December 17th, 2013
If you’re looking for something Christmas-y to read, here’s four of my most favorite holiday stories. (Maybe reading on the Kindle can become a new Christmas tradition!) These stories are all available as a free Kindle ebooks, and at least one of them has been around for almost 200 years! Lots of people enjoy curling up someplace cozy, and taking a quiet reading break over the holidays. And this year, more and more of them will doing it with the Kindle!
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, 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.
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 always enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. Every year on Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol always crashes into the top 20. 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.
And all three of these stories are also available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store…
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.) And 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”!
Merry Christmas, Mr. Mark by Nelson Algren
There’s one short Christmas story that I absolutely love — by one of my favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway called Nelson Algren “one of the two best authors in America” — and his greatest novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, offered an unforgettable look at Chicago and its lowlifes. (In 1950, 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 isn’t available on the Kindle. But one lucky 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 the newsboys had tried to swindle their customers!
But by the end, they’d all learned a valuable lesson about Christmas…!
December 12th, 2013
Amazon has now released 18 different free games for their black-and-white e-ink Kindles, and in 2012 they even released two that were designed especially for the holiday season! “We were going to wait to start talking about the holidays, but this new free game for Kindle is getting us in the spirit a little early,” read one announcement on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Check it out for yourself, but don’t blame us if you suddenly get the urge to start stringing lights and singing carols!”
And there’s also a free Christmas app for the Kindle Fire!
Their new game for the black-and-white, e-ink Kindles was “Picture Perfect Holiday Puzzles,” and within four hours of the announcement, it had already earned 208 “Like” votes and drawn 35 enthusiastic comments. (Like the woman in Minnesota who posted “OMG! OMG! OMG! This is my all time FAVORITE Kindle game, I’ve been waiting for a Part 2 forever!! YESSSS!!!!!!!”) It was a “sequel” to a free game Amazon released called simply “Picture Perfect Puzzles”. In both those games, users try to form a picture by darkening all the correct squares in a grid, making logical deductions from clues showing the number of squares that need darkening in each row and column. But for the second “holiday” version, Amazon created 35 more puzzles, each one with a fun holiday theme. (The puzzles were grouped into six categories: Winter Begins, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Continues, Kwanzaa, and New Years.)
And would you like to write to Santa Claus? There’s an app for that — at least, if you own a Kindle Fire tablet (or an iPad). Last Christmas, Amazon announced a free Santa app to create holidays wish lists, “for children and their parents…to share with friends, family and Mr. Claus.” They’ve identified more than half a million popular “kid-friendly” items available on Amazon, and according to the director of Amazon Mobile, the apps makes it “fun, easy and intuitive for kids to find exactly what they want.” Just point your browser to amazon.com/santa_app
There’s books, of course, but also toys, games, video games, music, and even movies and TV shows — and you can browse the individual categories or search for specific items. By secretly tracking which gifts have been purchased, it can helip different relatives avoid buying the same gift, and Amazon says the app offers “a great way for parents to spend some quality time with their kids…”
And, “to help make certain there’s a smile Christmas morning.”
November 22nd, 2013
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?”)
It’s called “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme,” and it was a real labor of love. (For five days every November, 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.
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…
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
October 31st, 2013
I have a special holiday tradition. Each year on Halloween, I creep up on the Kindle Store, and take a peek at just how many zombie titles have crawled out into the marketplace. On Halloween night in 2011, there were 2,269 different Kindle ebooks with their word “zombie” in their title. But by 2012, that number had more than doubled, with 4,874 zombie ebooks there were now available on the Kindle. And this year? OMG!
Amazon’s Kindle store now has 8,052 zombie ebooks!
I’ve joked about the “rising zombie ebook invasion,” but the numbers really do show an unmistakeable trend. One Halloween, I noticed that one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store was something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. But the real message may be that each Halloween, there’s more and more self-published authors who are writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress only has 674 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from 523 in 2011 and 601 in 2012). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has nearly 12 times as many zombies!!!
Even if they’re not real zombies, there’s something that’s almost viral about their popularity, suggesting that the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros. Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!
Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.
To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 1996 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.
But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.
I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.
I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.
Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…
That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.
It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!
There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Zombie Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”
Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. If you’re after a classic bedtime story, there’s Snow White and the Seven Dead Dwarves: A Zombie Fairy Tale.” And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)
And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…
I’m not sure what to make of an ebook called James Joyce and the Zombie Priest, though it’s attracted at least one positive review on its web page at Amazon. (“If there is a better zombie version of Araby by James Joyce, it would be news to me!”) This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks. There’s even a Garrison Keillor parody called The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten that’s attributed to an author named Harrison Geillor. (“The humor in this parody lies in the simple truth that even a zombie bear with a hatchet in its head won’t faze a Minnesotan,” writes Publisher’s Weekly.)
And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of two Sherlock Holmes stories, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.
In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.
Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management
And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)
A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan
There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their own imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…
Maybe they were also inspired by the success of the Twilight series of books about a vampire’s teenaged romance. (One ebook author has even written Vampire Among the Zombies.) But I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”
Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!
October 14th, 2013
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. (Both those stories were part of a larger collection called The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which is available as a free Kindle eBook!) But Washington Irving also perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes, placing fake newspaper ads seeking a fictitious Dutch historian named 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! (That book is also available as a free Kindle ebook…)
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 also available as a free ebook for the Kindle, though for some reason only Volume 2 is available in the free edition. (“…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!
* * *
Click Here to Read about Columbus on Wikipedia
Free ebooks about Columbus:
July 23rd, 2013
Each summer I have a special Kindle tradition. On the fourth of July, I try to read ebooks written by some of America’s greatest authors. It’s a way to try to appreciate the true meaning of our “Independence Day” holiday. And this year I discovered some of my all-time favorite American authors now have ebooks available in the Kindle Store — for free!
But first, I’d like to tell you about my 4th of July…
There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and this year a friend invited me to ride on his float. So instead of watching the 4th of July parade, I was in the 4th of July parade! What a rush — the whole town, it seemed, was smiling and waving at us as we rode by, and everywhere on that hot Thursday afternoon, you saw red, white, and blue. I was feeling a strange euphoria when I finally got home. And that’s when I started reading on my Kindle.
There’s a book called the U.S. A. Trilogy that reminded me of my favorite author, John Dos Passos. He used a stream-of-consciousness technique to mix together newspaper headlines and lyrics of popular songs with longer descriptions of his characters and the challenges they faced in every day life. The book flashes to the lives of his characters before (and after) World War I, though unfortunately, it’s not available as a Kindle ebook. But that afternoon I discovered something even better in Amazon’s Kindle Store: free editions for each of the author’s first four novels!
“The Early Works of John Dos Passos” is available in the Kindle Store as a 514-page collection of those four novels for just $1.99. Amazon named the collection one of their Best Books of 2013 (So Far), and it’s from a publisher called Halcyon Classics. But there’s also a free edition available for each one of the four books in the collection! Dos Passos was inspired partly by his own experiences in World War I, and he writes vivid and intimate stories for the characters in all four of his early novels.
One Man’s Initiation – 1917
Rosinante to the Road Again
A Pushcart at the Curb
For $1.99, you can even purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook version for each of these ebooks (except A Pushcart to the Curb.) But because of the Kindle, I was also able to enjoy reading reviews of these American classics from new readers who’d recently discovered them on Amazon.com. One reviewer argued that Three Soldiers may be set during the war, but it’s more about one man’s struggle to retain his individuality. (Wikipedia points out that at least one of the soldiers has a military career which is virtually identical to that of John Dos Passos!) And another reader said these four earlier novels really capture the author’s tremendous growth. “It was refreshing to see through this collection how he came to eventually writing the great American classic USA Trilogy and developed a modern style, more complex and textured than any of the other members of the lost generation with the possible exception of James Joyce….”
Of course, I read some other interesting books as part of my all-American afternoon. I flipped through a wonderful postcard-sized print book called Traveling Route 66, which features photographs of highway scenes you might see in the 1950s, from neon signs to various roadside attractions. That book quoted a poem by Walt Whitman called “Song of the Open Road”, which led me to look a free online copy of the complete poem on my Kindle. The poem is also available as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents.
But I couldn’t let the day end without reading at least a few lines of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. What’s forgotten is that poem is part of a larger work – a kind of American version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where six different characters each take a turn reciting a poem on a topic that’s dear to their heart. (It’s also available as a free Kindle ebook.) Tales of a Wayside Inn was written in 1862, during the American Civil War, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was struggling with his wife’s death and the injuries of his son, who was serving in the Union army. So in the longer poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is referred to as “The Landlord’s Tale”, and after its conclusion, there’s a few more poignant lines that always remind me that holidays are often just a way of remembering, in your own way, all of those who came before you.
The Landlord ended thus his tale,
Then rising took down from its nail
The sword that hung there, dim with dust,
And cleaving to its sheath with rust,
And said, “This sword was in the fight.”
April 1st, 2013
I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. But instead I got caught disbelieving three strange stories that were actually true!. It just goes to show you how wonderfully unpredictible our world has become since the invention of the Kindle. The first unusual story even involved the President of the United States.
A friend sent me a link to a video on YouTube, saying that if I clicked on it, I’d hear the president of the United States reading a book called Chicka-chicka boom boom. This seemed really unlikely, especially since it was April Fool’s Day, but when I clicked on the link, there he was. Barack Obama was reading the children’s picture book to entertain kids who’d come to the White House yesterday for the traditional Easter Egg Roll. The president even described it as one of his favorite books!
“A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” the story begins. (“Clearly the alphabet is full of a bunch of trouble-makers,” the president ad libs later, as the rest of the letters crowd into the tree, eventually causing them all to come toppling down.) “Skit skat scootle doot, flip flop flee,” the story continues. But of course, the real message of the day was that it’s important for children to read. “If you know how to read, then the whole world opens up to you,” the president tells the children. “So I want everybody to read hard, okay? Read as many books as you can…”
And sure enough, it turns out that book is available as a Kindle ebook.
Story #2 also seemed unlikely. Last week someone claimed that Amazon had thrown around its huge budget, and purchased a book-recommendation web site called GoodReads.com. I’ve used the site — it lets you tell your friends what books you’re reading, and you also suggest books or start discussions about them. Author John Locke even identified it as one of the sites where he promoted his thriller novels — and Locke ultimately became the first self-published author to sell a million books in the Kindle store. (At the time, he was only the 8th author ever to sell one million Kindle ebooks).
I was skeptical that Amazon even knew the site existed — but again, it turns out that I was fooling myself by not believing it. In fact, Amazon had even put out a press release announcing the news just four days before. “Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading…” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content said in the announcement. “Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”
I was also dubious of one more story that later turned out to be true — and surprisingly, it came from a site that was actually called Fool.com. I knew that Amazon was rumored to be working on a combination Kindle/smartphone, but it was their headline that really threw me, warning that Amazon might be working on a “Kindle Phablet.” If this were a movie, I would’ve spit coffee all over my screen, blurting out that “Phablet” was the most ridiculous name ever for a new line of products. I know tablets are popular, so every company wants to invent the next generation of tablets, but surely no one would ever merge the words Phone and Tablet, just to imply that a new class of device was absolutely fab-ulous. But it turns out people have been using that term since at least 2012, according to Wikipedia, which even has a whole section with links where technology columnists debate the appropriateness of the word.
Fortunately, I didn’t get them all wrong. When I visited Google today, I noticed they had links not only to Google News, but also to Google NOSE!. (“Google Nose BETA leverages new and existing technologies to offer the sharpest olfactory experience available…”) But don’t worry. My friends assure me that if you fall for an April Fool’s story that turns out to be true, it means that spring will come six weeks earlier this year. Or something like that.
Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody!
February 4th, 2013
I’m always fascinated how the Kindle becomes part of our every day life. And I thought it’d be fun to see how Amazon and their Kindle did (and didn’t) play a role in all of the fesitivites during Sunday’s big football showdown. There was an unexpected lull in the second half of the Super Bowl when a partial power outage stopped the game for more than half an hour. With 178 million people watching the half-darkened stadium, I’m sure that somebody, somewhere, must’ve pulled out their Kindle and just started reading!
I say this because right about that time, my friend Richard announced on Facebook that he was in fact spending some quiet time at a real bookstore — drinking coffee, and enjoying some reading. I envy the calm, quiet afternoon he must’ve enjoyed, and he added in his Facebook update that there seemed to be no one else at the store! But even if you’re not a football fan, it’s easy to be affected by the massive spectacle, knowing that it’s captured the attention of a good chunk of the world’s population. I’m impressed that so many aspiring authors cranked out football ebooks specifically targeting readers who were thinking about Sunday’s big football event.
There’s new ebooks with Super Bowl trivia questions and recipes, books about football player controversies, and over a dozen ebooks offering “numerology” analysis for individual players. There’s even a thriller about a Super Bowl referee who’s secretly being extorted by a gang of criminals. And I was intrigued that a few years ago, one author even found a way to combine the Super Bowl with American History — author Don Steinberg , with his Kindle ebook America Bowl: 44 Presidents vs. 44 Super Bowls in the ultimate matchup!. (“Each chapter compares one President to one Super Bowl game,” he explains on the book’s page on Amazon. “It’s a crazy concept…but it turns out to be a really fun way to read about history and football.”)
Of course, not every ebook about the Super Bowl will deliver championship-calibur writing, and there aren’t any ebooks about the Super Bowl that made it into Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks. But I thought it was cool that right in the middle of the game, Amazon posted this on their Faceboook page for digital music.
If you’re curious about which songs are playing during the game tonight, follow us on Twitter. We’ll be live-tweeting links: http://www.twitter.com/amazonmp3
So it was fun to visit Amazon’s Music Store and browse through its special web page the next day just to see how many of the songs I remembered. (For a shortcut to their complete list, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/SuperBowlSongs .) If you have a Kindle Fire, you can even watch all those ads again in your web browser at www.youtube.com/user/superbowladsman . I was a little disappointed that Amazon didn’t run an ad for the Kindle during the Super Bowl. But at least their pumped-up songs would still provide good background music for reading on the Kindle — especially for new Kindle ebooks about the Super Bowl!
November 9th, 2012
Veterans Day is this weekend, and there’s a non-profit group called “Operation Homefront” that supports members of the service who have been wounded, as well as their families. Amazon’s just announced that they’re donating 2,000 Kindles to the group, “continuing its commitment to support transitioning military service women and men.”
It’s a good way for Amazon to help out the returning soliders and their families, according to the group’s CEO. “These Kindle devices will greatly enhance their quality of life,” he said in a statement, “as they progress through their challenging recovery process.” But it’s not the only way Amazon is supporting the veterans. They’re also promising to hire at least 1,200 more veterans within the next year.
“Amazon is committed to supporting veterans as they transition from military life to civilian life…” an Amazon executive said in a statement, which also included a comment from a United States Senator — Patty Murray, from Amazon’s home state of Washington. “Many of our service members, who faced challenges abroad, return home to find a whole different set of trials as they work to figure out how their specific military skill set translates into a civilian job.” She applauded Amazon, and other companies like them, “for committing to help our military heroes adjust to being home by ensuring they have access to quality employment.” Amazon already employs hundreds of veterans across the United States in their fulfillment centers, and has a team devoted to hiring more veterans for careers at Amazon.
In fact, for the second year in a row, Amazon’s been named to a list of military-friendly employers, and they were named one of the top 100 companies for recruiting veterans last month (by U.S. Veterans magazine.) Most veterans “want to ensure their work has a continued sense of purpose,” a former enlisted Army soldier explained in Amazon’s press release. He began his Amazon career as a temp at one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers, and worked his way up to a position as general manager, and he’s thankful to Amazon for the opportunity. Amazon’s even put in place a mentoring team made up of veterans, who also offer career support.
There’s one specific program in place at Amazon that I found really touching. In 2011, they created a special “Virtual Contact Center” providing costumer support, which allows employees to work from home. Amazon has actively recruited military spouses for the program, as well as our nation’s wounded warriors. It’s nice to think that Amazon’s philosophy is reflected both in the experience they’re delivering to Kindle owners, and to the policies they have for their employees. According to the veteran they quoted in their press release, whether you’re shopping at Amazon or working there, “Amazon’s commitment to hiring and developing veterans reflects its customer-centric focus…”
July 4th, 2012
I have a tradition for the 4th of July – and it involves my Kindle. Every year, I point my web browser to Wikipedia’s web page with the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Now Amazon’s Kindle Store has a free copy of the declaration available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution).
Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”
Wikipedia’s page walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — and also provides the complete text of the famous document, along with some good historical context. As the country celebrates the day it declared its independence, I like taking a moment to read some good history – and my Kindle really makes it easy. I think it’s funny that Amazon customers are now leaving reviews of the Declaration of Independence, which currently has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) In comparison, the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half stars. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)
And because of the Kindle, you don’t have to content yourself with a Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life, and it’s available in the Kindle Store as a free ebook!
In fact, more than 200 years later, it’s now become one of Amazon’s best-selling e-books. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…” It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his the ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”
It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past… But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came to be online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.
But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?
April 1st, 2012
Suzanne Collins is the all-time best-selling author on the Kindle. But can she defeat Stephenie Meyer – the author of the Twilight series – in a mixed martial arts cage match?
That question may be settled soon, if the World Wrestling Entertainment has its way. They’ve issued a formal invitation to both authors in an ambitious campaign to improve the image of their events, hoping to shake the stigma that’s traditionally surrounded professional wrestling by reserving a special spot for the two heavy-weight authors in WrestleMania XXVIII. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has presided over some crazy publicity stunts, but this one seems tied to the release of the Hunger Games movie (which opened last weekend).
“Suzanne Collins is #1 in the hearts of fans — and in the sales of her books through Amazon’s Kindle store,” Mr. McMahon said in a statement today from Florida. “So we’re issuing a formal challenge to her on behalf of her rival author, Stephenie Meyer. And to Miss Meyer we say, come and listen to the cheers from a real crowd. Leave your desk behind, taste the springtime air here in Miami Gardens, and come to defend your title out here in the real world.”
“And you can bring along as many of your vampire friends as you want.”
In a promotional video segment, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson” was photographed holding printed copies of all the Twilight-series books, and also copies of each of Collins’ Hunger Games books, which he smashed together to hopefully pump up the anticipation. “We professional wrestlers all know how to read,” Johnson said in a pre-taped segment. “But do you have what it takes to wrestle? There’s a ring with your name on it at Sun Life Stadium, Stephenie Meyer.”
It may not be a fight to the death — like the staged tournaments in Collins’ Hunger Games books — but McMahon alluded to that excitement while urging both authors to accept the challenge by using a quote from the newly-released movie. “They just want a good show, that’s all they want,” McMahon said, standing near a mock-up of a promotional poster for the event in the back of his broadcasting booth in Florida. But then he looked directly at the camera, and added ominously, “But only one comes out.”
It’s not clear whether the massive popularity of the Kindle can translate into bigger ticket sales for a staged wrestling event between the authors of two popular ebooks. But it’s not the first time that the WWE has tried to attract celebrities into carefully-prepared professional wrestling matches. (Famously in 2004, Vince McMahon successfully lured Lucy Lawless — the original Xena the Warrior Princess — into a staged wrestling match against Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’d played Buffy the Vampire Slayer). McMahon gamely joked that if there’s enough interest in this year’s “War of the Writers,” they might even duplicate the event in 2013.
“Maybe we’ll get J. K. Rowling to wrestle Anne Rice!”
UPDATE: Okay, while it turns out that WrestleMania 28 is a real event that’s being staged on April 1, apparently it is not going to feature an appearance this year by Suzanne Collins in a mixed-martial-arts, cage-match fight to the death with rival author Stephenie Meyer. I’ve confirmed this with a source who has direct knowledge about the event — me — because…well, I made this whole thing up, because I just really wanted to celebrate April Fool’s Day this year! :)
I promise that I’ve never, ever made up a blog post before, and that I’ll never, ever do it again.
Er, except maybe for April Fool’s Day of 2013. :D
February 20th, 2012
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)
It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” The same article notes that his wife Laura had a Kindle too. And that same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle.
But it’s not just that the Kindle was being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush soon released his new autobiography. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!
A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrated the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculated that thatwas over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that at the time, it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and even more by Jimmy Carter…
And in 2011, even president Obama released a new book — and also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It was a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!
The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”
It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!