September 30th, 2014
I love baseball — but even if you’re just looking for a good novel, there’s still some great Kindle ebooks about the drama behind the sport. It seems to attract a special brand of optimism, and some surprisingly thoughtful commentary. Words like “triumph” and “hope” are just fancy ways of saying that people fight hard over the course of a lifetime, to try to realize their dreams. And with this year’s post-season about to begin, here’s my picks for the very best Kindle ebooks about baseball.
Ball Four: the Final Pitch by Jim Bouton
I’ve always loved this rollicking memoir by a baseball player, which in 1970 became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues. And Amazon is now selling the Kindle edition of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch”, which includes a fascinating look back — more than 25 years later — by the book’s original author! Ball Four was extremely controversial when it was first published — simply because it was so shockingly candid. (Author Jim Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”)
Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
Coach by Michael Lewis
The author of Moneyball also wrote this heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis had learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in a crucial 9th inning… Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my should and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together… ” And by the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent.
And again if you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
“From here on out, I rag on nobody…” It’s been called one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the movies, but it stems from a stunning 1956 novel. Author Mark Harris wrote four novels about the life of a major league catcher, but this is the novel that people always remember. Robert De Niro starred in the film adaptation — one of his first starring roles at the age of 30 — but the “voice” of the narrator in this novel is impossible to forget. There’s something about sports fiction that makes authors want to reach even further, and this novel follows the same path, describing a friendship between two men that grows slowly as they face an even bigger challenge beyond the baseball diamond.
Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck
This book contains one of my all-time favorite baseball stories, about the day that Eddie Gaedel stepped up to bat. Eddie Gaedel was 3′ 7″ — a midget — but the owner of the St. Louis Browns had snuck him onto the line-up card for the second game of a double-header. “Play ball!” the umpire roared, as the opposing team’s pitcher laughed and conferred with his catcher. (“Pitch him low,” the catcher joked — but the pitcher never could find the strike zone…) Eddie Gaedel walked to first base in his one only — giving him a lifetime perfect on-base percentage of 1.000. And decades later, the owner of that baseball team shared the full story — and dozen of others — with lots of humor and lots of insights drawn from lifetime spent in professional baseball.
It’s a great way to look on a century of great baseball stories — as the 2014 post-season begins!
September 26th, 2014
Now you can link your Twitter account to your Amazon wish list, and request those special gifts with just a hashtag! Whenever there’s an Amazon URL in a tweet, now just include #AmazonWishList in your reply — and Twitter and Amazon will make sure the item gets added to your wish list!
And Amazon’s also added more functionality to their Wish Lists. With its new “Save-A-Photo” feature, you can now take a picture — of anything — and then save it to your Amazon Wish List. In fact, now your Amazon wish list can even include items that you found on other shopping sites. There’s a new easy browser add-on that’s making it possible, which Amazon is calling “the Universal Wish List”.
But here’s my favorite feature: “Don’t Spoil My Surprises!” This lets you keep your Amazon wish list up-to-date for any friends who might shopping from it — but it won’t remove those items that were purchased when you’re looking at the list. That way, “every gift is truly a surprise,” Amazon explains in their press release. And you can even add a “Virtual Note” to your wish list, if you want to make general suggestions about what people should be buying you!
“Last year, one in three Amazon customers worldwide wished,” Amazon explains in a new press release, and the end result was more than 4.3 million “wish list” items being added every day. if Amazon maintained that pace for an entire year, it’d mean the addition of 1,576,800,000 wish list items in just one year!
Of course, Amazon’s gearing up for the big holiday shopping season. Just make sure you don’t add things to your wishlist by accident once you’ve connected it to your Twitter account. I can imagine someone sharing a ridiculous product’s URL on Twitter, like this giant Horse Head Mask. “#AmazonWishList ,” I might tweet back jokingly.
Only to discover that it’s actually been added to my Amazon Wish List!
September 19th, 2014
Amazon’s just introduced an adorable new high-definition tablet — for less than $99! Their new “Fire HD6″ tablet comes with brilliant high-def color (252 pixels per inch) , and it’s available with a 6-inch or 7-inch screen, “in five fun color choices.”
The six-inch edition is only $99, while the 7-inch version costs another $30 ($139). “Fire HD is the most powerful tablet under $100,” bragged Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. “The new Fire HD features a stunning HD display, quad-core processor, Dolby Digital Audio, front and rear-facing cameras, incredible reliability, and Amazon’s unmatched content ecosystem – all supported by Amazon customer service.”
I’m stunned that it costs just $99 and comes with two cameras — both front- and rear-facing — for two-way video conversations. But then again, I recently bought a 15.6-inch laptop computer for just $250. I joked to a friend that electronic parts have gotten so cheap, now we’re just trying our different configurations. Do you want a larger screen with a physical keyboard, or just a medium-sized tablet device with a touchscreen keyboard. Or, or course, a phone-sized device…
Which seems to be Amazon’s grand master plan. At 6 inches, the FireHD6 is just half an inch larger than the iPhone 6 Plus which Apple just released this week — and it’s $300 cheaper. Amazon is already touting the ability of their FireHD6 to make Skype calls…with video! And when you look past its calling capabilities, “Fire HD delivers a world-class entertainment experience,” according to Amazon’s press release, “with over 33 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and Android apps and games…”
What’s really happening may be the beginning of a smart long-term plan. Amazon’s making it cheap and easy for customers to try out the Amazon “ecosystem”. Once you start buying your music and apps from Amazon, the theory goes, you won’t want to switch to another company’s device. Amazon makes it profit from the thing you’ll purchase with the device — all the apps and the ebooks and digital music and video content. That could explain why the prices are so cheap for the FireHD6, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Amazon was selling the devices “at cost”, or even at a small loss!
Because once you start spending your time with a FireHD6, they’re hoping that you’ll also start spending your money!
September 17th, 2014
I love Amazon’s Kindle ebooks sales — but this month selection seems unusually exciting. There’s famous authors (and famous characters), with new discounts on fiction, non-fiction, and even comic books. Amazon’s discounted over 100 Kindle ebooks to just $3.99 or less — including science fiction, biographies, and thrillers.
Here’s some of the most interesting selections…
John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman ($1.99)
This 800-page biography seems like it’s full of everything you want to know about the music legend — both before and after The Beatles. After three years of research, author Philip Norman apparently interviewed everyone who really knew John Lennon, according to the book’s description at Amazon, including Lennon’s own son Sean “whose moving reminiscence reveals his father as never before.” Norman also obtained rare interviews with Paul McCartney, George Martin, and Yoko Ono, “who speaks with sometimes shocking candor about the inner workings of her marriage to John.” And I have to admit that this book’s description is intriguing, calling it “Honest and unflinching, as John himself would wish…the whole man in all his endless contradictions…”
Easy Go by Michael Crichton ($1.99)
It’s a fun and fascinating novel from one of this century’s greatest literary careers. Just two years after making his debut at the age of 27, Michael Crichton imagined a fantastic story set in Egypt about an archaeologist who discovers ancient tomb filled with vast riches. There’s just one problem, according to Amazon. “He doesn’t just want to dig it up. He wants to steal it.” Soon our hero has teamed up with a smuggler, a thief, and an English lord to attempt history’s greatest heist — and of course, they’re walking right into a novel filled with danger. “Part Heist caper with some Indiana Jones mixed in,” writes one reviewer at Amazon, adding ” It would have made a great action movie….”
The Best American Short Stories 2013 by Elizabeth Strout ($2.99)
This collection is “wildly divergent and entertaining,” according to Booklist, “and each story is cultivated with a keen eye for voice and character…” I’ve always loved these collections of short fiction, and this year’s may be the best one yet (already becoming one of Amazon’s top 500 best-selling Kindle ebooks). “As our vision becomes more global,” explains this year’s guest editor, “our storytelling is stretching in many ways. Stories increasingly change point of view, switch location, and sometimes pack as much material as a short novel might.” That’s Elizabeth Strout, who also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the editor of this series simply describes this collection as “twenty compellingly told, powerfully felt stories about urgent matters with profound consequences….”
Daredevil, Vol. 1 by Mark Waid ($3.99)
Marvel Comic books are hard to find in Amazon’s Kindle Store — but they do have a great selection of graphic novels. And with new interest in The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, let’s not forget one of Marvel’s classic and most inspiring superheroes. Matt Murdock is “the man without fear,” and one comic book fan on Amazon describes this collection of six 2011 issues as “an incredible read, one of the best today!” (“If you like the fun of Spider-Man, but get a little tired of the self-deprecating humor or you love Batman, but don’t want to be bogged down by loads of continuity or maybe you just want to find something that’s both fun and thrilling all in the same place, do yourself a favor and pick this up!”)
And if you’re looking for more Marvel graphic novels, Amazon’s also discounted Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People to just $3.99!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s ebook discounts, point your browser to
September 13th, 2014
The war is on — which smartphone will win? Or is Apple really trying to fight Amazon’s Kindle Fire? It’s fun to watch two giant tech companies trying to out-do each other by creating even more exciting new gadgets. But at some point you have to ask: which fight are we really watching? Did Apple just release a new phone, or a new tablet?!
But my response would be that it doesn’t matter. I always think of the long-term war between Apple and Microsoft. Actually, I remember the way it was acted out in the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”. It ends with Steve Jobs confronting Bill Gates over Microsoft’s plans to take over the market for personal computers. Microsoft succeeded, but I like to think that Steve Jobs personally calculated the strategy that would one day help Apple reclaim the lead.
The storyline looks like this. Steve Jobs knows that computers will get smaller and smaller, and eventually “computing” will be mostly practiced on tiny devices that we’d hold in our hands. So back in 2001, Apple releases their first iPod, and quickly carves out a niche in “fresh territory”. The iPod gets better and better, and within 6 years, Apple adds the ability to make phone calls to their handheld devices — and also the ability to run apps. And what was the iPad, really, but a big iPhone, for running apps on a giant screen?
There’s debate now about whether you can really replace a personal computer with a handheld device, but it’s undeniable that people love owning a tablet. Amazon, of course, has been selling Kindles for the last 7 years, and they introduced their own line of multimedia tablets in 2011. But the Kindle Fire may just have been a defensive move by Amazon — to make sure Apple didn’t lure away everyone who wanted to read ebooks on a handheld device.
And then Amazon launched an offensive move — releasing a smartphone of their own. The Fire Phone was even discounted massively this week, from $199 apiece to just 99 cents (with a two-year service contract). But I’m still wondering if we’re missing the real battle that Amazon is fighting here. The Fire Phone comes with a “Firefly” feature which makes it easy to instantly purchase items (using your Amazon account to automatically handle all the billing). Maybe Amazon isn’t worried about losing customer’s who’d buy ebooks, digital readers, or even handheld tablets.
Maybe Amazon’s worried about losing ground in the war for all commerce — the ability to handle every payment that gets made on a mobile device.
September 9th, 2014
One of the founders of the dating site “OK Cupid” just released a new book — and it reveals some stunning insights about how people live today. (And Amazon’s discounting the Kindle edition to just $6.99.) After 10 years of running OKCupid, Christian Rudder has crunched the data to uncover some surprisingly clear patterns about what people really want. The title of his book? Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)
“Tonight, some thirty thousand couples will have their first date because of OkCupid,” Rudder writes in the book’s introduction. “Roughly three thousand of them will end up together long-term. Two hundred of those will get married, and many of them, of course, will have kids.” It seems like just one out of every 150 dates will end in marriage, I thought at first. But then I realized: that’s happening every night — so 73,000 marriages each year are beginning with OKCupid dates!
“There are children alive and pouting today,” jokes the site’s founder, “grouchy little humans refusing to put their shoes on right now, who would never have existed but for the whims of our HTML.” And Rudder used to maintain a blog on their dating site that was called “OKTrends” — interesting observations about what patterns they were observing — according to Wikipedia. Rudder only stopped writing the blog in order to collect the same kind of information into this book. And according to one reviewer at Amazon, “This book may be to Data Science…what Freakonomics was to Economics…”
So what did he learn? Rudder revealed one fascinating experiment in July. OKCupid tried blatantly lying about the compatability of online dates, telling customers they’d discovered someone who matched 90% of their dating criteria…when they’d actually only matched 30%. (And to test the opposite, OKCupid told some customers that they’d also found people matching a mere 30% of their criteria — when, secretly, those people were actually a 90% match!) The results? Users sent more messages –at least “a conversation” of four — when they believed there was compatibility. Their own interactions weren’t always enough to convince them to keep those conversations going….and they put more faith in the numbers from the web site!
And surprisingly, people were much more likely to take a chance on e-mailing a person when there were no pictures available to judge how attractive they were….
Christian Rudder graduated from Harvard with a degree in math, according to The New York Times, calling Rudder the “Unblushing Analyst of Attraction” for OKCupid. And there is a stunningly geeky frankness in the infographics he’s released in advance of the book. For example, Rudder reports that the most sexually-aggressive states in America are Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Ohio and New Hampshire are the states least interested in sex and most interested in finding love…
Of course, there’s also a startling confession in Rudder’s book. “I’ve never been on an online date in my life and neither have any of the other founders…” So he’s not trying to push people to their web site, “and if it’s not for you, believe me, I get that.
“Tech evangelism is one of my least favorite things!”
September 5th, 2014
“Today Only,” read the special announcement on Amazon. Friday they’d slashed the prices on the Kindle Fire HD to just $129!
But a more interesting question is why is Amazon offering massive discounts on their high-definition tablet?
First, it’s a refurbished version, but that doesn’t explain everything. And the second clue is that Amazon seems to running out of their basic $69 Kindle. “Expected to ship in 1 to 2 weeks,” reads the text Amazon quietly slipped onto their web page. Why the sudden dramatic shifting in Amazon’s inventory of Kindles?
Of course, one theory is that Amazon’s about to announce a new Kindle. They usually schedule these announcements in September, to build up anticipation for the devices they’ll be releasing right before the big shopping season after Thanksgiving. So Amazon, the theory goes, is making room for all these new Kindles. Which they’re going to have to store someplace while they wait for new customers to order them…
What will Amazon announce? They’ll want to upgrade their tablets to keep up with their new competition. Maybe Amazon will add the Firefly button, and the other cool new features that they introduced with their Fire Phone. Besides being fun to play with, those features also made it easier to buy more things from Amazon.
So my guess is Amazon will include it on as many devices as possible!
August 31st, 2014
Amazon’s discounting the newest book by XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe by up to 50% — and it’s already become one of their best-selling books! It’s available as Kindle ebook for just $11.99 — a 50% discount from its cover price of $24 — if you pre-order before its official release this week. Even the hardcover edition has been discounted by 40% (to just $14.40)!
And in other news, “I’m excited to announce that I’ll be going on a book tour!” the author posted recently on his blog. When the book is finally released Tuesday, he’ll be appearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Harvard Book Store. Then on Friday it’s New York City, for the Barnes and Noble at Union Square. Within four days, he’ll be appearing in Seattle (at Town Hall), for a Tuesday night appearance which is already sold out. And by Thursday and Friday, it’s San Francisco and Berkeley, for two appearances which are both, also, already sold out…
Amazingly, his book has already jumped onto Amazon’s best-seller list even though it hasn’t been released yet, grabbing different spots in the top 10 throughout this weekend. (Currently it’s ranked #9 on Amazon’s list of hardcover best-sellers– higher than To Kill a Mockingbird and The Fault in Our Stars…) “This title will be auto-delivered to your Kindle on September 2, 2014,” Amazon advises shoppers, promising them the best of both worlds. You can still claim the huge pre-order discount — and then receive the ebook on Tuesday!
What’s even more amazing is it became a best-seller at Amazon five months ago. When the XKCD creator first announced this title, it became Amazon’s #2 most popular hard-cover book. “It’s like a surreal story from one of the author’s own comic strips,” I wrote in March. “In our yet-to-happen future, his book decides to travel backwards through time, stopping off in March of 2014 to inform Amazon’s best-seller list that yes, in our coming timeline this book will be widely read.” And ironically, the book’s title is What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. (Like what would happen if you threw a baseball at 90% of the speed of light…? )
I thought it was nice of the author to include a “Google Hangout” on his book tour. On Friday September 12th, he’ll appear in the live online chat (though questions will be limited to four carefully-chosen fans…) Then there’s one more stop in Santa Monica, before he returns home to continue drawing his comic strip.
And yes, Amazon is also selling a collection of his popular comic strip –though that book is only available in hardcover…
Remember, for a shortcut to his book’s page — and the earlier collection of
the author’s comic strips — point your browser to
August 29th, 2014
I almost forgot to check Amazon’s regularly-scheduled monthly sale of ebooks. (“Each month we unveil a new collection of Kindle books for $3.99 or less…”) And Amazon’s also offering especially attractive discounts when you purchase an audiobook and its Kindle version together. They’ve discounted more than 75 audiobook/ebook pairs to less than $8.00!
The discounts always disappear on the last day of the month, so this month that’d be Sunday, August 31st. (Which means if you re-visit the URL on Monday — September 1st — there’ll be an entirely new selection to choose from!) I always love the variety of choices — and this month there’s some unusually good choices.
Here’s some of the more interesting titles.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson ($1.99)
The science fiction maestro behind Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon delivers another mind-blowing piece of “speculative fiction”. Set on the planet Arbre, it describes a haven for intellectuals — the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers of a strange civilization — who suddenly find themselves facing “cataclysmic change” (according to the book’s description at Amazon). The sprawling adventure fills over 1000 pages in its print edition — the audiobook runs a full 32 hours and 30 minutes. But thanks to Amazon’s special pricing, you can get that audiobook for just $3.99 when you purchase the ebook for $1.99 — making the whole combined package just $6.00.
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman ($1.99)
Sarah Silverman shocks audiences with her fierce, raw jokes — and her latest book was no exception. “From the outrageously filthy and oddly innocent comedienne Sarah Silverman comes a memoir – her first book – that is at once shockingly personal, surprisingly poignant, and still pee-in-your-pants funny,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. But The Bedwetter also pulls back the curtain to reveal a little true information about Sarah, according to one reviewer at Amazon. “I expected this book to be hilarious, and it is… What I didn’t expect were the sensitivity and sincerity that Sarah has brought to both the writing of the book and to its glimpses behind the scenes into her personal life and the thoughtfulness behind the humor.”
And the audiobook — read by Sarah Silverman — is only $3.99 (when you also purchase the Kindle ediition for $1.99). For 5 hours and 42 minutes, she reads her own memoir out loud, and I even found myself laughing as she read the book’s copyright information with her classic deadpan enthusiasm. “Harper Audio presents The Bedwetter…by Sarah Silverman. Read by, Sarah Silverman. Me! Copyright 2010 by Sarah Silverman…. Dedication: for my family. I am so proud to be a part of us… A few names have been changed so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or get sued…”
Dead Man’s Folly: Hercule Poirot Investigates by Agatha Chrstie ($1.99)
“Agatha Christie’s Poirot” appeared for nearly 25 years on British television, with 70 episodes that introduced audiences to a brilliant but quirky Belgian detective (played by David Suchet). So it’s a real treat that David Suchet himself reads the audiobook edition for Dead Man’s Folly: Hercule Poirot Investigates. The audiobook is just $3.99 when you purchase the $1.99 Kindle edition.) And I always think of this book as one of Agatha Christie’s most personal mysteries…
It’s the story of a “murder party” — where people gather to solve a mock crime (which inevitably turns into a real one…) Hercule Poirot straddles the line between fact and fiction, in a story which Agatha Christie wrote to raise money for a local church’s fundraiser. They were raising money to purchase a stained glass window, but in the end, Christie gave them the proceeds from an entirely different story about her other famous detective, Miss Marple. And then she expanded this story into a full-length Hercule Poirot novel!
When Rolling Stone‘s contributing editor published his first book, it was a stunning story about his early days as a DJ — and falling in love with another DJ named Renée Crist. The ’90s were the decade “of Kurt Cobain and Shania Twain,” jokes the book’s description at Amazon, adding “It was also when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renée, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway.
“He was tall. She was short. He was shy. She was a social butterfly. She was the only one who laughed at his jokes when they were so bad, and they were always bad. They had nothing in common except that they both loved music…” Sheffield himself reads the book’s audiobook version — $3.99 when you also purchase the $3.99 Kindle edition — and when he looks back on the memories of his late wife, you sense a tenderness and the emotion that compelled him to pull together this book.
“In Love Is a Mix Tape, Rob, now a writer for Rolling Stone, uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renée… Love Is a Mix Tape isn’t a love song- but it might as well be. This is Rob’s tribute to music, to the decade that shaped him, but most of all to one unforgettable woman.”
Remember, for a shortcut to all of Amazon’s discounted ebooks,
point your browser to:
August 27th, 2014
I loved all the personal stories that Jeff Bezos shared in a speech I found on the web last week. He delivered the speech in 2001 to an audience of young aspiring entrepreneurs. And at one point, he shares a fond remembrance of the library where he’d read books as a teenager — and reveals his favorite book.
His parents were in the audience that day, and Jeff Bezos remembers one important fact about his own childhood. “My parents will attest to the fact that I was difficult to punish as a child, because I was quite happy to be grounded — to stay in my room and read!” But then one member of the audience asked him a personal question. You sell a lot of books — but do you ever read them?
Jeff answers yes, but then surprises the audience by revealing that to this day, at least half of the books he reads are science fiction. It seems logical, since he grew up to be a successful and celebrated visionary — but he traces his preference to the summers he spent on his grandfather’s ranch. His grandfather lived in Texas, and Bezos spent some summers there as a teenager, in a tiny town of 3,000 people — with its own tiny library. Books were donated by the townspeople, and a third of the collection was science fiction, “because there was this one guy in town who loved science fiction.”
Decades later, maybe that was in his mind when he made his fateful decision to start Amazon.com. He’d made a list of 26 possible products — “the first, best product to sell online” — studying a list of all the top products being sold by mail order. There was clothing, music, videos, computer software and hardware. And it’s fascinating to see that in the years since, Amazon has since gone on to sell all of them…
But were those science fiction books in his mind when he decided that the first product they’d sell would be books? Bezos listed out the practical business case for an online bookstore “There are literally millions of different books in print at any given time, and computers are good at organizing such large selections of products. You could build something online that literally couldn’t be built any other way.” (Imagine trying to print a paper catalog with every title, Bezos tells the crowd or a physical bookstore with copies of everything!)
After all that, Jeff Bezos still loves curling up with a good science fiction book, he tells the crowd, saying it still accounts for at least half of the books he reads. But then he reveals to the audience what his favorite novel is. Remains of the Day — the story of a butler who looks back over his life wondering if he missed an opportunity which will never come again. The 1989 book is an award-winning literary novel, but it would never be described as science fiction. “My wife inflicts good fiction on me every once in a while,” he jokes to the audience.
“Which I always end up loving…”
August 22nd, 2014
I love these big discounts Amazon’s offering on Kindle ebooks. (Up to 85% off on over 400 books — but only through August 24th). There’s hundreds of fun and fascinating titles — and cheap enough that it’s easy to try something new!
Here’s a few more of the most interesting titles…
Five Perry Mason Novels ($1.99 each)
The famous lawyer/detective frees the innocent in five of the original mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. Amazon’s discounted each one to just $1.99 — and they’re free if you’re a subscriber to Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” program. There’s The Case of the Haunted Husband and The Case of the Sulky Girl — in a series which made Erle Stanley Gardner one of America’s all-time best-selling authors. Over 50 Perry Mason mysteries have now been published as Kindle ebooks — each one with a lurid cover that celebrates the glory days of pulp fiction. There’s also The Case of the Angry Mourner and The Case of the Fugitive Nurse. And it’s impossible not to be intrigued by an ebook titled The Case of the Grinning Gorilla!
I’ll Fly Away by Wally Lamb ($1.99)
His first novel, She’s Come Undone was a best-seller — and so was his second novel, written six years later — I Know This Much Is True. But Wally Lamb also has a remarkable story about stories — the ones written by the inmates at a women’s prison in Connecticut. Since 1999 he’s worked at the York Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, where he learned that writing “was a way for these women to face their fears and failures and begin to imagine better lives,” according to the book’s description at Amazon. “Startling, heartbreaking, and inspiring, these stories are as varied as the individuals who wrote them, but each illuminates an important core truth: that a life can be altered through self-awareness and the power of the written word.”
Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape by Mark Lee Gardener ($1.99)
Mark Lee Gardner is one of my favorite writers about “the old West.” He looks at America through the eyes of its outlaws, capturing the world they lived in and the larger forces that were shaping their time. Jesse James committed the most famous bank robbery of all time, according to this book’s description at Amazon, and Gardner gives the thief the same thoughtful appraisal that he brought to his previous book about Billy the Kid. “With compelling details that chronicle the two-week chase that followed — the near misses, the fateful mistakes, and the bloody final shootout on the Watonwan River, Shot All to Hell is a galloping true tale of frontier justice…”
Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order by Noam Chomsky ($3.03)
At the age of 71, Noam Chomsky penned a sharp critique of the world’s political (and economic) structure which was apparently ahead of its time. Written in 1999, this book uncovers the roots of the fiscal crisis of 2008, according to the book’s description at Amazon, which adds that “In the years since the initial publication of Profit Over People, the stakes have only risen…” Howard Zinn would call the book “brilliant and devastating…a powerful rush of facts and ideas,” and it offers a new perspective on the free market that my high school economics teacher kept talking about. “Now more than ever, Profit Over People is one of the key texts explaining how the crisis facing us operates,” claims the book’s description, “and how, through Chomsky’s analysis of resistance, we may find an escape from the closing net…”
Remember, for a shortcut point your browser to
August 20th, 2014
Last year Amazon’s revenue was $74 billion. So it’s fascinating to remember when the company was just 10 people…and a dream. Today I stumbled across a remarkable video on YouTube showing Jeff Bezos — the founder of Amazon — describing its early days, their shared struggles, and the one idea which kept them going.
The funniest part of the speech is when Jeff Bezos takes the stage, he jokes to the audience that his name is Garth Vegan. “I’m going to be speaking to you about choreography,” he continues, before launching into his story. But it is a different Bezos than we’re used to seeing. The speech was delivered 13 years ago, in 2001 — when the founder of Amazon was still a young man in his 30s…
Jeff remembers when his company wasn’t even called Amazon. Its original name was Cadabra, Inc — as in Abracadabra. But he changed his mind when a lawyer mistook its name for “Cadaver, Inc.” He knew he needed something better — because he was risking his career to take a chance on the promise of online shopping.
His wife was in the audience that day, and Jeff remembered that “She had married a relatively stable person — goofy, but relatively stable — working at a law firm.” When she’d married him, Jeff had a nice steady job at a Wall Street hedge fund, so “This was a hard decision…” In fact, most of Amazon’s original employees kept their day jobs while they spent their nights filling the orders that would come in to the company.
Their first “distribution center” that was just 400 square feet — about the size of a one-car garage — when one of the engineers said “I can’t figure out if this is incredibly optimistic — or hopelessly pathetic.” And Bezos didn’t know. There was no way to know how customers would respond. But I love the way Jeff Bezos ultimately came to his decision, using what he described as a “regret-minimization” framework. You project yourself to the age of 80, and then try to minimize the number of regrets you’ll have when you’re looking back over your life…
“If I go do this thing, and participate in this thing called the internet, that I genuinely believe is going to be a big deal — and if I fail, am I going to regret having tried and failed?” Jeff Bezos knew that the answer was no. And he also knew that he’d always regret it if he didn’t try. “I would always wonder, and it would haunt me…”
As Jeff spoke, he acknowledged that his parents were also in the audience that day — and they were also one of his web site’s very first supporters. He told the crowd they’d invested “a reasonably large fraction” of their life savings — over $300,000 — into their son’s dream. And it was pretty much faith. “My dad’s first question was… What’s the internet?!”
They weren’t betting on any grand vision, Bezos explains. They were betting on their son. And he’d also confessed to them at the time that there was at least a 70% chance that they were going to lose it all. But in the first 30 days, the site got orders from all 50 U.S. states — plus 45 other countries. They couldn’t handle the volume, and expanded quickly — into a 2,000-square-foot basement warehouse.
Its ceiling was only six feet high — and one of their employees was 6′ 2″, so he couldn’t stand in the room without tilting his head to the side! Bezos himself would drive the packages to a UPS shipping facility — tapping on the glass when he was let to beg them to let him drop off his shipment. And they’d package the orders together — on their knees on the cement floor. Bezos remembers his first insight at Amazon was we ought to be wearing knee pads. Although he credits another employee for coming up with an even better idea. What they really needed was packing tables…
Looking back on those early days, Bezos remembers those overloaded weeks as one of the luckiest things that ever happened them. Not the spike in orders, but the challenge itself, which they had to learn to accept. “It formed a culture of customer service — in every department, every single person in the company — because we had to work with our hands so close to the customers, making sure that those orders went out.”
“It really set up a culture that’s served us well, and that is our goal to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”
For a shortcut to the video, point your video to
August 15th, 2014
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.
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…”
August 13th, 2014
Now even The Huffington Post is talking about last week’s Kindle parody from The Onion. But it’s just the latest in a flood of great Kindle jokes that The Onion has cranked out over the years. In fact, one of my all-time favorite fake news headlines about the Kindle came from The Onion back in 2010 — a funny announcement about the president of Amazon.
“‘The Kindle Is Easier To Read In Bright Sunlight,’ Amazon CEO Shouts At Customers In Apple Store….”
It was a nod to Amazon’s then-ongoing war with the iPad, but that fake headline got a real rise from Twitter’s assortment of geeks, Apple fans, and Kindle lovers. The headline appeared on The Onion’s Twitter feed, which had millions of followers — and within days, over 100 people had “re-tweeted” the message to their own followers on Twitter. But then I discovered it wasn’t the first time the humor site had joked about the Kindle. When Amazon released the Kindle 2, The Onion was there with a quick list of its new features.
- A lot fewer dangling wires
– …is not just a hollow box with a clear plastic window that you insert books into…”
And earlier that year, at the Consumer Electronics Show, The Onion also joked that for nostalgic users, the Kindle now “signals a logging crew to cut down 10 trees for every book purchased with the device.”
Last week The Onion released a larger two-minute video with footage from a (fake) announcement of a new Kindle — one that repeatedly announces the title of the ebook you’re reading, so everyone around you can see how smart you are. But it’s all got me wondering whether The Onion is really making fun of Amazon’s digital reader — or if they’re secretly fans of the Kindle! For example, their “American Voices” segment once showed the heads of three people, responding to the news that ebook sales were [almost] surpassing sales of printed books. One of them announced that he wasn’t surprised by the popularity of ebooks, because “…if you’re reading a hardcover book, strangers try to start conversations with you. If you’re reading off a Kindle, people just stare at your awesome Kindle.” And the same fake people were also there in March, ready to react to the news that Amazon had temporarily pulled all the books from Macmillan publishing house.
“Publishing house? I thought Stephen Coonts just typed all the books right into Amazon!”
And The Onion even offered opinions about Amazon’s foray into the market for college textbooks. “It does make sense for students to keep all the books they’re not going to read in one device, rather than lugging a big heavy bag around.”
Although right now, I’m wondering if The Onion really is at war with Amazon. Three years ago, you could buy entire ebooks filled with humor from The Onion — like Homeland Insecurity: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 17. (“This collection features the entire archive from November 2004 to December 2005…”) In print it came out to a whopping 320 pages, but the ebook edition released in May of 2010 has mysteriously since disappeared from Amazon’s site!
But you can still buy an ebook by written by The Onion’s columnist, Jean Teasdale. It’s called A Book of Jean’s Own!: All New Wit, Wisdom, and Wackiness from The Onion’s Beloved Humor Columnist, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek newspaper column that’s apparently written by a cheerful yet secretly unhappy housewife.
I’ve been enjoying The Onion’s skewed take on the news for over 15 years, but I have to admit that they finally got me. Reading through their fake news stories, I discovered their announcement of a new “U2 Edition” of the Kindle, which ships pre-loaded with all of the favorite books by the rock band U2. For half a second, I wondered if Amazon really had released a special Kindle edition, and I actually spent a few minutes frantically searching for it in Amazon’s Kindle store.
And remember, you can also subscribe to The Onion on the Kindle for just $1.99.
August 9th, 2014
A lot of great ebooks are on sale at Amazon — but only for the next two weeks! It’s their special “Big Deal” sale — “up to 85% off on more than 400 Kindle ebooks” — and through August 24th, they’re offering an incredible variety of choices.
Here’s some of the most exciting ebooks…
It’s six issues of the Marvel comic book — 152 pages — bound together into a full-color Kindle ebook! See Peter Quill (a.k.a. “Star-Lord”), plus Drax the Destroyer, and Gamora — the “deadliest woman alive”. (And of course, Rocket Racoon…) You can read this cosmic comic book on any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets — and it’s a good way to explore the strange characters from this summer’s big blockbuster movie. “Two words sum up this book: Action and Humor,” writes one reviewer on Amazon. “If you like either you should definitely pick it up.”
Are you ready for another eerie journey into a dimension of sight and sound — and the mind? Rod Serling promised TV viewers “the middle ground between science and superstition…the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge” — but the award-winning writer also delivered those same thrills in print! Serling adapated his favorite TV scripts into chilling short stories which are drawing wildly positive reviews from fans of the series. (” fantastically written…wonderful descriptions and wordsmithing.”) There’s even an introduction by Rod Serling’s daughter — and the whole ebook is free if you’ve subscribed to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service. (And if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can also watch all of the original Twilight Zone episodes for free…)
The Big Four (a Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Agatha Christie ($1.99)
Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective — accompanied by his friend Captain Hastings — is enjoying a boat trip to South America. But suddenly a strange man appears (covered in mud and dust) scrawling the number 4 over and over again, delivering a crucial clue in yet another murder investigation. Or is it international intrigue — and potentially a sinister cabal of crooked criminals waiting to be brought to justice? One Amazon reviewer described this brilliant piece of detective fiction as “absolutely one of Agatha Christie’s best Hercule Poirot mysteries.”
Slash by Slash ($1.99)
The guitarist for Guns N’ Rose delivers a memoir “that redefines sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” according to this book’s description on Amazon. Sharing “intensely personal” stories about a life of unlimited debauchery (from riots to rehab), Slash reveals the path from a rock-and-roll salvation to his own evolution and triumph, in a book which was surprisingly well-reviewed. (“Funny, honest, inspiring, jaw-dropping . . . and, in a word, excessive,” reads its description on Amazon — and the British newspaper The Observer calls it “The most insane rock n’ roll autobiography you’ll ever read…”)
Remember, for a shortcut point your browser to
August 7th, 2014
It’s finally happened. Amazon’s Kindle has become the target of a fake video news report from The Onion! “This week Amazon unveiled The Kindle Flare — the latest model of their popular e-reader,” reports a (fake) newscaster from the Onion News Network.
“The improved device has the ability to loudly and repeatedly announce the title of the book you’re reading so everyone knows how smart you are…”
You can watch the whole video on the Onion’s web site. (For a shortcut, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/KindleFlare — or watch the embedded version… )
I especially liked how their story begins with a flashy “Tech Trends” logo — making it seem like a real news story. And they’ve even fabricated a supposed commercial which will advertise the new Amazon device.
“The all new kindle flare — louder than a book cover…”
Like most Onion stories, it’s their straight-faced delivery of the “Kindle Flare” story which makes their parody so funny — including all of its realistic little details. (“Custom Dolby Audio Shouting…”) Their report even lists out some of the supposed advantages of the new Amazon Kindle Flare.
- Speaker audible to everyone within 30 feet
- Shield mode shouts ‘Faulkner’ when you play Candy Crush
- 8-week battery life for long-lasting gloating
- 15 different confident tones of voice
- Pronounces French books with a French accent
What makes this even more interesting is you really can subscribe to The Onion on your Kindle. Every week they’ll deliver the newest edition straight to your Kindle — whether it’s a reader, a tablet, or even a Kindle app. And the subscription also includes free delivery of the “AV Club” — another Onion publication which explores “the best and worst of film, television, music, books and games.”
Interestingly, The Onion has already become Amazon’s #7 best-selling newspaper for the United States. (No joke!) The New York Times is #1, with The Wall Street Journal close behind, and then The Washington Post, USA Today, The Financial Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle. But #7 is “America’s Finest News Source” — The Onion.
As with all satire, there’s a grain of truth in The Onion’s “Kindle Flare” story. The Onion also reports that Apple has released a new version of the iPad — which whispers, over and over again, “I have an iPad.” And The Onion even imagined one more headline for one of Amazon’s competitors.
“Barnes and Noble’s Nook Now Breathlessly Thanks Owners for Buying a Nook…”
August 1st, 2014
Over 30 high-quality Android apps are now free at Amazon! It’s to welcome customers to Amazon’s new Fire Phone — but the apps work on any Android device. That means they’re available for Kindle Fire tablets, but also for Android smartphone and tablets (when purchased through the Amazon Appstore).
“Over $100 in Essential Apps,” reads the banner on the front page of Amazon today — but with an important disclaimer. “Free Thursday and Friday Only.” Fortunately, they’re all on display at Amazon’s web page. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting apps.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
Yes, Sega of America is giving away a free Sonic the Hedgehog game promising “the ultimate party racing showdown.” There’s 16 different race courses to choose from — and 13 different Sega characters — plus lots of other fun ways to play. (“Rev up your skills with 25 missions then outrun the competition in four Grand Prix Cups or take on other racers in dueling Battle Mode!”)
It’s one of the most popular new board games of the last ten years — and in 2012 they finally created a version for Android devices. The app version was actually named “Mobile Game of the Year” by one gaming site, and it’s actually been one of my favorite board games since 2005. (“Create a landscape by placing tiles with roads, cities, fields, and cloisters…” explains the game’s web page — and now you can even compete against the game’s built-in opponent!)
Send any web page to your Android phone, where it’s waiting for you on this handy app. It works a lot like Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” feature — except now you don’t even have to have a Kindle! It’s already racked up millions of users, according to the app’s web page at Wikipedia. Best of all, it strips away most of the ads and other extraneous “layout” elements from the web pages, so you end up getting the parts that you want — without having to download all the other parts that you don’t!
I have a friend who swears by this app. It offers more than 40 sounds (on a perpetual loop) designed to block out noise to help you sleep — or at least, to relax. You can even mix the sounds together to create a new “ambience”, according to the app’s web page, and there’s also a special feature that lets you add an “alarm” effect, where the volume gradually increases to wake-me-up levels at whatever time you choose. The app could even help mask tinnitus, according to its page, along with soothing migraine headaches, and even helping to pacify crying babies — which ends with one more tantalizing promise. “Find out why the world is sleeping better with White Noise!”
Remember, for a shortcut to the 30 free apps, point your browser to
July 29th, 2014
It’s like something from a science fiction story: Amazon’s just announced a web page offering real “3-D printing”. I wasn’t even sure what that meant — but it’s a revolutionary new way to buy things that haven’t even been created yet…and a real glimpse into the future.
Here’s a four-sentence summary of the way the process works. We live in a world where technology now makes it possible to print more than just ink on a piece of paper. Technology now can also print out substances, using a computer-controlled machine, following a very precise pattern. The pattern is specified by the user, allowing lots of ways to customize a product before it’s even been built. It’s only when you hit the “print” button that your desired product springs into existence!
But the idea could change our world, transforming the way that everything gets made — and then sold. (“Shop the Future!” reads the slogan on the front page of Amazon’s store.) Amazon’s announcement notes that 3-D printing allows vendors to sell “a potentially infinite number of products” — each one customized by the purchaser — and all at very reasonable prices. Mixee Labs (one of Amazon’s partners) calls this “the app store for the physical world”, since you’re not buying digital products, but things! And you can choose the material for your purchase before it’s even been produced, as well as its color, its size, whatever text or image you want to include…
Print your initials on steel cuff links! Make a dog tag personalized with the name of your own dog! “Customization gives customers the power to remix their world,” explains the co-founder of Mixee Labs, “and we want to change the way people shop online.” But it’s gone from being a theoretical concept to something you can utilize today.
For example, imagine buying a bobblehead that’s been customized so it looks like you! You can choose the bobblehead’s eye color, hair color, and hairstyle, and even add eyeglasses. (Even the spring inside the bobblehead is generated by the printer, and it’s only when the bobblehead is produced.) “Turn yourself, friends, family, and coworkers into bobble heads,” reads the product’s description on Amazon — which suggests it as the ultimate personalized gift.
“The age of 3D printing is just beginning and you can experience it first hand!” reads another Amazon web page. It’s offering an iPhone case with a pattern of plastic that’s described as “rivulets of blood.” Besides red, it’s also available in black, blue, and white… But like any fashion accessory, part of the thrill is the rarity of this accessory. It’s not mass produced; there are only as many in existence as there are customers who ordered them. And you’ll always know that they were built from scratch — automatically! — using a 3-D printer….
Amazon’s 3-D Print Store offers more than 200 products to choose from. But none of them exist — yet — until you actually click the yellow “Add to Cart” button. Then behind the scenes, Amazon and their partners will go to work assembling your chosen substance, molecule by molecule, into the appropriate pattern. It could change everything — the way all products are created and then sold — and it’s just started happening at Amazon.
July 25th, 2014
If this were Gotham City, I’d suspect it’s a crime. But there’s no strings attached — Amazon’s giving away a free Kindle edition of a new Batman comic book. It’s to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman – and it’s just one of several free Kindle comic books!
The comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. (The offer’s good through August 3rd — so a week from Sunday.) It’s a newly-launched series that begins with a showdown between Commissioner Gordon and a new supervillain. But elsewhere in Amazon’s Kindle Store, there’s already a big selection of more free comic books…
Also available is for free is the very first Batman comic book ever. It’s issue #27 of Detective Comic — first published in 1939! And of course, it’s also the first appearance of Bruce Wayne, and the original Commissioner Gordon.
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:
If you’re not interested in Batman, one of the other free comic books is The Powerpuff Girls. Yes, the pre-school superhero characters from the famous Cartoon Network show finally have their own comic book. Issue #1 brings you the new adventures of Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup — and all their friends in the city of Townsville. (“What fiendish secret is Mojo Jojo hiding?” asks the book’s description at Amazon…)
The entire comic book industry celebrates “Free Comic Book Day” in May, and Amazon’s still giving away free Kindle editions of some of the titles. There’s “The New 52: Futures End,” (a free comic book day “Special Edition.”) And if you’re looking for more Batman titles, there’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance.
I wonder if it will still be free 75 years from now — on Batman’s 150th anniversary?
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:
July 22nd, 2014
There’s a fun new section on Amazon where they’re touting exciting new and interesting Kindle ebooks — called Books with Buzz! “Discover books that have created buzz, excitement, anticipation…” teases a paragraph at the bottom of the page, “and have garnered great customer and critical reviews alike!”
For example, when I visited the page, I was stunned to discover that there’s a new book called The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. A journalist moved to a small Southern town that’s the home of the aging, reclusive author. “Underneath the plain, clear language of The Mockingbird Next Door is an enchanting, atmospheric portrait of two sisters and the southern town they inhabit…” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “The book is compelling and charming,” writes Amazon editor Chris Schluep, “and it brings Harper Lee and her world, both past and present, to full life.”
And there’s a huge variety of interesting titles on the “Books with Buzz” page, as though Amazon’s really trying to find something for everybody. “From mysteries and literary novels to biographies and more, you’ll find highlights of recent and upcoming books that you’ll want to dive into,” they explain. “Our 2013 Books with Buzz titles include Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Returned by Jason Mott (now an ABC series Resurrection), The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck, and a Johnny Carson biography by Henry Bushkin.” (Yes, that was the lawyer that Carson used to mockingly refer to as “bombastic Bushkin”. ) But what I like most is that some of Amazon’s “books with buzz” are new — while others are exciting books that I somehow missed!
It’s also nice that their selection isn’t overwhelming huge, like some of Amazon’s ebook sale pages. If I’m reading this right, there’s just 11 special books that Amazon’s desginated as “books with buzz.” “In 2014 so far, the Books with Buzz selections include The Painter by Peter Heller, Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and the upcoming Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Some of them are thrillers and some of them are poignant and heart-warming novels. But they all seem different than your typical Kindle ebook – -because Amazon’s selected them for this special honor — and it’s a really fun way to browse for new things to read!
For a shortcut to Amazon’s Books With Buzz page, point your browser to
July 18th, 2014
Amazon’s just announced a surprising new deal! Now you can subscribe to their “all you can read” service for just $9.99 a month! This lets you read any ebook from their special selection of more than 600,000 titles.
And the service isn’t limited to just Kindle ebooks. Amazon’s also including thousands of audiobooks as part of the package. “With Kindle Unlimited, you won’t have to think twice before you try a new author or genre,” points out an Amazon Kindle executive. “You can just start reading and listening!”
And Amazon also lets you “sync” your audiobooks with your ebooks, so you can switch over to a hands-free/listening mode whenever you need to — and then switch back to continue reading at that new location in your ebook! (Amazon calls this “allowing the story to continue even when your eyes are busy.”) It’s a feature that’s been enabled on thousands of the ebooks available in their “Unlimited” subscription service. Just look for this “Whispersync for Voice” logo on the book’s page at Amazon.
There’s even a free 30-day trial, so you can feel what it’s like to have all of these ebooks available without having to worry about price. (Plus a free three-month subscription for every single audiobook available at Audible.com). And yes, this subscription service also includes Amazon’s “Kindle Singles”, so you can also read the shorter new works by authors like Stephen King. Amazon’s even got some exclusive ebooks — titles which haven’t even been released yet, but which are available a month early to Kindle customers…
It’s interesting to speculate about why Amazon’s offering a subscription service. But maybe it’s because people really were shopping around for the cheapest titles. It’s hard for Amazon to make any money if people keep choosing their ebooks from Amazon’s “free” section. With this new program, Amazon will at least get $120 a year from every subscriber.
And Kindle owners will get to read as many ebooks as they want!
July 16th, 2014
It’s one of my favorite things about owning a Kindle. “Each month we unveil a new collection of Kindle books for $3.99 or less,” Amazon explains on a special web page. It always feels like a special event, and if I don’t check out the new selection, I always feels like I’m missing something!
Here’s some of the most interesting titles…
Little Bee by Chris Cleave ($1.99)
It’s impossible not to be intrigued by this novel’s description at Amazon. (“The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller…”) But then they suddenly turn coy, adding “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it… It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
“And it’s what happens afterward that is most important…”
Murder in the Ball Park (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Robert Goldsborough ($1.99)
It’s a brand new mystery starring the famous “armchair detective,” Nero Wolfe — and there’s a fascinating story behind this story. The wealthy New York City detective first appeared in a novel in 1934, according to Wikipedia, and continued delighting mystery readers for the next 40 years. And then a new author took over the series in 1986 — publishing another 11 novels over the next 28 years that continued the detective’s investigations. Amazingly, the most recent Nero Wolfe story was published in 2014, and it looks like an exciting case. “Wolfe earns a big league call-up after a senator gets taken out at the ball game,” reads the mystery’s description at Amazon. (And in an ironic touch, the story opens with a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the New York Giants — two teams which have long since left Wolfe’s beloved New York City for California!)
A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill ($1.99)
It’s a true and heart-warming story about a “struggling college student and the Labrador with ‘a coat like sunshine’,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “and a tail that never stopped wagging…” The student has cerebral palsy, but when she’s matched up with a service dog, “Together, they transformed a challenge into a triumph” — and also inspired everybody that they met. I love a good dog book, and this one has already become Amazon’s #1 best-seller in their category “Animal Care and Pet Essays”. Plus, it’s also drawing rave reviews from Booklist, which call it “a touching memoir”, and “a sweet story about a woman and her dog.”
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine ($1.99)
Before it was made into an Anne Hathaway movie, this charming young adult novel won a prestigious Newbery honor back in 1998. It’s 240-page twist on the Cinderella story, according to the book’s description at Amazon. (“Instead of a demure heroine patiently awaiting a prince who will carry her off, this Ella is a feisty ball of fire with the courage and ambition to take matters into her own hands…”) But there’s one catch: an enchantment forces her to obey any orders that are given to her. It’s quite a premise, and at least one satisfied Amazon customer described it as “the best book I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
point your browser to:
July 11th, 2014
It’s a summer special that’s hard to resist! Amazon’s offering big discounts on their Kindle Fire tablets — including their newest high-definition Kindle Fire HDX. It’s now possible to save up to $50 on a new Kindle Fire tablet. And Amazon’s also offering discounts on accessories for your Kindle.
For example, for just $119 you can purchase a Kindle Fire HD — a $20 savings over its usual price of $139. That’s for the 8-gigabyte version, but if you’d like more storage space, Amazon’s also discounting the 16-gigabyte Kindle Fire HD, to just $129. (Normally it retails for $40 more — $169!) They’re described on Amazon’s web page as “Our most affordable Kindle Fire, now in high-definition…”
But of course, Amazon released an even better tablet last year called the Kindle Fire HDX — and they’re also on sale! Right now you can get a Kindle Fire HDX for just $199. That’s a $30 savings — and Amazon will give you the same discount if you purchase a tablet with extra storage space. The cheapest model comes with 16 gigabytes of storage, but for an extra $40 you can upgrade that to the 32-gigabyte version. And even the 64-gigabyte Kindle Fire HDX now costs just $259 — a $50 discount over its usual retail price of $309!
Amazon’s touting the special as a “Back to School” deal (calling their tablets “the perfect gift for students.”) But there’s also some other gift opportunities. If you look carefully at each Kindle’s page, you’ll notice that Amazon’s offering discounted accessories as the right side of the page. You can save up to $15 on a spiffy new case for your Kindle tablet. (My last Kindle had a leather case, and while reading it was really nice to feel that soft leather-y touch.) The joke’s on Amazon, because this September I have absolutely no plans of going back to school whatsoever.
But I’m definitely going to take advantage of this sale!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindles,
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July 8th, 2014
It was a big day in Seattle when the CEO of Amazon stepped forward and announced that in addition to the Kindle, they’d now be producing a smartphone. And he’d wanted to build the excitement — creating a buzz — on the day the new Fire Phone was finally unveiled. So the word went out that some carefully-selected customers of Amazon would be invited to the event. Over 60,000 people applied for an invitation — and Amazon chose 300 of them!
Now you can watch the enthusiastic customers in their own home-made videos, which they’d submitted to Amazon to score their invitation. Amazon included three of them at the very beginning of their Fire Phone event — right before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage!
“We’ve got folks from the media, we have developers, and especially exciting for me, we have Amazon customers,” Bezos tells the crowd. (Adding “Give yourself a big round…”) But it was a very smart move, because it guaranteed that when the new product was announced, there would be a big and enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. “I know whatever it is that you’re planning is going to be amazing,” one Amazon customer promised in their introductory video, “and I want to be there in person so I can brag to everyone that I was there, day one, and saw this thing in person!”
That was Adam from Florida, who held up his own Kindle…and then his Kindle Fire. But the videos also drove home an important point: that Amazon was focused on customers, and that real people use the devices that Amazon’s been creating. “I know it’s going to be well thought out,” said another Amazon customer named Jason. “I know it’s going to be well-designed, and most importantly, I know it’s going to put me, the customer first!”
Of course, Amazon’s CEO Bezos knew that he’d be competing with the iPhone now — and with all of the legendary product introductions that Steve Jobs used to make. And the problem is these corporate presentations can seem dry, technical, and ultimately very impersonal. So I have to applaud Amazon for trying to change the tone, and make their event feel more spontaneous, like a gathering of excited people.
“I was born in Seattle,” Jason remembered in his video. “I’ve been here all my life, and it’s been a lot of fun watching Amazon kind of grow and kind of take the world by storm. And I would love nothing more to go to this unveiling…”
“I know the product is going to be awesome!”
July 4th, 2014
Every 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 last year I’d 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 special 4th of July…
There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and last 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 seemed to be 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.”