The 100 Most Useful URLs for Kindle Owners

Digital Publishing vs. the Gutenberg press

Once a year, I assemble my “master list” of shortcuts to the 100 most useful pages for Kindle owners — like all of the free ebooks, games, and comic books that Amazon’s making available. But this year there’s 15 new links which highlight all the changes that happened in 2014 that became a part of the Kindle universe!

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

And all 100 of them start with …

Amazon’s 100 best-selling free ebooks are always available on this list (which is updated hourly!) And of course, the other side of the page also shows the 100 best-selling ebooks which are not free…
There’s also free games for your black-and-white Kindle readers — 19 of them — most created by Amazon to show off the Kindle’s versatility.
Amazon’s interview with President Barack Obama 18 months ago is available as a free Kindle Single.
Transformations is a free 200-page ebook published in 2014 by Amazon about “authors, innovators, and small businesses” around the world who are all enjoying new success using Amazon.
My favorite free Kindle mystery — a 384-page detective novel following a police detective’s homicide investigation in Houston called Back on Murder.

Amazon’s own list of their favorite funny fake customer reviews.
Amazon’s second list of their favorite funny customer reviews.
In 2014, Amazon finally started offering free tours of their own fulfillment centers in six different states!

Horse Head Mask from Amazon

Amazon’s free full-length “graphic novel” called Blackburn Burrow – a fascinating horror comic book set during the Civil War that you can read in color on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone, or in black-and-white on the Paperwhite, the Kindle Touch, or the Kindle.
All of Amazon’s best-selling free Kindle comic books. (For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Digital Kindle Comics, just point your browser to
Amazon’s free newsletter about digital comic books. And when you subscribe, they’ll give you a free Kindle edition of Superman No. 1 from the “New 52” series.

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

If you’ve signed up for Amazon’s free “Prime” two-day shipping service, they’ll also let you watch a ton of movies and TV shows for free on your Kindle Fire! (Or over the internet…) Browse through the complete selection here – everything from the original episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone to modern favorites like Bones and even new shows created by Amazon!
John Goodman’s show “Alpha House” — written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau — is exclusively available on Amazon Instant Video. Watch the first episode free online!
A delightful interview on The Daily Show with John Goodman about his new sitcom on Amazon Instant Video, where he explains “there’s a gizmo you buy with Amazon, and then you get free TV with it” — after first jokingly confessing that he doesn’t actually know how it works.
On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart also did a special segment in 2011 when Borders bookstores announced that it was going out of business. (“Books! You may know them as the thing Amazon tells you ‘You might be interested in’ when you’re buying DVDs…”) Correspondent John Hodgman delivered some silly suggestions about how bookstores could re-vitalize their business model — like offering in-store appearances where customers could heckle authors while they’re writing novels. Or, simply converting bookstores into historical tourist attractions demonstrating the way books used to be sold in the 20th century.
The Onion finally unleashed their fake news stories on the Kindle this year, joking that Amazon had released a Kindle with a very annoying new feature. (And you can also have The Onion delivered directly to your Kindle at
A fascinating interview with the author of the controversial book about Amazon, “The Everything Store,” which includes a discussion (with audio) about the sound of Jeff Bezos’s laughter.
Just 7 years after the launch of Amazon, Jeff Bezos shared its story with a roomful of young entrepreneurs, reminiscing about his site’s early days — and the library where he’d read books as a teenager.

Amazon Kindle 399 ebook sale

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

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

And if you’re in France, there’s also a different URL for your (English-language) bargain ebooks — it’s at
In addition, Amazon’s also created a special “Daily Deal” page, where they pick a new ebook each day to sell at a big discount for 24 hours. Past deals have included a James Bond novel by Ian Fleming and Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night — and I’m always surprised by the variety.
Amazon will also just e-mail you every “Daily Deal,” so you never have to worry about missing one of them!
Each week Amazon highlights 25 more books
Discounts on Kindle editions of book when you’ve already purchased their print edition
Amazon’s special selection of “international thrillers” — all priced at $4.99 or less

All of Amazon’s short, cheap “Kindle Single” ebooks
Last January Stephen King published a 25-page personal essay titled “Guns”, which he’s selling as a Kindle Single for 99 cents.

Amazon introduced a new 3-D printing store in 2014. Its slogan? “Shop the future!”
In 2014 Amazon introduced the ability to add items to your Amazon “Wish List” just by tweeting about them!
Amazon released their own smartphone in 2014 with a cool 3-D interface — available free if you subscribe to the “AT&T Next” service plan.
Amazon’s new service offers unlimited access to over 700,000 ebooks (and thousands of audiobooks) for just $9.99
Amazon’s new stand-alone “digital assistant” that plays music and answers questions – activated by your voice!
Amazon’s newest high-definition color Kindle tablets
Amazon’s slick new, high-contrast version of their Kindle Paperwhite
Amazon also brought back their giant 9.7-inch black-and-white Kindle DX in 2013
Amazon’s free “Send-to-Kindle” plug-in for web browsers
Convert your own photos into a custom Kindle cover
There’s a new format for Kindle ebooks called the “Kindle Serial.” Famous authors will now deliver new additional installments of their ebooks just as soon as they’ve finished writing them! The link above takes you to Amazon’s “Kindle Serials” store.

Roger Ebert - 1942 - 2013

I’ll never forget Roger Ebert. Here’s the Kindle editions for all his ebooks.
XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe became a best-selling author in 2014, thanks to “What If,” his mind-blowing collection of serious answers to “absurd hypothetical questions.”
Elmore Leonard also left us in 2013 — but here’s Kindle editions of all his books.
An exclusive new serialized collection of seven previously unpublished works by Kurt Vonnegut.
Every Kurt Vonnegut ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store – including a free edition of his science fiction short story, “2 B R 0 2 B”
Every Charles Bukowski ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
All the Kindle editions of Agatha Christie’s mysteries.
Every James Bond novel by Ian Fleming has been released as a Kindle ebook — officially licensed by Amazon publishing.
One of the founders of the dating site “OK Cupid” released the stunning book “Dataclysm” towards the end of 2014, revealing the surprising insights achievable with massives amounts of data.
Amazon’s discounted version of the Hunger Games trilogy.
My favorite audiobook — a drawling narrator reads To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West.
Classic children’s picture books revived by the loving granddaughter of author/illustrator Robert S. Bright.
Three different “Calvin & Hobbes” collections were finally released as Kindle ebooks in 2014. Here’s Amazon’s complete selection.
My favorite newspaper comic strip is Dilbert, about the life of an office cubicle worker. In 2012, creator Scott Adams finally collected all the comic strips together into a series of ebooks that you can buy for your Kindle!
Doonesbury, the long-running newspaper comic strip by Garry Trudeau, is now finally available on the Kindle — in four massive ten-year retrospective collections!
Playboy announced for their 50th anniversary that they’d release 50 of their best interviews as 99-cent Kindle ebooks. They’re now available in the Kindle Store, including fascinating and sometimes even historic interviews with famous figures from the last 50 years, including Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jon Stewart.
George Takei is the 75-year-old TV actor who’d played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But now he’s also a huge internet phenomenon — and last December, he finally released his first Kindle ebook, called Oh myy! (There Goes the Internet)
One of the biggest events in publishing was the release of all J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels as Kindle ebooks.

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

In 2014, Amazon created a fun list of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.” And there was also a second list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime — at by voters at GoodReads.
This year Amazon released a new feature showing their most popular authors at any given moment — updating the list every hour!
Amazon’s Editors pick the best new books of the month
The hottest new and upcoming books are featured here.
Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks for 2013
At the end of last year, Amazon released this fun list of their top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2012.
There’s another list where Amazon’s editors also choose their selections for the “Best Books of 2012”. It’s a special web page with their picks in 30 different categories, including the best print books, the best Kindle ebooks, and the best biographies, mysteries, and even cookbooks!
Curious about what were Amazon’s best-selling books for 2011? This URL takes you to a special Amazon web page where they’re all still listed — 25 to a page — along with a link to a separate list for the best-selling ebooks of the year. The #1 best-selling print book of 2011 was the new biography about Steve Jobs (followed by “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever.” ) But the #1 and #2 best-selling ebooks were The Mill River Recluse and The Abbey — neither of which was even available in print!
Amazon’s picks for the best books of autumn

Amazon office building in Seattle

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


It’s my list, so of course it includes shortcuts for a couple very special projects…
My very first Android app — “500 Inspiring Quotes” — is available free in Amazon’s Android store, and also in the Nook and Google Play Store.
An original word game for Kindle became one of the top 100 most-popular games for the year — and I’m it’s co-author! Check out all the fun at, and discover why 45 people gave it a five-star review! And we’ve just released a brand-new sequel which you can see at
“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name!”

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

Amazon’s Android app store offers a free app every day — both for your Kindle Fire tablet and for any Android smartphone.
Amazon has a web page devoted just to all the games you can play on your Kindle. (There’s over 400 of them!) It’s fun to see all the colorful game “covers” collected together into one magical toy store-like page.

Free Kindle Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine cover illustration

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

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


I love Amazon’s Kindle TV ads — and you can watch them all online at One of my favorite ones is this British commercial for the Kindle and the Kindle Touch, at
There was a spectacular new TV ad when Amazon announced their new Kindle Fire tablets. It showed the evolution of print from a quill pen dipped in ink to Amazon’s latest full-color multimedia touchscreen tablet. But I loved the song they played in the background, by a new Louisiana-based band called the Givers. (“The words we say today, we’ll say… we’ll see them again. Yes, we’ll see them again…”) I’d called it an ode to all the self-published authors who are finding new audiences on the Kindle — and at this URL, you can hear the entire song on YouTube!
Before she became “the woman from that Kindle commercial,” actress Amy Rutberg appeared in a zany stage production called “The Divine Sister.” Playbill (the official magazine for theatre-goers) had her record a backstage peek at the theatre and its cast for a special online feature — and it’s a fun way to catch a peek at another part of her career. That URL leads to the video’s web page on YouTube, and there’s also a second part which is available at

Ever wonder where all the Kindle owners are? Someone’s created an interactive online map, where Kindle owners can stop by and leave “push pins” showing their location! There’s big clusters on the east and west coast of America (though you could still leave the first push pin for Arizona or Nevada!) It’s an adapted version of one of Google’s maps of the world, so you can also spot “Kindlers” in Iraq, Romania, and Ethiopia. And if you click on the push pins, you’ll find the Kindler’s name and sometimes a comment. (One Kindler in Spain simply posted: “Tengo un Kindle DX!”)
Every day Amazon also offers discounts on a new item — sometimes even expensive electronics equipment. And you can always find them all at
A new ebook by the Amazon manager who was in charge of the Kindle on the day it launched!

And here’s the most useful URL of all.

It’s a shortcut to this page — so you can find all of these URLs in 2014!

Happy New Year!

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Amazon’s Accidental Mystery Anthology Best-Seller

The Turkey Mystery Rhyme - a free children's book for Thanksgiving

A funny thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving. I did my traditional holiday give-away for my ebook The Turkey Mystery Rhyme, making it free for three days. But then I noticed that Amazon had included this short rhyming “mystery” for children in its free “Mystery Anthologies” category.

And that it had become one of their top 5 best-sellers!

There it was, my cartoon turkey, peeping out from its cover next to “Lust For Blood” and “Detective Riker Short Stories: Tales of the Greatest Private Eye in London.” To be clear, I did list it as a children’s mystery, but I never thought it belonged in Amazon’s “Mystery Anthologies” category. But now not only was it appearing there — it was climbing its way towards the top! And now all of those hard-boiled, murder-investigating detectives were sharing their screen with a cartoon turkey…

Free rhyming children's Turkey mystery ebook becomes a best-seller

No Mercy promised “Edge-of-the-seat dark, disturbing, police procedural murder mysteries.” The Depot investigates the “secrets of a murder that took place eighty years ago.” There’s stories about police detectives, about blackmail, and about revenge. And then, my children’s story.

     “For Thanksgiving, try this game.
     Find the guilty turkey’s name….!”

A less-ambitious crime, to be sure. (Maybe the real mystery is how Amazon categorizes the ebooks in their Kindle store?) I know there’s all kinds of mysteries in the world, but it’s still hard to see how Amazon could mistake this for an anthology. (It’s the only book on the page that’s written entirely in rhyme!) Although there is still a mystery to be solved…

     Now the farmer, laughing, said
     to the turkeys by his shed
     “Was my turkey-keeping lax?
     Which of you destroyed my axe!”

I’m chalking this up to a Thanksgiving miracle. The ebook is fun and funny, so maybe some people will overlook its odd categorization on their way to their next anthology of detective stories. So to anyone who found their way to “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme” in Amazon’s “Mystery Anthologies” section…

Now I have one more thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Happy holidays, everyone…

(And for a shortcut to this free Thanksgiving ebook,
just point your browser to…)

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A Funny Free eBook for Thanksgiving!

A funny turkey ebook

Yes, it’s that once-a-year tradition, sharing this funny free ebook about turkeys — mine! It’s a fun short mystery that’s written entirely in rhyme, with 12 cartoon-y illustrations that tell the story of four turkeys on Thanksgiving Day waiting for the farmer’s axe. (“But one of the turkeys has a plan to escape!” read’s the book’s description at Amazon. “Can the farmer figure out which one? And can you?”)

For a shortcut to this free Thanksgiving ebook, just point your browser to

It’s called “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme,” and it was a real labor of love. (Every November before Thanksgiving, I make it available for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.) Over the years the ebook has even had some strange adventures of its own. The day after I published it, I’d discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

And my friends surprised me one year by insisting that we all read the whole ebook out loud on Thanksgiving Day. They’d connected their widescreen TV to their computer, so it was mirroring whatever appeared on its desktop, and then they’d pulled up Amazon’s Kindle app on that computer, and led it to The Turkey Mystery Rhyme. It was a great way to get some real reactions to the story, especially since most authors never get to actually be in the room while their ebook is being read! And then we all took turns reading the rhyming story out loud.

“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…”

I remember we had a teenager in the room, and his mother asked if he knew which turkey had launched the daring plan for escape. But that mother was a sharp cookie, and she challenged one of the book’s important fictional premises.

Fearing folks on every street
hungering for turkey meat,
In the farmer’s yard’s a spread
where Thanksgiving turkeys bred.

When the daylight brightly broke
all the farmer’s birds awoke.
And, since it’s a holiday,
all turkeys can talk today…

“What?!!” she said, to laughter from the room. “Since when can turkeys talk on Thanksgiving Day?”

Everyone knows that,” I joked. “You’ve just never been on a farm…” And then we laughed some more, and continued reading…

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Read the free rhyming Thanksgiving turkey mystery at

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Amazon Publishes Customer Success Stories as a Free eBook

Free Kindle ebook - Transformations: Stories from Authors, Innovators, and Small Businesses Thriving on Amazon

This is pretty special. People who’ve founded successful digital businesses were all interviewed for a very inspiring new Kindle ebook. It’s published by Amazon, of course — celebrating its role as the home for these self-published authors and small online businesses. But every story comes directly from the words of these way-new entrepreneurs.

For a shortcut, point your browser to

There’s 79 different stories — the book is over 200 pages long — and each one also features a photograph and inspiring blurb about the story to come. (“For kids in Africa, a new way to learn… Bill and Dinah Vogel can run their thriving business from their son’s hospital room…”) And I especially enjoyed the stories of writers who found new careers by self-publishing their books in the Kindle Store. Ultimately 85,000 people downloaded a new young adult novel that was written by Regina Sirois during its free period. And she was then able to sell another 12,000 copies — and then land a publishing deal with Penguin Group worth another $15,000!

It’s almost more inspiring that these people didn’t become multi-millionaires. They’re just ordinary folk who are paying their rent with the money they’re earning through Amazon. “As one factory worker turned small-business owner said: ‘Take the risks, be passionate, and forget the doubters,'” reads the book’s description at Amazon. And the inspiring stories come from all around the world — from America, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

I like how the book opens with an introduction by Jeff Bezos — the CEO of Amazon. “We are creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things…” Bezos writes, emphasizing that’s a key part of its magic. “When a platform is self-service, evne the improbable ideas can get tried, because tehre’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say, ‘That will never work!'” I get the feeling that Bezos really enjoyed writing the introduction — because Amazon also heard “That will never work” for its first years of existence!

The book’s complete title is Transformations: Stories from Authors, Innovators, and Small Businesses Thriving on Amazon., and it’s already become one of Amazon’s top-1000 best-selling free ebooks for the Kindle. But it’s also become the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s “Business & Money” section in two different categories. In both the Management subsection and “”Business Life,” the book has reached the #1 spot on the list of the best-selling motivational Kindle books. And I had to admit that I smiled when I read that Reginia Sirois was “immensely grateful” to us readers — for taking a chance on a brand new authors that we’d never heard of before.

“I hope I left them with something beautiful,” she says in this ebook, “because they certainly gave me something beautiful…”

For a shortcut, point your browser to

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My Favorite Free Halloween eBooks

Edgar Allen Poe

It’s a cold, blustery October night, and there’s leaves blowing against my window. It’s the perfect time for remembering some of the greatest scary stories ever written — especially since they’re all now available as free Kindle ebooks!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Ichabod Crane had heard the ghost stories about a headless horseman that rides through the night. On that very night, traveling home alone himself, under the light of a full moon he has his own legendary encounter with…ah, but there’s a twist at the end. And all these years after first hearing the story, I’ve discovered it’s just part of a much larger work. Washington Irving was the very first best-selling author in America, and he’d followed up his first sensational debut with a new collection of essays and stories — including some scary new folk tales that he’d actually made up himself! This collection also includes the famous story of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep before the American Revolution — and wakes up 20 years later, after the colonies have revolted and formed their own independent nation!

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe wrote a surprising number of America’s best-known horror stories, including Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. His poetry is also very dark — Ulalume actually takes place around Halloween night — but his obsession with morbid themes also ultimately led him to become the author of the first detective story every written. It’s a murder mystery, of course — you’ll never guess who actually committed The Murders in the Rue Morgue — and Poe later even wrote two more stories using the same detective — The Mystery of Marie Rogêt and The Purloined Letter. But there’s also a surprisingly scary tale where a murderer is unmasked in the most shocking way possible — entitled “Thou Art the Man”. Twist endings were actually very popular in Poe’s time, and I’ve been surprised just how well some of his stories hold up!

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Percy Shelley died when he was 29 — though he was acclaimed as one of England’s greatest romantic poets. Some of this is through the efforts of his wife Mary, who promoted and edited his poems. And it’s been said that he may have had an infleunce himself on her intense novel, Frankenstein. Its idea came from a nightmare, and turned into her gothic story about about a promising young man who suffers the death of a loved one, and then embarks on a scientific experiment which he’ll later come to regret. It was first published anonymously in 1818, though it’s since gone on to become a classic monster story. (And Wikipedia has uncovered another strange historical twist. Mary WollstonecraftShelley was actually romantically interested in Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!)

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Written just 126 years ago, Dracula is relatively modern for a classic horror story. Its author, Bram Stoker actually died in poverty just 14 years after publishing Dracula, according to Wikipedia, and his horror novel didn’t become popular until well into the next century. (It just goes to show how the invention of moving pictures changed everything — including the way we experienced our monster stories.) But interestingly, an early fan of the novel was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes series. If you reach back 100 years, you’ll find lots of clever authors who appreciated both mystery and menace — and the joys of a good scary novel.

And 100 years later, you can read them all for free on your Kindle!

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My Favorite Free Mystery

It was a cold Saturday afternoon when my Kindle and I went looking for a good new book to read – and I stumbled across a great free mystery. Back on Murder is part of a trilogy about a police detective in Houston, and the publisher has decided to give away the first book in the series for free. Because it’s from a big publishing house, it’s a top-notch read, a fully-developed 384-page mystery detective novel. And it’s already attracting some great reviews, including a reviewer for The Weekly Standard who wrote that “The narrative energy is relentless.”

For a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

Here’s the ultimate testimonial. This year I’ve started over 100 ebooks on my Kindle — but this is the only that I’ve actually finished! I kept turning the pages on this one to see what was going to happen next, and I felt invested in the detective and his hunt for answers. “The police procedure has a feel of authenticity,” wrote The Weekly Standard, “with extensive detail of weaponry and forensics, and the course of the investigation bears some of the messiness of real life.” They conclude that the author of the series, J. Mark Bertrand, ” is a major crime-fiction talent — one of the best police procedural writers I’ve come upon in years.”

The author spent some time learning his craft, and actually earned a master’s degree in creative writing before publishing Back on Murder. (Reading the book, I’d started to wonder if he’d actually worked as a police detective, because he seems to understand that world so well!) The book was first released in 2010, and it’s still Amazon’s #1 best-selling “police procedural” in their Mystery section. One Amazon customer even wrote that “This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for. The built in dictionary allowed me to quickly understand terms…and the note/bookmark feature allowed me to note/review my speculations on plots and twists!”

So if the author isn’t a former police detective, then who is he? I had to solve that mystery, so I tracked down the author’s personal web site. It turns out that he did in fact grew up at least close to Texas, in what he describes as Louisiana’s “humid swampland [where] he soaked up some atmosphere.” And he did eventually live in Houston, though his wife ultimately insisted that they move to South Dakota “after one hurricane too many.” So his police procedural came partly from his own memories of Houston…

The author describes himself as “a Southern ex-pat living far away…”, and part of what makes this book so compelling is there’s more at stake than simply solving the crime. The detective has been moved out of the police department’s murder investigation unit, and he’s got one chance to prove that he deserves another chance to rejoin their team. But as a reader, I was equally fascinated by just the vivid glimpses of the day-to-day life of a police detective — the behind-the-scenes banter, the hopes and the doubts, the support and the rivalries. It kept me turning pages, just to spend more time in that world, and to learn how it all came out!

It’s intriguing to see that there’s an audiobook version for just $2.99 — and that the narrator tries to change his voice for each character to give them a distinct personality. At least a few of the characters return throughout the series, according to reviews I’ve read. (The other two books in the trilogy are Pattern of Wounds and Nothing to Hide.) Some of the murder-scene details are a bit gritty, but I thought they just helped to give the story an extra kick. And in the end, I’d say this book earned the highest compliment that you can give to a mystery novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

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Some Very Funny eBooks

Funny men laughing cartoon - you want it when

Last week I was fighting a stomach virus — which meant a lot of time in bed reading e-books! I learned to appreciate when an author can make me smile — especially when I’m feeling miserable — but I also discovered a special service from Amazon that makes Kindle reading more fun.

Today I also wanted to share three funny ebooks that I discovered. Two of them are free, but each of the three authors swears that his story is absolutely true! “Follow the author on his numerous Hollywood adventures,” reads one book’s description, “watching as he glides smoothly from forgery to pornography to crashing the Academy Awards under the alias of a nominated screenwriter, and eventually stumbles into acting in the highest-grossing movie of all time, Titanic.” The author is Emmett James, and he played a steward in Titanic — in the movie’s credits, there’s 60 different people whose name appears before his. But he’s written a fascinating memoir of his life as a film fan — first watching movies as a young teenager, and then appearing in them as an adult. (“Admit One: My Life in Film” is available in Amazon’s Kindle store.)

But while I was reading this book, I remember all the fun special services Amazon makes available for Kindle owners at For example, there’s a “flashcard”-type game which displays clippings from an e-book you’ve read on your Kindle. (It’s a fun way to see if you can remember what you’ve read — and to review your favorite passages from the book.) You can also pull up a big list with all the passages that you’ve highlighted in all of your e-books — and an interactive list that shows which e-books you’re currently reading now. Plus, Amazon even shares a list of the most-highlighted e-book passages of all time. (#3 is a witty observation from Jane Austen. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…”)

Reviewing my highlights, I remembered a funny free e-book that I hadn’t read for a while — and again, the author swears that his story is entirely true. “I was young and ignorant,” Mark Twain wrote about the first time he came to the American west at the age of 26. “I little thought that I would not see the end of that three-month pleasure excursion for six or seven uncommonly long years!”

Roughing It was the second book Mark Twain ever wrote — in 1870, at the age of 35, looking fondly back at the wild experiences that launched his career. His older brother (Orion Clemens) had been appointed the Territorial Secretary of Nevada for the three years before it became a U.S. state in 1864, and Mark Twain tagged along on the stagecoach ride out west. He remembers being amused that “My brother, the Secretary, took along about four pounds of United States statutes and six pounds of Unabridged Dictionary” — only to discover later that it would’ve been much easier to have copies mailed to Nevada. But mostly I love the book’s friendly spirit, remembering those moments on the trail when “we smoked a final pipe, and swapped a final yarn,” or the campfires “around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”

The brothers sleep in a stagecoach packed with mail sacks, often removing everything but their underwear to stay cool in the frontier heat. And at night as the stagecoach crosses through shallow streams, it tosses its sleeping passengers back and forth while traveling the steep hills on the river’s bank.

“First we would all be down in a pile at the forward end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture, and in a second we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads. And we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners of mail- bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and as the dust rose from the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus, and the majority of us would grumble, and probably say some hasty thing, like: “Take your elbow out of my ribs! — can’t you quit crowding?”

“Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the other, the Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every time it came it damaged somebody…”

Ironically, it was because of Monty Python that I discovered the third funny e-book. In 1975, Monty Python’s Michael Palin appeared in a TV adaptation of the humorous travelogue “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),” with Tim Curry playing the part of the book’s author, Jerome K. Jerome. The adapted script was written by Tom Stoppard, the famous author who 20 years later would win an Academy Award for his screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. “Three Men in a Boat” is a great, classic piece of British humor, available for free at or for 99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store. Even though it was written in 1889, the book still reads like a long comedy monologue, and even today it can always makes me laugh.

Here’s how Jerome K. Jerome describes how rainy weather can really spoil your boating expedition.

It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so puddly as other places you have seen, and you land and lug out the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.

It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down on you, and clings round your head and makes you mad. The rain is pouring steadily down all the time. It is difficult enough to fix a tent in dry weather: in wet, the task becomes herculean. Instead of helping you, it seems to you that the other man is simply playing the fool. Just as you get your side beautifully fixed, he gives it a hoist from his end, and spoils it all.

“Here! what are you up to?” you call out.

“What are you up to?” he retorts; “leggo, can’t you…?”

I guess it’s just always fun to laugh at someone else’s troubles — especially when you’re sick in bed with troubles of your own!

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The Perfect Free eBook for Summer

Wind in the Willows - Rat and Mole on the River

I just finished reading The Wind in the Willows, a wonderful classic tale about the society of animals that lives along the riverbank — including a mole, a badger, a rat, and a toad. It’s available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store. But I want to share one of my favorite stories ever about a famous author — especially since his book left me smiling and full of a feeling like summer-time bliss. And it turns out the book has a fascinating history almost as good a story as the book itself.

Author Kenneth Grahame was the secretary of the Bank of England until the age of 49. He hadn’t written a work of fiction in 10 years, but based the book’s most memorable character, Mr. Toad, on his enthusiastic eight-year-old son, Alastair. The book would become a fondly-remembered classic, mixing its funny story with adult allegories celebrating the joy of springtime and the beauty of the great outdoors. “When I was very young…” remembered one reviewer on Amazon, “our school master used to read to us from Wind in the Willows. The stories had a magical quality and a few weeks ago, as a somewhat older person, I got to wondering whether they would still have that sense of enchantment that held us so captivated all those years ago.

“I was NOT disappointed….”

Later A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, joked that “Reading these delicately lovely visions of childhood, you might have wondered that he could be mixed up with anything so unlovely as a bank; and it may be presumed that at the bank an equal surprise was felt that such a responsible official could be mixed up with beauty.” Grahame was in his mid-60s by the time Milne first published his first Pooh story, though Milne once wrote that “I feel sometimes that it was I who wrote it and recommended it to Kenneth Grahame.” Later, when Grahame was 70 years old, A. A. Milne adapted Grahame’s book into a stage play (called “Toad of Toad Hall”), and one night the two men even shared a theatre box together.

He sat there, an old man now, as eager as any child in the audience, and on the occasions (fortunately not too rare) when he could recognise his own words, his eyes caught his wife’s, and they smiled at each other, and seemed to be saying: ‘I wrote that’ — ‘Yes, dear, you wrote that,’ and they nodded happily at each other, and turned their eyes again to the stage.

Milne later wrote an introduction for the book, remembering that it “was not immediately the success which is should have been.” But he also remembers that almost instantly Grahame had attracted some impressive admirers. In 1909, in one of his last month’s in office, Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States, took time to write a personal letter in 1909 thanking Kenneth Grahame for his book. (“I felt I must give myself the pleasure of telling you how much we had all enjoyed your book…”) He’d been a bigger fan of Grahame’s earlier books at first, but wrote that “Mrs. Roosevelt and two of the boys, Kermit and Ted, all quite independently, got hold of The Wind in the Willows and took such a delight in it that I began to feel that I might have to revise my judgment.

“Then Mrs. Roosevelt read it aloud to the younger children, and I listened now and then. Now I have read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends… Indeed, I feel about going to Africa very much as the seafaring rat did when he almost made the water rat wish to forsake everything and start wandering.”

Six weeks later, Roosevelt left office — and embarked on a safari of Africa.

Theodore Roosevelt and elephant on African safari

Americans may remember that when Disneyland opened in the 1950s, one of its first rides (“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”) was inspired by Disney’s cartoon version of Grahame’s book. But what’s less-known is the trouble that Walt Disney had in filming the story. It was intended to be one of his studios first animated movies, just four years after Snow White (their first feature-length cartoon), according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the story’s plot violated the Hays Code, the notorious film-production guidelines which covered all American movies.

In the book, Mr. Toad ultimately steals (and crashes) a motor car. And while he goes to jail, he escapes, and remains a misguided but sympathetic character throughout the story. “The sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin,” the Hays Code insisted. Disney’s version ultimately had to be re-written so that Mr. Toad was instead wrongfully framed of stealing the motor car.

Unfortunately, World War II then interrupted the film’s production (as many of Disney’s animators were drafted into the military), while also putting a strain on the studio’s finances. In the end, it took eight years until a shorter version of the cartoon was released instead, with Mr. Toad’s adventures bundled with the animated version of another classic story — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Mr Toad from cartoon

The seventh chapter of Grahame’s book — “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — proved to be especially popular. It describes the mole and rat searching for a lost animal, and instead having an almost religious experience when, off in the woods, they hear the distant music of Pan. It was the favorite chapter of A. A. Milne’s wife, remembers his son Christopher, who wrote that she “read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose…” And 60 years later, in 1967, the rock band Pink Floyd used its title as the name of their debut album.

But here’s the most lovely piece of trivia about the life of Kenneth Grahame. Apparently because of the popularity of his children’s book’s, Grahame was eventually able to retire to the countryside by the River Thames.

And he was finally able to enjoy the idyllic county life that he’d described so lovingly for his own characters.

Wind and the Willows - Ratty and Mole on the river

Visit for
the free e-book version
or click here

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A Free eBook for Inauguration Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Special Free eBook – about My Dog!

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to TC

with love

on a very special birthday

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

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

Dog Lucca and cat Finch become friends

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

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

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

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

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

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My Favorite Free Christmas Stories

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration

Amazon’s having a special sale on Kindle ebooks for Christmas Day. For December 25th only, they’re selling The Polar Express and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at a big discount (as well as five romance novels, plus The Lightning Thief, and even Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) To see the sale, just point your browser to

But there’s also a lot of really wonderful free Christmas stories that are available all year long…

There’s one short Christmas story that I absolutely love — by one of my favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway called him “one of the two best authors in America” — and yet his greatest novel isn’t available on the Kindle. Nelson Algren wrote The Man With the Golden Arm, an unforgettable look at Chicago and its lowlifes, in 1950, and it won a National Book Award. But my personal favorite Algren book was always The Last Carousel, another dazzling collection of short works from throughout his career,which he’d published in 1973.

At the age of 64, the author had hand-picked each story himself – though unfortunately The Last Carousel also isn’t available on the Kindle. But one December I discovered that you can still read one of its most touching stories online. On December 4, 1949, the Chicago Sunday Tribune published “Merry Christmas, Mr. Mark,” a story Algren wrote at the height of career, at the same time as his award-winning novel. The 40-year-old novelist remembered being a young newsboy in the 1920s, braving the snows to sell The Saturday Evening Blade at an intersection by the cemetery — and how they’d tried to swindle their customers!

But by the end, they’ve learned a valuable lesson about Christmas.

Old Christmas by Washington Irving
He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!

And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, and according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.

Two Years Before the Mast (Christmas chapter) by Richard Henry Dana
When I lived near San Francisco, it was especially fun to read what was essentially a blog post about Christmas in the city…written in 1836! Back then, the only people in San Francisco were the handful of hard-working sailors who ferried animal hides around the continent. And their life was still hard, even on Christmas Day!

Friday, December 25th. This day was Christmas; and as it rained all day long, and there were no hides to take in, and nothing especial to do, the captain gave us a holiday, (the first we had had since leaving Boston,) and plum duff for dinner. The Russian brig, following the Old Style, had celebrated their Christmas eleven days before; when they had a grand blow-out and (as our men said) drank, in the forecastle, a barrel of gin, ate up a bag of tallow, and made a soup of the skin…

This was 13 years before California became a state, and it was a special experience to read this book more than 175 years later. It’s one of the first moments where I’ve felt such an intimate connection to someone who lived nearly two centuries ago. While young Richard Henry Dana was traveling in what was then a foreign land, he seems lonely but intrigued, which gave him a special willingness to share his sincere human reactions with a touching humility.

I love how the Kindle can connect you to different people in different places, and even from different times. And maybe that feeling is even more special on Christmas Day, because it reminds you of the grand traditions that have been handed down for centuries, and the universal feelings behind it.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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My Free Thanksgiving Turkey eBook

I wrote a funny ebook for Thanksgiving, and I’d like to share it with all of my readers for free. Just point your computer’s web browser to , and Amazon will send it to your Kindle at no charge. And if you read it on your Kindle Fire (or on one of Amazon’s apps), you’ll even be able to see the illustrations in color. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s the backstory…

After years of blogging about new authors writing exciting new ebooks for the Kindle, I’d decided last year that I had to try writing one too. So I dreamed up a wild story about four talking turkeys all awaiting the farmer’s axe on Thanksgiving Day – but one of them has a plan for escaping! To try to make it even more interesting, I included 12 different illustrations, and I even wrote the whole thing in rhyme.

“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…!”

But Amazon surprised me by publishing my book within just 12 hours from the time I’d submitted it to the Kindle Store. (I’d heard longer estimates of “24 to 48 hours.”) So I woke up the next morning to discover that somehow my turkeys had already snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and they’d stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

Curious George ebook

I still get a smile when I remember that Thanksgiving. Within another hour, The Turkey Mystery Rhyme had made it into the top six on Amazon’s list of children’s ebooks about birds, one notch above a book I’d first read back in first grade! I wrote to one of my friends that “I was almost paralyzed with excitement when I finally saw it for the first time on Amazon.” And it also made me pause for a minute during the holidays, and think a hopeful thought about the future.

“I love books, And when I read books, I go to a special place. And now I’m in that special place – I’m on the other side of the page, so to speak. And that makes me feel somehow like I’ve inherited some of the importance of the other books I usually read. (Now instead of looking at other people’s books at and their thumbnail images, it’s my book, and my thumbnail image…)

I’ve really been struck and blind-sided by how easy it was – how it all came together, and how everything I needed was already there…”

It was the day when self-publishing first started to feel real to me – with all the big things that that implied about the future of books. And with that in mind, I ended the e-mail by saying “I’ve tried to savor this day because it will always be my only first ebook.”

So visit this URL to check out my free rhyming Thanksgiving turkey mystery…

And I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving.

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Some Scary Free Stories by the Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm

Halloween’s coming up, so it’s a great time for some scary stories. Try the pioneering gothic fiction from American horror author Edgar Allan Poe (including many free editions of his scariest stories). And this Halloween, in a dark corner of the Kindle Store, you can also find free editions of Frankenstein and Dracula. But if you’re looking for a really exotic scare, don’t don’t overlook this forgotten treasure chest: the dark and quirky original stories by the Brothers Grimm.

Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm is a free ebook that collects over 200 gnarly pieces of authentic folklore that the two brothers had carefully collected over their lifetime. The table of contents even supplies the original German titles for the stories (though the collection is written in English), so the tale “Little Snow-White” is also identified as “Sneewittchen.” (And “The Bremen Town Musicians” was originally called “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten”.)

I’m not kidding about the stories being dark, quirky, and gnarly. One of them is titled “The Girl Without Hands,” and there’s some absolutely horrifying plot twists in “Our Lady’s Child” (“Marienkind”). A mute queen’s three children are kidnapped by the Virgin Mary, and the queen is then burned at the stake because the king’s councilors believe that the queen killed and ate them herself. (Surprisingly, there is a happy ending, but the twists along the way are pretty hair-raising…)

And early in the book is another tale called “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” A man on the road points him to the tree “where seven men have married the ropemaker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly.”

“Sit down below it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder…”

But instead, the youth worries about whether they’re cold, as “the wind knocked the hanged men against each other.” So he sets them around his campfire, but “they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes…” Soon his fearlessness has led him to take a king’s challenge of spending three nights in a haunted castle, where he’s assaulted by black cats and dogs “from every hole and corner,” all carrying red hot chains. He kills them with his cutting knife, crying “Away with ye, vermin,” and then lies down to sleep in the haunted bed…

The story-telling is very simple, but it’s still a wild and unpredictable experience that I’m sure I’ll never forget. Just remember that while these are authentic fairy tales, they’re not necessarily the cute and colorful legends you might be expecting! So if instead you’re looking for a “cute and cuddly” free fairy tale book this Halloween, there’s also free editions of the tales of Beatrix Potter — which includes the tale of Peter Rabbit!

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More Fun Political eBooks for Your Kindle

Playboy republished their interview with a young Jon Stewart as an exclusive Kindle Single
Playboy magazine is re-publishing their interview
with a young Jon Stewart

I was surprised by the big reaction last week to my post about political ebooks for the Kindle. But maybe it’s just because everyone loves a free ebook — so here’s another one I discovered for the Kindle Fire from the University of Chicago. They give away one free ebook each month, and this time it’s a fascinating look at America’s historic debates between presidential candidates, by a man “who was there at the creation of the modern political debate.” And I’ve also found several other fun (and cheap) ebooks on politics that you can download for your Kindle!

Some of the best political content for the Kindle isn’t listed as an ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store — it’s being delivered as a Kindle Single! Six weeks ago I reported on Playboy magazine, and their efforts to convert their best interviews into Kindle Singles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the magazine’s first interview with Miles Davis. Since then they’ve uploaded 32 of their 50 best interviews, including some fascinating conversations with everyone from Jon Stewart and Tina Fey to Ayn Rand and even Fidel Castro. There’s a famous interview with Betty Friedan — one of the first feminists — and counter-culture icons like Bob Dylan and Timothy Leary, as well as economist Milton Friedman and cyclist Lance Armstrong. Best of all, you can read the complete text of each interview for just 99 cents in a special anniversary edition. (To browser the complete selection, just point your browser to this special shortcut – .)

The free ebook from the Univeristy of Chicago is called Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future, and it’s written by a real insider in both politics and broadcasting. President Kennedy appointed Newton N. Minow to be one of seven FCC commissioners back in 1961, and he co-authored this book with Craig L. LaMay, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “The riveting first-person stories he and Craig LaMay tell of debates in one election after another take us to the heart of American political life,” gushed Judy Woodruff in a review of the book, saying that ultimately their insider accounts “argue for a continued central role for debates in our electoral process. Their book is must reading for anyone who wants to understand how to ensure that comes about.”

There’s a humorous footnote. Minow is also famous for complaining in 1961 that a day’s worth of TV programming is simply a “vast wasteland” — a phrase that’s still quoted today, according to Wikipedia. This provoked a humorous response from Sherwood Schwartz, a TV producer who at the time was creating the show Gilligan’s Island. The classic situation comedy followed seven silly castaways who were shipwrecked on a deserted island — and in honor of the FCC commissioner, he nicknamed their boat the S. S. Minnow.

This book isn’t in the Kindle Store, but it’s still possible to upload it onto your Kindle Fire. For a shortcut to their web page, go to Enter your e-mail address, and they’ll send you a link where you can download a version to read on the Bluefire or Aldiko reading apps. And remember, you can also use your Kindle Fire to watch episodes of Gilligan’s Island in Minow’s honor — and they’re also available online through Amazon’s Instant Video web page. (They’re all free if you’re a subscriber to Amazon Prime.)

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The Presidential Election Comes to the Kindle

It’s always exciting when America starts planning to elect its next President. But this year, at least some of the action found its way onto the Kindle.

Two political science professors have teamed up to create a free ebook about the 2012 Presidential Election — and they’re publishing its first four chapters while the election is taking place! “We typically work far too slowly to capitalize on interest in the election among journalists, strategists, and citizens…” they write in the book’s first chapter. But for this book, the team will actually be writing at stops along the campaign trail while also crunching lots of data about everything from polls to the economy and even political ad spending. “The result promises to be the only book about the election that combines on-the-ground reporting, social science, and quantitative data,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, ” in order to look beyond the anecdote, folklore, and conventional wisdom that too often pass for analysis of presidential elections.”

For a shortcut to the book’s web page on Amazon, go to

But Amazon’s also getting in on the political action. In August they launched a “Political Heat Map” of the United States, which calculates whether a state should be displayed in blue (liberal) or red (conservative) based on which political books Amazon is selling there! “Customers can click on any state on the Amazon Election Heat Map to see the percentage of conservative and liberal books sold in that state,” Amazon explained in a press release, “as well as the top 5 best-selling conservative and liberal books per state.”

Amazon political heat map of the USA shows red states and blue states

They’re using Kindle ebook sales (as well as print sales), and it’s currently showing a 45 states which are buying more conservative books than liberal books. “Book sales by geography always have interesting things to say about our states,” notes a senior book editor at Amazon, “and an election season is a particularly good time to use this data to help customers follow the changing political conversation across the country.”

It’s a fun way to start exploring the political books available at Amazon — and they’ve also added some interesting additional calculations. Which presidential candidate is selling more copies of their latest book? It’s Barack Obama, who’s selling six copies of The Audacity of Hope for every four copies that Mitt Romney sells of his own biography, The Case for American Greatness. But it’s exactly the opposite when you compare the book-sale figures for the vice presidential candidates. Democrat Joe Biden published Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics back in 2007, but his books still represent just 31% of the total figure for ebooks sold by all vice presidential candidates — while Amazon awards the remaining 69% to Paul Ryan for the book Young Guns (which he co-authored with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy).

“Just remember, books aren’t votes,” Amazon warns at the corner of the web page, “so a map of book purchases may reflect curiosity as much as commitment.” But I’ll admit that it got me thinking about some ebooks for my Kindle that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Just two weeks, Stephen Colbert published a new funny political book called America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t — and it’s available in both the print and ebook format. That’s made it the #1 and the #2 best-selling liberal book on Amazon — while on the conservative list, the #1 and #3 best-selling books are also two versions of the same book. (Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.) But ironically, the #2 best-selling book on the conservative list was written more than 50 years ago.

It’s Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand!

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Amazon Announces a New Kindle of eBooks – Serials!

Kindle serials

Amazon made another big announcement on Thursday. They’re actually launching a new kind of ebook — the Kindle Serials — where the purchase price covers not only all the current chapters of an ebook, but any new chapters that the author writes in the future. “Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes,” Amazon explains on a new web page in the Kindle Store. “When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published.”

And in a new twist, Amazon’s creating discussion areas dedicated to each serialized books, so authors can monitor ongoing discussions about what they’re writing in real-time — and maybe even get some new ideas about how to finish their stories

You can browse the complect selection of available Kindle Serials at

To celebrate, Amazon is releasing free editions of two famous 19th-century novels that were both originally published in a serialized format in monthly magazines. And they’ve also lined up eight more serial novels to inaugurate the launch of this new format for Kindle content. The selection includes Neal Pollack’s new thriller, Downward-Facing Death, and Amazon featured him prominently in their announcement of the program. “When Amazon Publishing told me about the Kindle Serials program, I wanted to participate right away,” Pollack admits in Amazon’s press release. “I’ve been writing serialized fiction since I was a kid, and I’m thrilled to be doing it again, nearly 30 years later, with an (at least somewhat) adult sensibility.”

The page for Pollack’s book in the Kindle Store gives a good idea of how the program will work. The book’s description identifies how may “episodes” are already written — right now, just one, published on September 6th — and it provides a schedule for when new episodes will be released. Pollack is estimating that he’ll ultimately write a total of six episodes, with a new episode being delivered once a month — whereas the web page for Andrew Peterson’s new thriller promises his new episodes will be delivered every two weeks. “Serialized fiction is perfect for contemporary book culture,” Pollack added in Amazon’s press release, “where writers interact with their readers directly and books can be delivered with an immediacy that the old pulp writers never could have imagined. It’s fast and fun and you barely have time to blink.

“I can’t wait to see how my book ends!”

My first reaction is that Amazon’s discussion boards really could offer a radical and exciting new way for authors to create fiction. Amazon’s calling it “another innovation for authors and readers,” and bragging that it extends the Kindle’s “already rich and unique content ecosystem” (which also includes the ability to publish shorter ebooks as “Kindle Singles” and the special Kindle Owner’s Lending Library that’s available for Amazon Prime customers). I’m not sure if the new feature is targetted at amateur authors, in order to attract the next big sensation into Amazon’s own publishing universe — or if this feature is designed to appeal to big-name, established novelists. But there’s one very important caveat: Kindle Serials are made available exclusively in Amazon’s Kindle Store, so authors that choose to publish them for Kindle audiences apparently won’t be able to reach readers on, for example, the Nook.

It’s an interesting approach, and Amazon’s press release insisted that, “As with Kindle Singles, we’re aiming to open up new ways for authors to write and customers to enjoy great writing,” adding “we think people are going to love this format.” And I really have to give Amazon some credit. They announced this new program in one of the most philosophical press releases that I’ve ever seen.

Long before the advent of digital publishing, great writers like Charles Dickens wrote many of their works serially, a practice that offered a particular rhythm, often punctuated by cliffhangers to keep readers looking forward to the next episode….

“Serialized content, whether it’s a TV show, movie trilogy or written work, is a great and much-loved form of entertainment – it leaves viewers and readers wanting more, eagerly anticipating the fates of their favorite characters,” said Jeff Belle, Vice President, Amazon Publishing. “With Kindle Serials, we’re bringing episodic books to readers in a unique way that’s seamless and hassle-free, with new episodes being added to the book as they’re published.

And readers can discuss the stories on Amazon discussion boards as they’re being written – like virtual water cooler conversations – perhaps even influencing where the next episode may go…!”

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A Funny Kindle Moment

Funny men laughing cartoon - you want it when

My girlfriend reads on her Kindle a lot — and it lead us to a very funny conversation about ebooks. As we laughed and laughed, and enjoyed a spontaneous moment somewhere in the 21st century, it made me think about the way that we read books now. And also about how it’s changed…

It was sometime after midnight, and I was exhausted as I crawled into bed. But my girlfriend wasn’t ready to put down her Kindle yet. “I’m at 98%,” she explained. She was engrossed in another ebook, and she’d finally reached it’s dramatic conclusion…

My girlfriend reads several books a week, so she tries to stick to the free section of Amazon’s Kindle Store. She’s read dozens of original novels, many by amateur authors who are writing their very first ebook. When she finds a good one, she’ll often read all the way through in one sitting. I respected that, so I didn’t want to interrupt her.

“It’s a science-fiction fantasy,” she said hurriedly — then went back to her reading. But that obviously still left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Before I drifted off the sleep, I still wanted one last piece of conversation. “At least tell me the title…”

She had a little trouble even remembering where to look for the title on her Kindle, but she finally found it at the top of the screen. “Cloak,” she said.

“Oh…” I said.

And then the word hung in the air….

It was like we were both considering how little the title really told me. In the friendly silence, it was begging for a wise-crack. And then finally, I broke the silence.

“I hear he wrote a sequel. It was called…Chair.

It was quiet for a second — until we both busted up laughing. And then we laughed at how hard we were laughing. And then I tried to milk the joke even further. “I heard there was also a pre-quel. It was called…Coverlet.” And we laughed some more…

I love those magic minutes at the end of the day, so I understand that it’s the perfect time to read on a Kindle. It feels like “extra” time, where the day’s business has already begun falling away into yesterday. The Kindle delivers an endless supply of new stories, in some kind of science-fiction future where novels are free. But it’s also the perfect time for a silly joke.

“In his first draft, the book was called Sock,” I teased. “But then the author decided ‘I need something more dramatic…'”

To be fair, my girlfriend really enjoyed the book — and other reviewers on Amazon seemed to agree. “I was blown away by the sheer depth of the author’s imagination,” wrote one reader on Amazon. “This is one creative, original book. I was so excited that I let my daughter read the chapters as I finished them… The characters are quirky, well-developed, and loveable.”

And of course, I told my girlfriend that the book’s one-word title had already given me more laughter than I’d ever expected. But the next morning, she told me that she’d looked up the book on Amazon, and the author was, in fact, going to write a sequel to Cloak. “It’s called, Dagger,” she said.

And then we giggled and giggled and laughed some more…

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88 Books that Shaped America

88 Books that Shaped America - Library of Congress

Last month, a fascinating exhibit opened at the Library of Congress. It identified and celebrated 88 different books which had “shaped America”, even changing the lives of many Americans. The list is available online, along with a thoughtful explanation for each of the selections. And best of all, 61 of the books are available in Amazon’s Kindle Store — and most of them are free!

I really enjoyed reading their descriptions of each book and the ways they’d impacted America. ” Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, for example, is described as “The first science fiction novel to become a bestseller,” and they note that it’s now considered a science fiction classic. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is included as “The defining novel of the 1950s Beat Generation (which Kerouac named)…,” a book which “influenced artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Hunter S. Thompson…” There’s even three books on their list which are older than America itself — two influential books by Benjamin Franklin from the mid-1700s, and Thomas Paine’s revolutionary tract, Common Sense

If your favorite book isn’t on the list, it might be later. The Library of Congress is asking the public to nominate other books to be included on the list, and to share their stories about how they’ve been changed by the influential books that they’ve read. “This list is a starting point…” announced James H. Billington, the official Librarian of the U.S. Congress. “[T]he list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.”

He added a hope that Americans would read these books and have conversations about them. Sure enough, soon blogs around the web were weighing in with their thoughts. One CNN blogger called it “admirably inclusive… The Library of Congress list also includes lowbrow literature alongside the serious novels you might find in the ‘Harvard Classics’ anthology, most notably children’s books from The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon to Little Women and Where the Wild Things Are. And someone calling themself “The Delaware Libertarian” complained that they’d left out what are also some of my favorite books, including Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and the wonderful USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos.

But maybe that’s the ultimate way to celebrate America: By recognizing that everyone has their own story — their own personal memories of books that had changed their life. I remember being inspired to drive across America after reading On the Road – but I also know that there’s many more books which have probably touched their readers in equally powerful ways. Benjamin Franklin himself formed the first public library in America, specifically because he believed that simply having books available could improve the lives of the people around him. He’d be honored that three of his books made it onto this list, but he’d probably be even more proud to know that more than 250 years later, Americans are still reading books — and celebrating them.

Below is the complete list from the Library of Congress of
88 Books that Shaped America

Library of Congress

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)

Alcoholics Anonymous by anonymous (1939)

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796)

The American Woman’s Home by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869)

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (1987)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)

The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (1946)

Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1980)

A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible by anonymous (1788)

The Double Helix by James D. Watson (1968)

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1907)

Experiments and Observations on Electricity by Benjamin Franklin (1751)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger (1914)

The Federalist by anonymous (1787)

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963)

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947)

A Grammatical Institute of the English Language by Noah Webster (1783)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford (1901)

The History of Standard Oil by Ida Tarbell (1904)

History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis (1814)

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)

The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill (1946)

Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures by Federal Writers’ Project (1937)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer (1931)

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)

Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

Mark, the Match Boy by Horatio Alger Jr. (1869)

McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer by William Holmes McGuffey (1836)

Moby-Dick; or The Whale by Herman Melville (1851)

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

New England Primer by anonymous (1803)

New Hampshire by Robert Frost (1923)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)

Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder (1938)

Peter Parley’s Universal History by Samuel Goodrich (1837)

Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890)

Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin (1758)

Pragmatism by William James (1907)

The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. by Benjamin Franklin (1793)

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1912)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (1923)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein (1961)

A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)

A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles (1789)

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

A Treasury of American Folklore by Benjamin A. Botkin (1944)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965)

Walden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau (1854)

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes (1925)

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez (2002)

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A Free Ebook by Susie Bright

Susie Bright
You can’t pass through Northern California without hearing about Susie Bright. She’s an unapologetic “sex educator” and author, and a cutting-edge liberal who survived the big cultural revolution in the 1970s, then made a career out of analyzing what happened next. Now she’s finally published a tell-all memoir about her life – and at least until midnight on Sunday, it’s available as a free Kindle ebook!

“I have a very scary feeling Susie Bright is not making any of this up,” joked cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The book’s title is “Big Sex, Little Death,” and it’s described on Amazon as a “stunning and courageous coming-of-age story…Susie Bright opens her heart and her life.” Though she started life as a Girl Scout, the book describes the experiences that changed her life, “including her early involvement with notorious high school radicals The Red Tide… Big Sex Little Death is an explosive yet intimate memoir that’s pure Susie: bold, free-spirited, unpredictable—larger than life, yet utterly true to life.”

I actually met Susie Bright once through a friend of a friend. (I remember that I’d told her about my teenaged crush on Annette Funicello, while she told me about the history of San Francisco’s strip clubs!) So I have to admit I was touched when I read this plea on her personal blog. “It’s my birthday this weekend, and nothing would please me more than if you’d cut a piece of cake and downloaded my book!” And according to her blog post, one of her fans is a literary superstar — Tom Perotta, who wrote the best-selling novels Little Children and The Leftovers (as well as “Election”, which was turned into a Matthew Broderick movie in 1999.) He describes her as “a one-woman counterculture, a teenaged socialist revolutionary turned Reagan-era sexual freedom fighter.”

But I think my all-time favorite story is about the time she turned up in some political coverage in Rolling Stone magazine. At one point, their reporter quipped off-handedly that Susie Bright “could not be accused of shutting up.”

Susie Bright liked the quote so much, she later made that the tagline for her personal blog!

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The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

The new year always gives me a special feeling, as I think about how the last year is gone forever, and remember all those charming moments that are slowly falling away. In 2012, ebooks will continue changing our world — but that’s going to make some memories even more precious. And there’s one particular story that I’m always going to cherish…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SEP 21 1905.”

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

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

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

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

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

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Four MORE Free Christmas eBooks

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration

I’ve already written about how much I enjoy reading special Christmas ebooks on my Kindle each year. I’ve done a little research through Amazon’s site, and each year it’s full of fun surprises. It’s just delightful when you discover a new ebook about Christmas especially when it’s by an author that you already know. And yes, it turns out that some of the greatest authors in history have written Christmas stories — and they’re all available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store!

A Christmas Carol by Charlies Dickens
It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!
I’ve enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. On Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol is currently #11. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

All there stories are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Old Christmas by Washington Irving
He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!
And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, and according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.

A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore
Here’s something fun to download: the original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (One historian called it “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” according to Wikipedia.) But you can only find the free ebook if you search on its original title — “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. If you search for its first line — “Twas the Night Before Christmas” — Amazon’s Kindle Store will only show paid versions

There’s some interesting trivia about this story. In its first printing in 1823, Santa’s reindeer were named “Dunder” and “Blixem,” which are the Dutch words for “thunder” and “lightning.” But over the years their names changed into the more familiar-sounding “Donner” and “Blitzen”!

Christmas Eve by Robert Browning
He’s one of the most famous poets of the 19th century — and he in 1850 wrote a stark but thoughtful poem about visiting St. Peter’s church in Rome. It ultimately turns into a discussion about the nature of faith, but it was the first poem he published after his marriage, according to Wikipedia, and gives rare hints about the famous poet’s own religious views. One reviewer on Amazon described it as “A strange flighty trek in and out of trances and chapels to see rainbows and versions of God.” But another reader complained that they’d found it difficult to even read the poem, because the ebook wasn’t formatted properly.
“Who in their right mind eliminates line breaks and thinks they can get away with it?”

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Four Free Christmas eBooks

Four free Kindle Christmas ebooks

Are you feeling the holiday spirit? Every year I like to stuff my Kindle full of Christmas mp3s and Christmas ebooks. It’s become my own personal holiday tradition, a great way to enjoy the special season in an entirely new way. And this year I’ve discovered some fun new Christmas ebooks have also found their way into Amazon’s “free ebook” section!

O Little Town by Don Reid

Even I’ve heard of the Statler Brothers, the country band that Kurt Vonnegut once called “America’s poets.” But now at the age of 66, their lead singer has launched a second career as a writer of sentimental stories about life in a small town. It’s Christmas time in his story, and three different families are experiencing both happy and bittersweet moments of friendship and faith. “I live in Staunton, the hometown of the Statler Brothers, and know Don Reid and his wife, Debbie..,” reads one review on Amazon. “The last chapters, in which all the main characters attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service where the Pastor delivers a sermon about forgiveness, spoke to my heart… Thank you, Don, for a beautiful Christmas story.”

A Dixie Christmas by Sandra Hill

Elvis Presley never meant much to Clayton Jessup the III. But in this book, he’s inherited a Memphis hotel called “the Blue Suede Suites,” and discovers it’s the home to a tribe of Elvis impersonators who’ve used it to create a living Nativity scene! It’s one of two Christmas stories here by romance-writer Sandra Hill that both take place in the South. The other one describes a former NASCAR star trying to win back his ex-wife who somehow ends up in a wild Cajun variety show. They sound like fun stories, and it’s currently the #1 free ebook in the entire Kindle Store.

The Mouse and the Christmas Cake (Author Unknown)

“This poem about a mouse that builds a house in a decoration castle on top of a Christmas cake was first published in New York in 1858…” explains one review on Amazon. This ebook even includes five original pictures from the 1858 edition, and another reviewer described it as a “Cute, easy-to-read-aloud poem with old-fashioned illustrations [that] brought a smile.” It’s a children’s poem with just a few pages of text, but I really enjoyed it…

“A pretty story I will tell, of Nib a little Mouse
Who took delight, when none were near, to skip about the house.”

The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

A Charlie Brown Christmas was partly inspired by this fairy tale. Lee Mendelson, who was asked to help write a script for the TV show, remembered the previous Christmas when he’d read this story to his children. It’s the story of Christmas from the tree’s perspective — a little fir tree that “was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions.”

“Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, ‘Is it not a pretty little tree?'”

It’s fun to peek in on a Christmas in 1844 — even as the tree anticipates a long journey from the woods into a celebrating home. Like many fairy tales, there’s a bittersweet ending — but it’s a story you’ll never forget!

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Amazon Unveils a Free Ebook Library

Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library

“Wow! That’s fricking awesome!” my girlfriend said when I told her the news. Amazon’s making thousands of new ebooks available for free to anyone’s who’s subscribed to Amazon’s Prime shipping service. The service offers one year of free two-day shipping for a flat fee of $79 — and as a bonus, it includes free access to Amazon’s online library of movies and TV shows. Now as an added incentive, you’ll also get access to “the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.”

“Kindle owners can now choose from thousands of books to borrow for free,” Amazon explained today in their press release, “including over 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers – as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates.” The selection looks very appealing — I see over 5,000 ebooks, and they’re ebooks that I’ve actually heard of, and ebooks I actually want to read. For example, there’s Moneyball Michael Lewis’s exploration of professional baseball (which was recently turned into a movie with Brad Pitt). And this library also includes Lewis’s other more-recent books about Wall Street — The Big Short and Liars’ Poker — plus the entire Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

And whether or not you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can still can browse the library right now on your Kindle. Just go to front page of the Kindle Store. (One way to do this is by pressing your Kindle’s Alt key and the HOME button at the same time.) Then select the link at the top of the page (in the second column) which says “See all categories”. The link triggers a pop-up menu, and as of today the bottom of that menu is displaying a brand new choice: the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Click the link, and you’ll see over 5,000 titles to choose from!

Kindle Store Menu with Lending Library link

They’re sorted by which ebooks are the best-selling, which means three of the first four choices are from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. But there’s a link at the top-right of the page which lets you narrow the selection into 28 categories — like fiction, nonfiction, mystery, humor… “Owning a Kindle just got even better…,” Amazon’s CEO said in a statement today. “Prime Members now have exclusive access to a huge library of books to read on any Kindle device at no additional cost and with no due dates.”

Remember, you can only check out one ebook a month, but at least some Prime members are feeling excited. “I read really fast,” my girlfriend told me, “and if I can read it without having to pay for it and then return it to the lending library — that’s fabulous!” In fact, she belongs to a book club, and at least three of the books they chose to read are already available for free in the new lending library. (There’s Water for Elephants and The Finkler Question.)

So how can Amazon afford to loan the ebooks for free? In some cases, Amazon is purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader…,” their press release explained. Amazon’s getting the cheaper wholesale price, but still covering the cost themselves “as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents.” And for “the vast majority” of the library’s ebooks, Amazon’s just negotiated a single flat fee with the publisher for the right to include the book in their lending library.

The bottom line is that now you’ll have a wider selection of free ebooks to choose from. And “Just as with any other Kindle book, your notes, highlights and bookmarks in borrowed books will be saved,” Amazon’s press release adds, “so you’ll have them later.” I feel like this is a news story that speaks for itself, so I’ll give Amazon the last word. On the web page for their lending library, they explain the entire program in just eight words.

Own a Kindle + Prime Membership = Read for free

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The Kindle Discovers Christopher Columbus

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

Monday is “Columbus Day” in America, remembering the day in 1492 when the European explorer finally succeeded in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and “discovering” North America. (And it’s also celebrated in some Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza, and as Discovery Day in the Bahamas, according to Wikipedia.) It’s a federal holiday in the United States, so the banks and the post office will be closed. But fortunately, there’s lots of ways to celebrate Columbus Day with your Kindle – including several free ebooks!

I remember being fascinated last year when I learned exactly what happened when Columbus approached Queen Isabella’s court. I’d been taught for years that 15th-century scholars insisted that the world was flat, while brave Columbus had argued that no, the planet was round. But it turns out that’s a horrific myth, and “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars…” according to Stephen Jay Gould (in a book cited by Wikipedia). And I’d also discovered another startling truth while browsing Wikipedia with my Kindle: that Christopher Columbus story has a surprising connection to a very famous American author from the 1800s.

He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as well as Rip Van Winkle, and Washington Irving was one of the first American authors to gain literary recognition in Europe. He also perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes, placing fake newspaper ads seeking Irving’s fictitious Dutch historian, Diedrich Knickerbocker, and threatening to publish his left-behind manuscript to cover unpaid bills! (Though in fact Irving had written the manuscript himself, and it became a best-seller when he finally had it published!) Another story about the author says that Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was even interested in him romantically, according to Wikipedia. And yet after an early spark of youthful success, the critics began panning Irving’s books, and by the age of 41, Irving was facing financial difficulties.

But his past literary success earned him an appointment in 1826 as an American diplomatic attache in Spain — and it was there that he gained access to historical manuscripts about Columbus that had only recently been made available to the public. Irving used them to write The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, a work of historical fiction which became wildly popular in both the United States and Europe. By the end of the century, the book would be published in over 175 editions.

Yes, it’s available as a free ebook for the Kindle, though for some reason only Volume 2 is available. (“…a new scene of trouble and anxiety opened upon him, destined to impede the prosecution of his enterprises, and to affect all his future fortunes.”) But the important thing to remember is it was written as an imaginative work of historical fiction. “Irving based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives,” notes Wikipedia, but Columbus “also added imaginative elements, aimed at sharpening the story.”

Another 19th-century American also assembled his own exhaustive biography about the life of Columbus. Edward Everett Hale is most famous for the patriotic short story, The Man Without a Country. But he also created a scholarly work called The Life of Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time. You can download it for free from Amazon’s Kindle store, and savor the historic moment when Columbus first makes contact with the New World. “It was on Friday, the twelfth of October, that they saw this island… When they were ashore they saw very green trees and much water, and fruits of different kinds.”

There’s also a historical book called Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery that was published in 1906. It’s scattered as free ebooks throughout Amazon’s Kindle store, though it’s Volume 2 where Columbus first makes landfall. (“…it was a different matter on Friday morning, October 12, 1492, when, all having been made snug on board the Santa Maria, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas put on his armour and his scarlet cloak over it and prepared to go ashore.”)

This text was prepared by Project Gutenberg, and this particular paragraph comes with a disillusioning footnote. Columbus may have recorded the date of his landfall as October 12, but “This date is reckoned in the old style. The true astronomical date would be October 21st, which is the modern anniversary of the discovery.” Columbus may be one of those historical figures who’s become so familiar, that we actually don’t know him at all!

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Click Here to Read about Columbus on Wikipedia

Free ebooks about Columbus:

Washington Irving’s The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,

The Life of Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time.

Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery

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ABC leaks script of new TV series on the Kindle!

Revenge - new ABC TV series

It’s something I’ve never seen before. In two weeks, ABC will broadcast the premiere of a new TV series called “Revenge”. But Thursday they released the entire script of its pilot episode as a free Kindle ebook!

“What goes around comes around,” reads the tagline on its cover…

I wish they’d also included a picture – but obviously it was written before the show had even been produced! The ebook is identified as the “Final Network Draft,” dated January 25, but its copyrighted 2010. (“This material is the exclusive property of ABC Studios and is intended solely for the use of its personnel,” reads the official warning at the beginning of the script – which makes it feel even more official.) The table of contents has links to its five “chapters”, each without a title. (“ACT ONE, ACT TWO, ACT THREE…”) And it’s fun to see a TV show converted into words.





A BLOOD RED HARVEST MOON rises high above the dark waters of the North Atlantic. Bands of crimson moonlight cradle deep rolling swells as they push their way towards the flickering lights of a distant shoreline…

And there’s another interesting twist: You can also watch the whole first episode on the internet. “[T]he free Kindle version of the script includes a link to the full-length pilot…” notes a review of the ebook on Amazon. “The most interesting thing about reading the script…is checking out the differences between what was originally scripted and what was actually put on film!” I even followed along with the script while I watched the finished product online, and sure enough, there’s lots of fascinating little differences. “Some were very minor…” notes the Amazon review, like “changing the name of Emily’s former friend Ben Porter to Jack Porter, or the name of her dog from Jake to Sam… Some were more integral (such as the decision to connect Emily’s father’s arrest to a terrorist act, or to suggest that Emily herself had spent years in prison – neither were part of the original script).”

I enjoyed script so much that I decided I’d like to read the whole thing as a Kindle ebook. It preserves some of the mystery of the story, which I think gets lost when you actually try to film it. “I downloaded a copy of ABC’s ‘Revenge’…” wrote one TV columnist. “My download quit about halfway through, and I didn’t try to reboot in order to view the rest of it, so that may give you some idea of the show, which seemed trite and melodramatic, a soap opera in the ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ sense, but without the fun.” It’s possible that he would’ve enjoyed it more if he’d been reading the original script!

It’s a fun glimpse into the way a TV show actually gets produced, seeing how all of the on-screen details were first set down into words, and recognizing all the careful thought that went into creating the final show! “We hope you enjoyed your first taste of Revenge,” ABC teases on the ebook’s last page, trying to lead readers seamlessly to the actual broadcast version. “Now that you know Emily’s secret, we’d like to reveal more of her story to you. Visit and use the passcode MN3JozZrq to watch the Full First Episode of Revenge for free! When you’re done, feel free to share with your friends, but only the ones you trust….

“But be warned,” they add on the web page. “This is not a story about forgiveness…”

If nothing else, it’s a very interesting new use for the Kindle. The Kindle can hold any text file, not just the text of a full-length book, and right now clever people are already thinking up new ways to offer fun things for your Kindle. But it’s also really remarkable when you think about the journey that this particular story has taken. The plot of the TV series is loosely taken from The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic action-adventure novel written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas!

And a full 166 years later, in 2010, that novel enjoyed a very special moment as a poignant symbol of the way that books were being changed by the introduction of digital readers. The founder of Barnes and Noble’s founder, Len Riggio, was being interviewed by a reporter for New York Magazine, and in a touching moment, the 69-year-old executive — born in an age before television — seemed to be struggling to make sense of the popularity of ebooks.

“I still like books,” he said, though it didn’t really need saying. All around him, in a conference room that evoked an elegant old library, were shelves lined with hardbound classics. Books had made Riggio a fortune… Books had been very good to him, and now they were dissolving into the ether…

Riggio wanted to say something, but he couldn’t quite find the words, so he burst out of his chair and charged over to one wall. “I don’t know how you can intellectualize this,” he said, “but a book is …” To continue his thought, he pulled down a copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, shook it, felt its substance. “This bound volume of Dumas is content. We have to understand people want to own this content. They want this. It’s very important.”

Now, thanks to the Kindle, you can download the script of a slick network TV series that’s based on that novel as a free ebook!

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