me to know that, though I am separated in age by some 40 or 50 years from most of my fans, they have welcomed me into their lives. As my fan base demographic tilts even younger, fewer and fewer fans will know me merely as ‘that guy who played Sulu.’” And then he lets readers share in some of the fun of his success – like his Twitter showdowns with celebrities like Donald Trump, Tracy Morgan, Victoria Jackson, and even the Aflac duck.
I’ve always been a big Star Trek fan, so I pre-ordered a digital copy of the book, and it came with a special additional chapter. (Takei fondly remembered his very first Star Trek conventions — and the surprise when it went from 12 fans in a hotel conference room to a thousand people in an auditorium.) Maybe that biased me towards a positive review, but this feels like a very personal book. “It gives me great joy to feel back on the ‘cutting edge’ of things,” Takei write, “and to know that the best years may yet lie ahead. So thank you, again, for buying this book early and supporting me in this new endeavor.
“May we live long and prosper together.”
One reviewer on Amazon hit on something that I’d noticed, too. “While the first 69 pages or so are, as one might expect, the tale of a man in his sixties coming to grips with the modern internet… George Takei is, fundamentally, a geek. And brilliant. And given to reverse-engineering everything he comes across. So the last two-thirds of the book ends up being one of the most coherent, insightful, and accessible explanations I’ve ever seen on how to build and maintain a social media presence.” Even seen as a social media guide, the reviewer notes that “this one’s actually fun to read.”
But the book also comes across as a very special experience, a man warmly sharing stories of wonder and amazement. I found myself thinking that it was true to the Star Trek spirit – a celebration of humanness and laughter that would’ve made Gene Roddenberry proud. Maybe all the fans magically amplified the show’s positive vibe, and George Takei somehow absorbed it over four decades of Star Trek conventions. His ebook is gracious and fond, but it lets them all share one more voyage together.
“Our dazzling tech-driven society today stimulates and inspires me,” he writes — giving him one more reason to sincerely say… “Oh myy!”