The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

When the New Year started in 2014, I’d wanted to honor a Kindle tradition I started nearly four years ago. It’s remembering one of my favorite memories about books, a special moment when time itself seemed to magically turn into something that you could hold in your hands. It gave me a feeling that I’ll never forget about books…and about the authors who write them. And for a second “history” seemed to be another word for a special glow that you could actually feel…

And it also led to a few fun free Kindle ebooks!

This adventure all started a few years ago, when I was surfing the web and discovered that Mark Twain had once co-authored a play with a forgotten writer named Bret Harte. (Once their legendary meeting was even depicted in the ad for Old Crow whiskey pictured above). Here’s how Twain himself described it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SEP 21 1905.”

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

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

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

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

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

A Kindle Experiment in India!

India

A public library in India tried a wonderful experiment to attract new members. They’re not just loaning out ebooks. They’re actually loaning out Kindles!

“We started the initiative after we got five Amazon Kindles as donation…” explained the president of the Desaposhini Public Library, in an article in the Times of India. “We think that by embracing the digital revolution we can make the library more attractive to the tech-oriented younger generation!” So far, the results have been encouraging, according to the library official. He described the early feedback as “very promising,” saying they’ve been flooded with new membership requests, mostly from young readers — and the community has been very enthusiastic. “It’s like walking home with a library,” one patron told the newspaper, saying the Kindle’s screen provided “a very comfortable reading experience.”

In fact, nearly a quarter of a million ebooks are already available, with over 200,000 copy-right free books or books purchased from Amazon. But they’re also planning to digitize rare books — a great way to preserve some cultural treasures. To expand their program, they’re even considering a plan where they insure their Kindles against damage — maybe by taking a deposit from members each time they check out a device!

It’s fascinating to watch Amazon’s new technology carving out a place for itself all around the world…

The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SEP 21 1905.”

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

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

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

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

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

Kindle eBooks from Your Public Library! The 8 Biggest Advantages

Carnegie Public Library

It’s happening! Today Amazon announced that all across America, they’re making Kindle ebooks available for free through local public libraries! (“Libraries are a critical part of our communities,” Amazon said in today’s statement, “and we’re excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country!”) Amazon also posted the news on the Kindle’s page on Facebook — and within one hour, nearly 2,000 people had clicked on its “like” icon.

Here’s eight reasons why this is very exciting news.

You can even read them if you don’t own a Kindle!
The library ebooks are also compatible with Amazon’s free Kindle apps. This means that even people who don’t own a Kindle can still read Kindle ebooks that they’ve checked out from the public library on their iPhone or iPad, and on Windows and Android smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers (as well as on Blackberry devices).

You can read them in a web browser
Last month Amazon released the Kindle Cloud reader for the Safari and Chrome browsers. It’s a full-color application for reading Kindle ebooks on a desktop computer — or on a tablet (like the iPad). Amazon originally just wanted to create a way for their customers shop in the Kindle store on Apple devices. But now those same customers can also check out Kindle ebooks for free from their public library.

You can highlight passages in the library’s ebooks
I’d never use a highlighting pen on the library’s only print copy of a book. But when you check out a virtual ebook, you’ll be able to fill it with your own virtual highlights and notes. Amazon will sync
them to your account, so whenever you check out that ebook from the library, you’ll still be able to see your original highlights and notes. And you’ll always be able to access them through Amazon’s special web page for highlights, at kindle.amazon.com.

24 Hour Access, From Home
My local library keeps reducing their operating hours — but fortunately, their Kindle ebooks can be checked out using the library’s web site! (After selecting your book, just sign into your Amazon account, which is linked to your Kindle or your Amazon reading apps.) You don’t have to make a trip to the library just to get new ebooks — and you don’t ever have to drive back there again later to return them!

It Even Works with a WiFi-only Kindle
The ebooks aren’t delivered using Amazon’s WhisperSync technology, so you’ll receive them by making a local WiFi connection. (And they can even be transferred to your Kindle using its USB cord!) Obviously Amazon’s not earning any money when customers check out a Kindle ebook from their public library…but they’d otherwise still have to pay for the cost of every download (since Amazon buys its wireless “bandwidth” from AT&T).

Long Check-Out Periods
Amazon didn’t put any restrictions on how long the ebooks can be checked out. (On their help page, they stress that you should contact your local library for the length of the check-out period and the availability of specific ebooks.) But Amazon still lets you know when you’re getting close to the end of the library’s check-out period. “Three days before the end of the loan period, we’ll send a courtesy reminder e-mail about the loan expiration,” Amazon explains on their web page. (Adding that “Once the loan period has ended, an additional e-mail notification will be sent.”) Again, the length of the check-out period is set by your local public library. (And thankfully, it looks like there won’t be overdue fines for ebooks!)

Good Technical Support
Amazon’s created a special web page offering answers to the most frequently-asked questions, and there’s also a dedicated e-mail address just for feedback about the Kindle Library Books (at kindle-publiclibraries-feedback@amazon.com ).
Users can also see how many days are left in their check-out period just by visiting the library’s web page, or on their “Manage Your Kindle” page at amazon.com/myk .

They’re Everywhere!
Amazon’s offering Kindle ebook check-outs through the OverDrive system, which has already been set up in over 11,000 American public libraries. “We’re thrilled that Amazon is offering such a new approach to library ebooks…” said the librarian at Seattle’s public library, adding that it “enhances the reader experience.”

“This is a welcome day for Kindle users in libraries everywhere and especially our Kindle users here at The Seattle Public Library.”

Colleges Begin Using All-Ebook Libraries

Drexel University Library Learning Terrace

Time magazine just announced the news: “the bookless library has finally arrived.”

Last month Drexel University opened their new “Library Learning Terrace,” offering students 24-hour access to the university’s 170 million e-books, digital newspapers, magazine and journal articles, and other educational material. Everything, that is, except printed books. The Philadelphia unversity’s Dean of Libraries says the facility will let them “define a new library environment,” and they’re now considering the idea of building even more book-free learning hubs across the campus.

But they’re not the only university library without printed books. Ten years ago, Kansas State University got rid of most the books in their engineering library, according to Time‘s article. And it also notes that last year Stanford “pruned all but 10,000 printed volumes from its new engineering library,” and that San Antonio’s “ditched print in lieu of electronic material when it opened its engineering library in 2010.”

Of course, it’s only a few examples — but it suggests a big question for the future. As students get more comfortable with digital texts, will campus libraries begin stocking their shelves with e-books? Imagine a magical world where nothing’s ever overdue, and there’s always an endless number of copies for every single book. Plus, even the bookshelves could be eliminated, replaced with a few remote book servers. It’d leave more room for desks and tables for studying — some of which would inevitably be equipped with special screens for displaying e-books!

We may be witnessing the start of the book-free era without even realizing it – but at Drexel University, they celebrated with a party. It had its grand opening just last month, according to the library’s web page, with over 250 attendees marking the occasion. “As the crowd counted three, two, oneā€¦the shades of the Terrace were drawn and the attendees saw the new Terrace for the first time,” remembers a post on the library’s blog. It happened at twilight, as “their wrists aglow, the sighting of the first star kicked-off the opening remarks.” (Glow sticks had been passed out to the attendees, according to a description on Flickr, which adds that the festivities also included a DJ and snacks.) There were also prize give-aways, according to the university’s student newspaper, which reported a handful of lucky students were chosen “to have the honor of being the first to enter the facility.”

It’s stirred up a debate this week in the comments at Time magazine. “There is no guarantee that technology we use ten, twenty or fifty years from now will be capable of accessing the data we currently have stored on our CDs, DVDs, servers and hard drives,” posted one reader. But another comment argued that the only real issue was fear of change. “No one was up in arms when music began to go digital vs physical, we are seeing the same with movies, so why is this so shocking when it come to literary work?” And another comment agreed, arguing much of the resistence is “an entirely emotional and nostalgic reaction. Future generations will be just as inspired by the media they encounter; it’s the content, not the format, that counts.”

And whatever else you can say about Drexel’s new book-free library — it looks really nice!

Drexel University Library Learning Terrace picture

Reading Banned Books on the Kindle

Banned Books Covers (from ALA)

Saturday is the last day of “Banned Books Week.” Every year the American Library Association publicizes the fight against book censorship, and releases a list of which books were most frequently challenged during the year. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series made the top 10, with objections about the book’s view on religion and complaints that it was inappropriate for young readers or too sexually explicit. Other “frequently challenged books” include classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and The Catcher in the Rye.

But a funny thing happened when I tried to download these books from the Kindle store. 7 of the 10 most-frequently challenged books simply aren’t available on the Kindle. The three you can download are:

1. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
3. Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books.

But here’s the seven you can’t download.

ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

As an avid Kindle reader, it’s left me feeling a little left out. This week the American Library Association is urging a celebration of the freedom to read, suggesting a variety of activities, many designed for schools and public libraries. (For example, “Draw a picture of the one book you would save if books were being burned…”) They suggest essay contests and discussions, and even making a poster that celebrates students who dare to read books banned elsewhere in America. But they also urge “Exercise Your First Amendment Rights,” at the bottom of one web page. “Read a Banned Book!”

Fortunately, there’s a lot more banned books to choose from. The American Library Association has cataloged more than 11,000 attempts to ban books over the last 20 years — and over 1,000 different books that have been challenged since 1982. They also believe that there’s many times more, estimating that over 70 to 80 percent of the challenges aren’t even reported. In fact, there have even been attempts to ban 46 of the top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.

But there’s at least one banned book on that list that’s available only in Amazon’s Kindle store: the special 50th Anniversary edition of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s a controversial book about an aging literary scholar who’s sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, though I’m not sure if that’s why it isn’t available elsewhere. When Amazon announced their new $139 Kindles, they touted it as one of “many digital books exclusive to Kindle” (along with UR by Stephen King). And another Kindle store exclusive is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie — which also appears on Radcliffe Publishing’s list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century.

Apparently right now there’s two reasons why you can’t read a book: because it’s censored – or because it’s not compatible with your chosen brand of e-reader! But digital readers can also help circumvent the censorship. I was excited when a traveler told me how their Kindle let them bypass government censorship of the internet in China! And if a library is pressured into removing a book, it may be available for downloading onto your Kindle.

Now every Kindle is a private, personal library – free from any pressure from your local book-burners…

Maybe this is the right time to think a moment about how we can preserve our “literary heritage”. In 1424, the Cambridge University library only had a total of 122 books in their entire collection, according to one history class I took in college. And in fact, during the first 1,000 years of European history, there were less than 8 million books in existence. At some point in our own lifetime, we may eventually be asked to make a choice about which books we’ll preserve in the new 21st-century formats.

I guess I’m hoping that the answer…is all of them.

The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

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

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

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

Bret Harte’s short story (as a Kindle ebook)
Biography of Mark Twain by his executor (Kindle ebook)

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

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

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

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

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

“SEP 21 1905.”

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

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

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

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

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

One Author You Can’t Read on your Kindle

An author you won't see on your Kindle screensaver

Ever read an old novel, and realize how different its style is?

Maybe it’s a romantic novel from the 1800s, or a rambling post-modern narrative from Ernest Hemingway. But around the 1940s, you get what I think of as “The Great American Novelists”. That is, people who were consciously setting out to write glorious, high-stakes pageants about life itself.

I was a big fan of Thomas Wolfe, and finally got around to watching a breathtaking production of a Thornton Wilder play. But this all brings me back to the man I now think of as “the lost novelist”.

Because you can’t buy his books for the Kindle.

William Saroyan grew up in Central California, and later depicted all the joys and dramas of small-town life in “The Human Comedy,” a devastating, bittersweet look at one family during World War II. He was always creating rich settings for touching stories about simple people facing an extraordinary crisis. The jacket of one book calls him “one of the permanently significant names in modern American fiction.”

Today I went to a public library about three hours from where Saroyan grew up, and I pulled one of his books off the shelf. It was published in 1951, and I’d never heard of it. (It’s called Rock Wagram – the story of a Fresno bartender who later in life struggles with the unexpected pitfalls of success.) As I held the book in my hand, I thought: this is something you can’t do on a Kindle.

You can’t read this.

Every man is a good man in a bad world. No man changes the world. Every man himself changes from good to bad or from bad to good, back and forth, all his life, and then dies. But no matter how or why or when a man changes, he remains a good man in a bad world, as he himself knows. All his life a man fights death, and then at last loses the fight, always having known he would. Loneliness is every man’s portion, and failure. The man who seeks to escape from loneliness is a lunatic. The man who does not laugh at these things is a bore. But the lunatic is a good man, and so is the fool, and so is the bore, as each of them knows. Every man is innocent, and in the end a lonely lunatic, a lonely fool, or a lonely bore.

But there is meaning to a man. There is meaning to the life every man lives.

Saroyan goes on to say it’s “a secret meaning.”

And then the novel begins…

William Saroyan vs the Kindle – and Hollywood

William Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize — which he refused to accept. And the author wrote a wonderful scene about books at a public library in his novel “The Human Comedy.”

But the scene is entirely different if you watch the movie.

Saroyan quarrelled bitterly with the film’s producers, and actually wrote a novel-version of the movie, after-the- fact, to try to make the story more hard-hitting. In the movie, the kindly librarian tells two little boys that she’s been reading books for more than 70 years.

“And it still isn’t enough time.”

Tonight I looked up the same scene in Saroyan’s book version. The two boys still visit the librarian, and she gives the same speech. But in the book, she only insists that she’s been in the world reading books for sixty years.

“And it hasn’t made one bit of difference!”

It’s a interesting counterpoint to the life of William Saroyan. His popularity declined, and he eventually funded a foundation to publish his works — possibly just to shore up his legacy. So it’s interesting what happens when you look for Saroyan ebooks for the Kindle.

You don’t find any.

But you do find a biography about his bittersweet life…