Amazon Unveils a Free Ebook Library

Amazon Kindle Owners Lending Library

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

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

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

Kindle Store Menu with Lending Library link

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

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

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

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

Own a Kindle + Prime Membership = Read for free

The Kindle Discovers Christopher Columbus

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s available for the Kindle, though for some reason only Volume 2 is available for free. (“…a new scene of trouble and anxiety opened upon him, destined to impede the prosecution of his enterprises, and to affect all his future fortunes.”)

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

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

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

                        *                        *                        *


Click Here to Read about Columbus on Wikipedia

Free ebooks about Columbus:

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

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

Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery

ABC leaks script of new TV series on the Kindle!

Revenge - new ABC TV series

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

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

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


“REVENGE”

ACT ONE

FADE IN:

1 EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN – NIGHT

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Another Free Agatha Christie Mystery!

Agatha Christie mystery book covers

HarperCollins is giving away a great mystery ebook for free. It’s a 380-page novel by Agatha Christie — the first mystery novel that she ever wrote with her famous detective character, Miss Marple. And it’s one of three other Agatha Christie mysteries which have turned up for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

But this one is different. The Murder at the Vicarage isn’t an old, early effort that’s inadvertently slipped into the public domain. Harper Collins just published a new paperback edition of the novel in April, and normally its ebook edition would sell for $6.99. The publishing house even commissioned a fun new cover illustration, displaying the book’s title on a tombstone, with Christie’s name appearing as a handwritten signature (under the words “The Queen of Mystery.”) “[A] dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide,” they tease in the book’s description.

It’s being sold at a temporary discount, presumably to publicize the new edition, so if you’re interested in reading the book, download it now before the price goes up! I like how Amazon’s page automatically performs the math on the discount, helpfully explaining to anyone confused that “You save: $6.99 (100%).” And if you need more information about the book’s plot, here’s how they described it on the Harper Collins web site.

“Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,” declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, “would be doing the world at large a favor!”

It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the Colonel is found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe…

There are two other Christie novels which have fallen into the public domain (at least, in the United States). One of them is Christie’s first published novel ever — The Mysterious Affair at Styles — which is also her first story about detective Hercule Poirot. (At a mysterious estate, a wealthy woman is poisoned shortly after drawing up a new will, and Poirot is asked to investigate.) And I’ve actually started reading the other free Agatha Christie novel. Secret Adversary opens on the Lusitania — a British mail ship that was sunk during World War I. “The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession,” Christie writes in an exciting prologue that opens the book, “and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed…”

This feels like a big event, because Agatha Christie is acknowledged as the best-selling novelist of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, even outside the novel-writing genre, Christie’s tied for the title of best-selling author of all time with one other author…William Shakespeare.) In fact, there’s now over two billion copies of Christie novels scattered around the world — and she’s also earned another very important distinction. She’s one of a handful of authors who you’ll see in a screensaver image on the Kindle!

And Agatha Christie also had a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite articles about the Kindle. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol…” confessed author Elif Batuman. But a couple of glasses of wine lowers her inhibitions, opening up a whole new world. (“Until technology empowered me to order books while drunk, I didn’t realise the scope and diversity of literature that I wasn’t reading purely out of embarrassment.”)

A few months ago, my drunk reading tendencies converged upon a single author. The Kindle actually made the suggestion itself, in the form of one of its standard issue author screensavers: a portrait of Agatha Christie that I found staring up at me, half-obscured by a pile of bills. She was represented, as always, as elderly, wearing a scarf with a brooch, her gray perm etched in meticulous detail. Beneath remarkably heavy brows, her eyes were shrewd and weary, as with the knowledge of countless unravelled mysteries.

The last time I had read Christie novels with any regularity was between the ages of 10 and 13, when I used to borrow them from my mother’s little sister, the most beautiful and lively person in my family, then in her 20s. I read them obsessively, one after another, either despite or because of how much they frightened me. Although the style was simple and readable, not unlike that of the Baby-sitter’s Club books, and although the detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, were twinkly, grandparental types, nevertheless, everywhere these gentle souls went, someone was killed in hatred.

Suddenly I was seized by a desire to revisit Poirot, the charming Belgian with his weird moustaches. Thirty seconds later, I had clicked on “Buy now”…and there would be no physical book to reproach me the morning after.

Where to Find Amazon’s Best Free eBooks

Free Sale Discount Sign

Someone asked me what’s the best place to find free e-books for the Kindle. And I always say Amazon has their own page filled with links to the biggest free e-book sites around the web! “We wanted to make it easier to find these collections, which today represent nearly 2 million titles,” Amazon explains on the web page. (I’ve created a shortcut to the page — just point your web browser to amzn.to/oy4b9F.)

But the page also offers Amazon’s list of “special” ebook offers — all those ebooks which are “temporarily free” or reduced in price as part of a limited-time promotion. You can sort this list by price — from lowest to highest — so only its free ebooks are all listed at the top. I’m always impressed by the variety of ebooks available on the site. (Just browsing through it today, I found three more that I couldn’t resist buying!)

And of course, there’s another way to browse for free ebooks. Amazon also offers their own list of the Top 100 best-selling free ebooks. I’ve made another short URL so it’s easier to remember — tinyurl.com/100freekindlebooks. Of course, you can also access Amazon’s free ebook list on your Kindle. (Just select “Shop in the Kindle store,” and on its front page choose “Kindle Top Sellers.” By default Amazon lists the top 100 paid ebooks, but if you click on the link at the upper-right of your screen, you can switch to Amazon’s list of the “Kindle Top 100 Free!”)

Here’s a quick sampling of some of the great free ebooks that are available today.

Moonlighting TV star Cybill Shepherd

Cybill Disobedience
Bruce Willis launched his career starring in an ’80s TV series called Moonlighting. But in 2000 his sexy co-star, Cybill Shepherd, finally told her own wild life story. (“Nobody kisses and tells like Cybill Shepherd,” gushed the New York Daily News.) Her memoir tells tales about Elvis Presley, Hollywood, and of course, Bruce Willis. But the book triggered an especially convincing response from a reviewer on Amazon, who wrote simply “I truly loved this book. I laughed out loud many times…”

Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #1: Precipice
This intriguing sci-fi book takes place in the world of the Star Wars trilogy — and judging from the book’s description on Amazon.com, it’s just as complicated. (The novel promises “the untold story of the FATE OF THE JEDI’s forgotten Sith castaways, their battle to survive, and their quest to re-conquer the galaxy!”) It’s the first book in a series — in fact, book seven was just released four weeks ago. But best of all, every single novel in this series is entirely free.

Hunting bin Laden
War correspondent Rob Schultheis remembers his first encounter with al-Qaeda back in 1984 — “an encounter that came within a split second of costing me my life.” A full 24 years later, he explored the story of why the U.S. wasn’t able to capture their most-wanted terrorist. Schultheis writes for the top American news magazines, including Time, The New York Times Magazine, and Smithsonian (as well as The Washington Post), so he approaches his story with the zeal of a real investigative journalist. The book was published in 2008, but it’s fascinating to read the conclusion he reached: that Osama bin Laden was receiving sanctuary from the nation of Pakistan.

Letters to President Obama
What’s most fascinating about this book is that it was published in April of 2009 — just months after the euphoria that surrounded Barack Obama’s inauguration. The publishers hailed their book as “a symbol of this exciting moment in history,” promising “the range of emotions and aspirations Americans are willing to share…” There’s over 400 letters “from Americans of all walks of life,” and regardless of how you feel about the President, it’s an interesting peek back into time with perfect 20/20 hindsight. The book is really more about the Americans who chose to share their thoughts in the first months of the new Presidency, and Publisher’s Weekly ultimately called it “a fitting tribute to the thoughts, dreams and efforts of the populace.”

Escape from the World Trade Center
It’s been nearly 10 years since the World Trade Center collapsed — but it’s a day that’s remembered intensenly by someone who was there. “The former insurance executive shares what she saw and endured as she struggled down 36 floors in a doomed and dying building and away from a life focused on perks, prestige, and power,” reads the book’s description. It was published just two weeks ago, but Amazon already lists this book as their #1 best-seller in the nonfiction subcategory for “Religion and Spirituality,” since (according to the book’s description) it touches on “God’s compassionate presence in the midst of inscrutable tragedy.” One reader who reviewed the book on Amazon called it “Heart Wrenching and Mesmerizing at the same time.”


Sometimes Amazon’s free ebooks are an unpredictable grab bag of new and older ebooks, written by both amateur and professional writers. For example, today I noticed there was even a free Harlequin romance (called “Once Upon a Cowboy”) plus several titles that look like flat-out adult erotica by a newer class of writers. There’s a lot of books on Amazon’s “free ebook” lists that I’d never want to read, but it still makes me smile to see them all out there, each one struggling bravely to find their own audience. I guess it just affirms my sense that when you own a Kindle, there really is something for everybody to read.

And at least in Amazon’s free ebook section — you really can’t complain about the price!

Amazon’s Free Kindle Science Fiction Magazine!

Free Kindle Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine cover illustration

It’s “the best fiction magazine in America,” according to Stephen King. And Amazon’s sending it to your Kindle for free!

It’s “Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine,” a legendary collection of short stories and commentary which has been publishing for over 60 years. “Each bimonthly issue offers compelling short fiction,” Amazon explained in a press release, plus ,”the science-fiction field’s most respected and outspoken opinions on books, films, and science.” You can sign up for your free subscription by pointing your web browser to tinyurl.com/FreeSciFiMag .) And according to Wikipedia, this magazine has a long history of publishing some of the world’s most imaginative authors.

For example, in October of 1978, they began publishing all the Stephen King short stories which would later appear in the first volume of “The Dark Tower”. They published Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (which ran as a serial in 1959 titled “Starship Soldier”). They published the novella “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, and Harlan Ellison was a regular columnist, contributing short stories like “Jeffty is Five” and “The Deathbird”. And the magazine even published Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron in 1961 — a story which later appeared in the collection “Welcome to the Monkey House”. (It’s set in the year 2081, shortly after the United States passes the 213th amendment to its Constitution mandating absolute equality…)

Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine is “the definitive magazine of the genre,” according to Amazon’s Vice President for Kindle Content. “We know our Kindle customers are huge fans of this category, and we’re excited to offer them a free and exclusive subscription to the magazine to read anywhere.” There is one small caveat. Though each issue of the print edition — published six times a year — has a whopping 256 pages, Amazon’s free offer is for only a smaller “digest edition”. According to Amazon’s press release, subscribers “will get access to all of the magazine’s editorial content – editor’s recommendations, ‘Curiosities’ (odd books of enduring interest), film reviews, book reviews, cartoons and humor, and ‘Coming Attractions’ (highlights of each issue) – along with one short story, all at no cost.”

But you can also sign up your Kindle to receive the full 256-page edition for just 99 cents more — and it’s available exclusively on the Kindle. (Though it’s also available on the Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android devices.) I’m a big fan of science fiction stories, so I’m seroiusly signing up to receive all 1,536 pages each year. I still remember when Stephen King a science fiction story about a Kindle which could receive descriptions of events from the future.

In real life, Stephen King has always been a big fan of the Kindle — and judging by Amazon’s latest press release, he’s even more excited now. When he heard the news about a free version of “Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine,” Stephen King had one more sentence to add.

“Kindle readers are in luck.”

Celebrate Independence Day with Three Free Ebooks

Thomas Jefferson

Last year I found a fun way to celebrate the America’s “Independence Day” with my Kindle. On the 4th of July, I’d pointed my Kindle to Wikipedia’s web page with a fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do.

“But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”

Wikipedia walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — but you don’t have to content yourself with a Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life. More than 200 years later, it’s become one of the best-selling free e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…”

It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his the ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”

His biography is currently one of Amazon’s top 30 free ebooks, so I’m obviously not the only person who’s reading it this weekend. It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past…

Last year I’d discovered that it was impossible to find a free copy in Amazon’s Kindle store — but in 2011, there’s now a free copy available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution). Currently the Declaration of Independence has received two five-star reviews from Amazon customers (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) — while the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)

But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

The Perfect Free E-Book for Spring

Wind in the Willows - Rat and Mole on the River

Today I started reading The Wind in the Willows, a wonderful classic tale about the society of animals that lives along the riverbank — including a mole, a badger, a rat, and a toad. It’s available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store. But it turns out the book has a fascinating history almost as good a story as the book itself.

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

“I was NOT disappointed….”

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


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


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


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


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

Theodore Roosevelt and elephant on African safari

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

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

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

Mr Toad from cartoon

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

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

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

Wind and the Willows - Ratty and Mole on the river


Visit http://tinyurl.com/MrToadEbook for
the free e-book version
or click here

Eight Free Blogs for Your Kindle!


There was big news today. Amazon quietly revealed that they’re now offering Kindle owners eight different blogs that you can subscribe to on your Kindle…for free!

For a complete list — or to sign up for the free blogs — point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freekindleblogs

In the past, there was only one free blog subscription available on the Kindle — the sprawling “Amazon Daily” blog. It rolled together posts from all of Amazon’s in-house blogs, like “Car Lust” (their blog for auto enthusiasts), and “Al Dente,” a blog about food and fine dining. (“Serious gastronomy meets culinary calamity”) In the mix were a few posts from the “Kindle Daily” blog, and more posts about books from Amazon’s “Omnivoracious” blog. All of the blog editors were very knowledgeble, and their posts were surprisingly interesting.

But Amazon finally realized something: Kindle owners might enjoy different things. And some Kindle owners didn’t want to read every single post from each of Amazon’s different blogs. So today Amazon is making seven of those blogs available separately — and they’re all still absolutely free. Here’s a quick list of what Amazon’s making available.


Omnivoracious
This is Amazon’s book blog, written by “the book editors at Amazon.com.” (I like this blog’s slogan — “Hungry for the next book?”) It’s available online at Omnivoracious.com, but it’s probably more fun to read it on your Kindle. “We aim to share our passion for the written word through news, reviews, interviews, and more,” the blog’s editors explain — and it’s currently the most-popular of all of the new free Kindle blogs.

EndUser
This is Amazon’s technology and “gadgets” blog. (“We editors get to spend a lot of time around cool toys,” reads the blog’s description at Amazon.com.) It covers “portable electronics you can hold in your hand such as iPods, GPS, cell phones, etc.” (though “we’re also branching out to cover new things like home audio, computers and software, and more. Basically, anything with a current in it is fair game.”) The editors say it boils down to “stuff that makes us excited about electronics.” Their motto? “We read the manuals.”

Toy Whimsy
This sounds like a fun one: “Explore the joys of toys.” It’s currently Amazon’s best-selling Culture/Lifestyle blog and also their best-selling sports blog too. “We’re all just a bunch of big kids,” explains the blog’s page at Amazon.com. “Former teachers, copy writers, parents, and long time toy industry experts, what we all have in common is a love of toys. We’re here to bring you the best of what’s new, toy reviews by parents and kids, and information on playthings of all types.”

Chordstrike
The Music Editors at Amazon.com also offer what they’re describing as “A minor blog for major music lovers.” Promising that they’re music lovers just like you, they’re offering “a regular dose of musical commentary” — hot issues, under-the-radar musical gems, and occasionally even a live streaming concert. (Which, unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch on your Kindle.)

Car Lust
“Interesting cars meet irrational emotion.” This blog promises “a deeply personal exploration of the hidden gems of the automotive world,” exploring “a broader universe that lies beneath the new, the flashy, and the trendy represented in the car magazines.” I’ve been surprised at just how intriguing these blog posts can be, offering a straightforward look at both cars and the culture that creates them.

Armchair Commentary
You wouldn’t know it from the blog’s title, but this one is actually about movies and TV. (“Sit. Watch. Discuss,” reads the blog’s tagline in Amazon’s Kindle store.) “We’re here to share the latest news and observations about film and television, show you cool things in the DVD and Unbox stores and riff on things we like.” And yes, they’ve done a blog post about Charlie Sheen — asking which actor would be best to replace him!

Al Dente
Uh-oh, watch out for these guys. “We’re an unruly bunch of Amazon.com editors who love to cook, decorate, garden, and most importantly…eat!” It’s a fun blog that’s all about food, and I really enjoyed their suggestions on what to serve at your Super Bowl party. I think deep down inside, everyone likes eating good food — and it’s fun to read blog posts written by people who are really passionate about it.

What’s the eighth free blog for your Kindle? It’s all the blogs above, rolled together into one, a compendium blog called Amazon Daily. But it also includes entries from two more Amazon blogs which aren’t yet available separately. One of them is called Green — “Making every day earth day” — but it also includes all the posts from Amazon’s Kindle blog, the “Kindle Daily Post.” I’m a little disappointed that it’s not available on the Kindle, though of course, you can always read it by pointing your Kindle to Amazon’s Kindle store. A link to the blog’s posts appear halfway down the store’s front page — a page you can reach just by pressing the HOME
button and the ALT key on your Kindle at the same time.

And of course, you can also still read the Kindle Daily Post online at kindlepost.com.

Interested in subscribing to Amazon’s free Kindle blogs? Point your web browser to tinyurl.com/freekindleblogs

Three Funny, Free Ebooks

Funny men laughing cartoon - you want it when

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

Today I also wanted to share three funny, free ebooks that I discovered — and each author swears that his story is true! “Follow the author on his numerous Hollywood adventures,” reads one book’s description, “watching as he glides smoothly from forgery to pornography to crashing the Academy Awards under the alias of a nominated screenwriter, and eventually stumbles into acting in the highest-grossing movie of all time, Titanic.” The author is Emmett James, and he played a steward in Titanic — in the movie’s credits, there’s 60 different people whose name appears before his. But he’s written a fascinating memoir of his life as a film fan — first watching movies as a young teenager, and then appearing in them as an adult. (“Admit One: My Life in Film” is available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store — it’s still one of the site’s best-selling free ebooks, and it’s currently the store’s #1 best-selling actor memoir.)

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

More Free Kindle Ebooks from Amazon


Yesterday I linked to Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling free ebooks. But Amazon also has a special web page that points to many more collections of free ebooks!

“We wanted to make it easier to find these collections,” Amazon’s page explains, noting that there’s nearly 2 million more free ebooks out there, since “the Internet is huge and there are lots of older, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books online.” There’s free ebooks for the Kindle available at three major web sites — Archive.org, OpenLibrary.org, and ManyBooks.net — and on this “Free book collections” page, Amazon offers careful instructions about how to download them all. Their last step in the instructions is always: “Open the ebook from your Kindle’s home screen and enjoy.” But it turns out there’s also a couple of more ways to get free Kindle ebooks.

Right now there’s also 147 current books for the Kindle which are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store. They’re special short-term promotional offers, and the free ebooks are available in lots of different genres, from romance and erotica, to two different free versions of the bible. There’s even a book called the Acupressure Guide For Relieving Hangovers, plus a series of Star Wars science fiction/fantasy novels called “Lost Tribe of the Sith.” (Click here for the first, second and third book in the series…)

But Amazon also offers a list of all the free classic ebooks that are available in their Kindle store — and it turns out there’s over 16,480 of them! Right now their top best-selling classic ebooks are The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — but if you’re a horror fan you can also read the original Dracula, Frankenstein, or even The Complete Poems of Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve had a lot of fun reading Jules Verne’s original novels about 19th-century expeditions, and autobiographies of some fascinating American lives by Benjamin Franklin and Buffalo Bill Cody. If you keep browsing, you’re bound to find something entertaining. And you’ve got to love their price: zero dollars and zero cents!

In fact, this may ultimately change the world, according to John Sutherland of the London University College. “We are now creating an immense public library without walls,” he told the Sunday Times. Many people have worried that the Kindle might somehow stop people from books, but Sutherland believes that the opposite is true, with free classic works of literature becoming the “saviour of book reading, not its death.”

It’s like a dream come true. Thousands and thousands of the greatest books of all time are now all absolutely free!

Five (Free) Famous Christmas eBooks

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration
Some of the greatest authors in history have written Christmas stories — and they’re all available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store!

The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

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

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

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

Old Christmas by Washington Irving

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

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

A Christmas Carol by Charlies Dickens

It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!

I’ve enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. On Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol is currently #11. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

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

A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore

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

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

Christmas Eve by Robert Browning

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

“Who in their right mind eliminates line breaks and thinks they can get away with it?”

Kindles in the Comics

Newspaper comic strip characters Frank and Ernest react to the Amazon Kindle

In October, the Kindle actually appeared in a newspaper comic strip — the one-panel classic “Ziggy”. (A bewildered Ziggy complains that his Kindle is now receiving spam advertisements — from the public library.) It was a milestone — of sorts. But it turns out that the Kindle has also appeared in several other newspaper comic strips.

In fact, just four weeks ago, the Kindle turned up in “Frank and Ernest”. The pair is watching Hawaii Five-O, but since it’s the new version, detective McGarrett’s trademark line has been changed from “Book ’em, Danno,” to… “Kindle ’em, Danno.”

And the Kindle actually appeared for a whole week in the comic strip “Crankshaft.” (At first the curmudgeonly bus driver misunderstands the name Kindle, and says “You shouldn’t have wasted your money… I still haven’t burned all the pine cones yet.”) But in touching a moment, his girlfriend explains that he can finally read all the Tarzan books that he never got to read as a kid. And apparently his Kindle has a magical feature that’s apparently available only in the comic book universe. His girlfriend explains that “If you press here while you’re reading your Tarzan books, it emits a musty book smell.”

There is one mistake in the comic strip. The series end with Crankshaft announcing later that he’s downloading 60 years worth of Reader’s Digest. Then he says “Don’t wait up” — and heads into the bathroom.
In real life, it’s not possible to download back issues of Reader’s Digest, as far as I can tell (though it is possible to subscribe to the magazine). But one part of the comic strip is gloriously true. Not only can you read the original Tarzan books on your Kindle — every single one of them is absolutely free.

Tarzan of the Apes
Return of Tarzan
`Beasts of Tarzan
Tarzan the Terrible
Son of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Bloggers were impressed that even the cranky bus driver was enjoying his Kindle. “It’s mainstream now for sure,” wrote a blogger at BookChase — though he immediately received a follow-up comment that wondered whether the bus driver had really overcome his technophobia.

“And then he discovers that the battery occasionally needs to be recharged, and that’ll be the end of that.”

More Sequels to Tom Sawyer?

Mark Twain, author

Recently I wrote about Mark Twain’s unfinished sequel to his great novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But I forgot to mention that he also wrote and published two more novels about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn — and they’re both available in Amazon’s Kindle store as free ebooks!

When Mark Twain was 61 years old, he picked up his pen again to write Tom Sawyer, Detective. The year was 1896, and detective novels had become immensely popular in America, but Twain offered a new twist. Not only was his detective the mischievous Tom Sawyer, but the book’s narrator was the humble and uneducated Huckleberry Finn.

“The frost was working out of the ground, and out of the air, too, and it was getting closer and closer onto barefoot time every day; and next it would be marble time, and next mumbletypeg, and next tops and hoops, and next kites, and then right away it would be summer and going in a-swimming. It just makes a boy homesick to look ahead like that and see how far off summer is…”

It’s fun to see Mark Twain revisiting his famous characters. (He’d originally dreamed up Tom Sawyer using his own childhood memories, combining three boys he’d remembered, and basing Huckleberry Finn on a fourth.) “Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred,” Twain wrote in the original preface to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And he’d show the same sentimental attachment to his characters in his detective story.

But this time its plot came from a real-world crime. “Strange as the incidents of this story are,” Twain writes in the introduction, “they are not inventions, but facts — even to the public confession of the accused. I take them from an old-time Swedish criminal trial, change the actors, and transfer the scenes to America. I have added some details, but only a couple of them are important ones…”

Surprisingly, Twain himself was also fond of detective stories. Twenty years earlier, he and Bret Harte co-authored a play together with a story which included “a supposed murder, a false accusation and a general clearing-up of mystery,” according to this excerpt from Twain’s official biography (which is also available as a free ebook). But he was also fond of parodies. At the age of 59 Twain wrote another story about the daring young boys called Tom Sawyer, Abroad — which, according to Wikipedia, is a parody of Jules Verne’s stories.

Tom and Huck (this time, accompanied by Jim the former slave) take a wild expedition around the world in a balloon, with Huckleberry Finn doing the narrating. (“Do you reckon Tom Sawyer was satisfied after all them adventures… No, he wasn’t.”) It’s an interesting hodgepodge of Twain’s favorite themes, since his first famous book was a humorous report on his travels through Europe, The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.

But I recommend a different book if you’re looking for a deeper peek into the heart of Mark Twain. In 2002 the University of California published his unfinished sequel to Huckleberry Finn. But since it was only nine chapters long, they’d expanded the book to include his very poignant nonfiction memories of the people he’d grown up with. For example, he’d written, but never published, a remembrance of his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens. And the book also includes Twain’s personal recollections of all the people he remembered from the village where he spent his childhood between 1840 and 1843.

“Captain Robards. Flour mill. Called rich… Disappointed, wandered out into the world, and not heard of again for certain. Floating rumors at long intervals that he had been seen in South America (Lima) and other far places. Family apparently not disturbed by his absence…”

And amazingly, this book also includes fragments from two more unfinished sequels to Tom Sawyer — Tom Sawyer’s Conspiracy (which at least has a finished plot), and a remarkable story called Schoolhouse Hill in which Tom, Huck and Jim actually meet the devil! Mark Twain is probably one of America’s best-loved authors. But because of that, book lovers have carefully preserved some of his most interesting lost works!

Click here to buy “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians and Other Unfinished Stories” by Mark Twain.

American Publisher's Free eBook Giveaway

Cover of the free ebook Loving Little Egypt by Thomas McMahon
I’ve found a great source for free ebooks. For the last year, one publisher has been quietly handing out a new free ebook each month. Last month, it was “The Best of Roger Ebert,” a fascinating collection of essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic. Called Awake in the Dark, it included his reviews of the best films for 38 different years, plus essays on film-related topics (like the way Star Wars changed Hollywood). This month that book is retailing for $9.99, but for at least part of last month — they were giving it away for free!

So what’s this month’s novel? It won the prestigious literature award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (when it was first published in 1987). It’s called Loving Little Egypt by Thomas McMahon, and its description on Amazon sounds pretty amazing. “Imagine E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime rewritten by a mellower, comically more benevolent Thomas Pynchon,” writes the Library Journal, “and you might have a novel something like this one. Real people — Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, William Randolph Hearst — are involved in imagined events, and historical facts counterpoint fictional themes…” It sounds a bit like steampunk hackers — the book’s cover describes it as “hilarious” and “wonderful” — but the author himself actually moonlighted as a Professor of Applied Mechanics and Biology at Harvard University. You may have heard of Thomas McMahon, since he was also the author of McKay’s Bees, which appeared in a long segment this summer on public radio’s “All Things Considered”. (“Moving from Massachusetts to Kansas in 1855 with his new wife and a group of German carpenters, Gordon McKay is dead set on making his fortune raising bees – undaunted by Missouri border ruffians, newly-minted Darwinism, or the unsettled politics of a country on the brink of civil war.”)

And remember, that’s the free ebook for the month of October — which means there’s another free ebook coming up soon in November. You can get updates by following their Twitter feed (which, surprisingly, has less than 3,300 followers) — or through their page on Facebook. (Or, for that matter, by just re-visiting the web page where they’re listing this month’s free ebook!) That’s the funniest part about these special offers. Amazon is still listing this month’s free ebook as selling for $9.99, even though it’s free if you visit the publisher’s web site!

They’ve been doing this for over a year — their first free ebook was claimed by 800 people, according to Publisher’s Weekly. (It was an obscure book by a 3rd-century Greek writer named Censorinus…)
And in February the free ebook was actually about free ebooks — sort of. It was a Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by a Chicago professor named Adrian Johns, and they handed out 2,400 free copies before the print edition even hit the shelves! (“We enjoyed the ‘steal this book’ irony of giving away a book about piracy,” they explained to Publisher’s Weekly.)

Ironically, that ebook now sells for $19.95…

They’re transmitting more copies of their books — by several magnitudes — than the first book they ever published in 1891, which, according to Wikipedia, sold just five copies! (Apparently there was very little demand for Assyrian and Babylonian Letters Belonging to the Kouyunjik Collections of the British Museum.) I’m talking about the University of Chicago Press, which Wikipedia identifies as the largest university press in America, and also one of the oldest. They’re famous as the publishers of “The Chicago Manual of Style”, a writing guide which helps set the standards for the entire publishing industry.

It’s just celebrated its 104th anniversary, and in September, they handed out a free ebook version to 7,408 readers — of the first edition published in 1906! It’s nice to think that as the Generations come and go, its publisher has survived into the dawn of the ebook. They’re still out there, delivering high-quality reading material, supported by the resources of a major university.

And sometimes, they’re even sharing those books for free!

Mark Twain's Secret Sequel to Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain, author
“I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest,” said Huckleberry Finn, “because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.”

It’s one of the most memorable lines from the last chapter of Mark Twain’s classic 1885 novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (The young boy and a runaway slave named Jim had drifted down the Mississippi river, catching random glimpses of the people on shore — and Huck decides he didn’t like what he saw.) But as soon as Mark Twain published the book, he’d also started writing a sequel about dangerous new adventures in the great American wilderness. It was never published during Twain’s lifetime, but its first nine chapters were finally released just 10 years ago in a scholarly print edition from the University of California.

So what happened to Huckleberry after he finally left sivilization behind? The book opens with Huck and Jim having “Plenty to eat and nothing to do,” and feeling contented just staying at home. (“[A]s for me, betwixt lazying around and pie, I hadn’t no choice, and wouldn’t know which to take…”) But inevitably, Huck receives a visit from his know-it-all pal, Tom Sawyer, with another of one his wild schemes: they should head out west. The boys tag along with a party of covered wagons, meeting friendly “Injuns” – and then a more hostile tribe, in a violent encounter which strands the boys in the middle of the unexplored wilderness in 1848.

They meet up with a lone frontier scout named Brace — and that’s where Twain’s story ends. But recently author Lee Nelson heard about the unfinished book, and finally wrote an ending for it in 2002! “By this time I had published a dozen historical novels with settings on the American frontier, and realized I was probably as qualified as any other living author to finish the work begun by Twain. A little research on the web led me to those who controlled the copyright – The Mark Twain Foundation and the University of California Press. Contact was made, approval was granted, a contract was drawn up, and the following story is the result.”

“I have no idea how Twain intended to finish the story, and I reason that he didn’t know either, or he would have done it. I just hope that wherever he is, he enjoys my conclusion as much as I enjoyed his beginning.”

Unfortunately, you can’t read his sequel to Huckleberry Finn on the Kindle — yet — but you can always read Mark Twain’s original Huckleberry Finn novel.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that “All modern American literature comes from” Twain’s original novel, and Hemingway hailed it as “the best book we’ve had.”

The Kindle Meets Columbus Day

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

Today is a holiday in the United States — Columbus Day. But fortunately, there’s lots of ways to celebrate with your Kindle!

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

He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as well as Rip Van Winkle, and Washington Irving was one of the first American authors to gain literary recognition in Europe. He also perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes, placing fake newspaper ads seeking Irving’s fictitious Dutch historian, Diedrich Knickerbocker, and threatening to publish his left-behind manuscript to cover unpaid bills! Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was even interested in him romantically, according to Wikipedia. But after an early spark of youthful success, the critics began panning Irving’s books, and by the age of 41, Irving was facing financial difficulties.

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

Yes, it’s available as for the Kindle, though for some reason only Volume 2 is available. (“…a new scene of trouble and anxiety opened upon him, destined to impede the prosecution of his enterprises, and to affect all his future fortunes.”)

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

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

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

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Free ebooks about Columbus:

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

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

Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery

On Reading the Kindle While Drunk

Elif Batuman

“The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…” argues author Elif Batuman. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol…”

I laughed out loud at her funny stories about the life of a Kindle owner, which was published Saturday in a British newspaper. (Though according to Wikipedia, she teaches in America at Stanford University in California, where she spent seven years studying linguistics and comparative literature.) A little wine lowers her inhibitions, and soon she’s slumming with the Agatha Christie novels she’d loved as a child. “…although the detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, were twinkly, grandparental types, nevertheless, everywhere these gentle souls went, someone was killed in hatred.”

“Because I am a writer, people sometimes ask me how ebooks have changed the literary landscape. The short answer, for me, is that I have developed a compulsion to drunk-dial Agatha Christie several times a week.”

This article inspired me to investigate Amazon’s Kindle store, where I discovered they’re currently offering a complete Agatha Christie mystery novel as a free ebook. Thanks to Kindle blogger Mike Cane, who discovered this article (adding “This is absolutely hilarious! Don’t drink and eBook, kids!”) Her funny observations were the perfect way to start Monday morning, and I think I’ll always remember Elif’s advice — that the Hercule Poirot mysteries are “perfect for a drunk reader with a decreased attention span.” And she hints at how easy it is to splurge on the purchases of ebooks — especially since, unlike a real-life book-buying binge, there’s “no physical book to reproach me the morning after!”

But for all the jokes, I think she really appreciates the joy of being able to curl up and read with a good ebook. “…at the end of the day, when I uncorked a $7 bottle of Viognier and turned on the Kindle, a wave of well-being washed over me.”

It’s funny, because in April this Kindle-loving author had also published a long book about studying the great Russian novelists. (She’d named her book after a Dostoyevsky novel — The Possessed — giving it the subtitle “Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.”) I’d thought that was going to be a more scholarly work, but it turns out it’s a book filled with more terrific personal anecdotes, which also gradually explain how she came to love Russian novels. One reviewer called her “A Comedian in the Academy,” asking “Who knew studying Russian literature could be so funny?”

It’s a wonderful book — and yes, it’s also available on the Kindle. Though Elif Batuman is 23, she uses her smarts to weaves together her life experiences with all the things that she’s learned in her studies. She remembers the unpredictable Russian violin teacher she’d had as a teenager, and riffs on the “multitude of sad adventures” that’s cryptically promised to a character in “Eugene Onegin” (in a strange manual of dream intrepretation). She remembers being a freshman loving a senior (who’d once lived behind the Iron Curtain) — which somehow leads her to a summer job teaching English in Hungary. And then there’s a surreal experience at a children’s summer camp, when all the gym teachers suddenly approach her.


“The American girl will judge the leg contest!” they announced. I was still hoping that I had misunderstood them, even as German techno music was turned on and all the boys in the camp, ages eight to fourteen, were paraded out behind a screen that hid their bodies from the waist up; identifying numbers had been pinned to their shorts. I was given a clipboard with a form on which to rate their legs on a scale from one to ten. Gripped by panic, I stared at the clipboard. Nothing in either my life experience or my studies had prepared me to judge an adolescent boys’ leg contest…”

NPR published a small excerpt from this section, though it’s also available in the book’s free sample on the Kindle.

But click here if you’d rather try reading a free Agatha Christie mystery novel ebook while drunk!

My Favorite Free eBooks

Monopoly Community Chest card Amazon Kindle Free ebook parody

EDITOR’S NOTE: I asked my girlfriend which free ebooks were her favorite. She gave me a list of over 20, and revealed a special truth about Amazon’s 100 best-selling free eBooks.

It’s not just a list, it’s an experience…

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It’s a great amalgam of the entire book world, a shifting, shimmering set of 100 choices for blissful escape. Unlike the Kindle Top 100, which is a list of the current best sellers, Amazon’s list of Top 100 Free ebooks ranges all over time.

Right now, the science fiction choices seem to have mostly dropped off. Several of the free Star Wars books had been on the list for several months, but now they’ve been replaced, mostly by classics. I LOVE this! These books are being read again because of the Kindle! I would never have purchased a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, but when I found it on the list of free books, boom! I’m transported to France in 1825.

There are excellent reasons why these books are classics, and why we’re required to read them when we’re in high school. Yet I’m also really enjoying reading them as an adult. My grown-up perspective brings intricacies of the books up to the surface, though they were lost when I was 15. (And not just the intriguing lesbian lover subplot in “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I’m finding may other nuances which increase my reading pleasure.)

So much is on the list. There’s classics that turn out to be anything but boring, like Dracula, Treasure Island, Moby Dick, and several Jane Austen titles. They’re mixed in with some historic books, like The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, and sometimes even tempoarily-free self help titles like “So What? How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience” and How to Speak and Write Correctly. (Bless you, Joseph Devlin for putting this up for free!).

Tucked in are some surprisingly current free books, like Cybill Shephard’s autobiography (“Cybill Disobedience”) and recently, the Deepak Chopra book Buddah: With Bonus Materials. (And there’s also the ever-present porn with suggestive titles like Compromising Positions, Slow Hands, and Irresistible Forces.) I’m encouraged to see Through The Looking Glass, Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know, and Aesop’s Fables, which gives me hope that even in the age of the Kindle, parents are still reading to their children. And, most inexplicably, Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Poetical Works. I’m a poetry lover, but it surprises me that this book has been on the Kindle Top 100 Free consistently all year.

Maybe the goth, vampire and zombie contingents are into E.A. Poe’s poetry?

A free Presidential eBook for your Kindle

United States President Barack Obama and George Washington

There’s a new children’s book author in town, and his name is Barack Obama.

Today the President of the United States announced he’ll be publishing “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.” The book won’t be released until November 16, but Amazon is already selling pre-orders of the book at a 45% discount. The book won’t be available on the Kindle, so Amazon urges shoppers to “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle…” But poking around Amazon, I discovered another Barack Obama text that’s already available, for free, and another one written by his predecessor, George Bush.

For Barack Obama, it’s the presidential inaugural address, and whether you love or hate the President, it’s interesting to look back on the day that his presidency started, and remember just how different the world was in January of 2009. You can also download a free version of George Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, or Ronald Reagan’s from 1982, so your Kindle is giving equal time to both political parties. But by exploring Amazon a little further, I discovered an even more fascinating historical document. It’s actually possible to download every inaugural address given by every previous U.S. President, all collected together into a single ebook!

There’s President Nixon, President Ford, President Clinton, and President Reagan, of course. But you can also point your time machine back towards the 1700s, reading the inaugural addresses of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, in 1789 and 1801, respectively. President Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, insisted on reading his entire two-hour inauguration speech — the longest in U.S. history — during a cold and rainy day in Washington D.C. He refused to wear a hat or coat, possibly trying to remind the audience that he was still the tough military general that had served in the War of 1812, but ironically, he died three weeks later after catching pneumonia.

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

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

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

I just wonder if we’ll ever have a President who actually enjoys reading on the Kindle…

The Free eBook that Barnes and Noble is Afraid of

The Count of Monte Cristo original illustration

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been an exciting week. A division of Readers Digest linked to a blog post by my girlfriend about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. (She’d reported it was Amazon’s most popular free mystery ebook).

And then another blogger noted that she’d also shown up the head of Barnes and Noble. Len Riggio, who actually founded Barnes and Noble, waved around a print edition of The Count of Monte Cristo while seeming to imply that customers wanted to own the book itself. It become a controversial symbol — especially since my girlfriend had just finished reading the same 1,300-page book on my Kindle!

In fact, she’d decided that the book is “the quintessential expression of what a novel is about. Interesting characters, exotic locals, beautiful language, intriguing plots that twist and turn, and ultimately, redemption and love.” The Kindle had brought the ebook to a new generation of 21st-century readers. So what did she feel after reading it on my Kindle?

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The Count of Monte Cristo, published in 1884, is a justly famous novel. The novel as an art form was still pretty new at that time and Dumas is a master at the craft. The book moved along briskly, keeping me intrigued at every step. A young man with a bright future is taken down by jealousy and political maneuvering, then returns incognito as a count, wealthy beyond all imagining (how convenient) to plot revenge against the three men who caused his torturous imprisonment.

The Count of Monte Cristo was published in serialized form, like serveral other old novels I’ve recently read on the Kindle (including The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). I like the idea of reading these stories in installments over weeks or months, getting to know the characters, savoring the language and masterful descriptions of time and place. This story is very compelling and hard to put down. I found myself reading faster just to find out what could possibly happen next.

This is a novel very much of its day. Its plot draws on France’s chaotic political landscape during the early 1800’s, with the Royalists and Bonaparte-ists being in favor and then out of favor over a couple of decades. Out of favor meant easily imprisoned, and that is indeed how Dante gets to prison: by being wrongly accused of connections to Bonaparte, and because a power-hungry magistrate ignored facts in order to further his career.

Dumas had experienced this personally. His father, himself the son of a nobleman, had been a general in Napoleon’s army who fell out of favor and left his family impoverished at the time of his death in 1806 (when Dumas was an infant). I learned about the fluid nature of French politics in the early 1800s in history class, but I’d never thought about what it meant for the average citizen. This poverty followed Alexander Dumas and his family, even after the return of Napoleon, and fed his imagination.

Dumas faced other challenges as a result of his mixed-race heritage, even as he became a famous writer. His grandfather had married a native Haitian woman, a fact that surprised me because no one mentioned it when I was growing up. Wikipedia says that this heritage affected Alexander Dumas all his life, despite being famous. Once after being insulted he retorted, “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” (Note to self: never insult a writer.) This prejudice certainly contributed to his knowledge of what it means to live as an outsider, which is a theme of this novel.

He also traveled widely, and indeed wrote The Count of Monte Cristo while living in Italy. In fact, he visited the island of Monte Criso, a real place, while he was living in Florence in 1841. The novel itself travels widely, taking the reader from Marseilles to the dungeon at Chateau d’If, to the high seas with pirates, and then to Rome — including the catacombs and illegal gangs robbing Roman citizens — plus a short stopover in Turkey, then to Paris, and the French country-side. It’s quite a ride, and all the more remarkable because traveling in the mid-1800s was rare and restricted to the noble classes.

Also rare was the use of the telegraph system in France. The telegraph was a new technology and still a bit mysterious when Dumas made it a small but crucial plot point in the story. At that time, telegraph towers were built on hills 30 miles from each other so that messages could be quickly relayed all around the country. Edmund Dantes (the Count himself!) visits a telegraph tower, interviews its employee, and then pays him a sum to allow him to retire comfortably in order to delay a message. This delay will result in the firing of the operator, and will destroy one of Dante’s enemies.

What about the lesbian plot line? It turns out that Eugenie (the daughter of one of the Count’s enemies) is engaged to the son of another one of the Count’s enemies.The son is lukewarm about the engagement, acknowledging that she is good-looking, but not enticing. As the novel progresses, the only time Eugenie is happy is when she is playing at the piano with her piano teacher and vocal coach, a winsome young lass named Louise. Hmmmm.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, I thought. I’m too sensitive to insinuation because of my years as a young single woman in San Francisco. But no! The hints become more obvious until at last, when her father is ruined and exposed, Eugenie packs her dowry, her jewels, her winsome piano teacher, and a passport with a masculine name. Then she changes into men’s clothes and runs away from Paris with her love.

Meanwhile, her betrothed, also disgraced, has run away from Paris as well. In a delightful plot twist, he ends up arriving at the same hotel as Eugenie and Lousie several hours later and much worse for the wear. The telegraph comes into play again, having sent the message all around France to be on the lookout for this young man. The gendarmes are watching, but he escapes to the roof. He drops down a chimney hoping to hide — but falls directly into the room of Eugenie and Lousie, who, despite having being booked into a room as brother and sister with two twin beds, are naked and sharing the same bed. (Gasp!) Louise wakes up and finds a man in the room, and starts screaming, which brings the gendarmes along with capture for the young man and shame for the two women. The book is made up of story after story with these delightful plot twists and exciting scenes.

Dumas is above all an excellent story teller, and sets each scene beautifully and with care. His descriptions of Carnival in Rome, where Dantes first meets the young men who will introduce him to Paris society, are masterpieces of writing. “The air seems darkened with the falling of confetti and the flying flowers. In the streets the lively crowd is dressed in the most fantastic costumes — gigantic cabbages walk gravely about, buffaloes’ heads bellow from men’s shoulders, dogs walk on their hind legs; in the midst of all this a mask is lifted, and … a lovely face is exhibited, which we would fain follow, but from which we are separated by troops of fiends. This will give a fair idea of the Carnival at Rome.”

This is a wonderful novel, the quintessential expression of what a novel is about. Interesting characters, exotic locals, beautiful language, intriguing plots that twist and turn, and ultimately, redemption and love. The last line in the book is beautiful and poignant, and an exquisite and uplifting ending to a marathon reading experience. Oh — no quote. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

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Click here to get The Count of Monte Cristo as a free Kindle ebook!

Amazon's Secrets: What eBook is in that Kindle Ad?

Amazon Kindle beach ad - screenshot screengrab of the ebook
She’s reading an ebook on her Kindle, and then the camera pans back to reveal she’s reading it at the beach. (“Silver moons and paper chains,” the background music sings. “Faded maps and shiny things…)” The camera pulls back before you can read the whole page, as though Amazon’s trying to tease you. But one day, I decided I finally had to find out: exactly what ebook is that?

Google provided me with the answer — and a link to a web page with the complete text of the page she’s reading! (“I reached across the table but he shrugged me off, grabbing my keys and heading out the door….”) I should’ve noticed that the woman’s Kindle was displaying its title at the top of the page — “Where the God of Love Hangs Out.” It’s a collection of short stories by Amy Bloom, and Amazon will even send you one complete story as a free sample if you go to the book’s Amazon web page. (It’s a funny, sexy story called “Your Borders, Your Rivers, Your Tiny Villages” — about committing adultery while watching CNN!)

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that I’m now Google’s #1 match for the phrase, “I reached across the table but he shrugged me off.” But who exactly is Amy Bloom? She once worked as a psychotherapist, according to Wikipedia, but now lectures on creative writing at Yale University’s English department. She wrote the TV show “State of Mind” for the Lifetime Network, but was also nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. And it turns out that a sample of her short story isn’t the only thing that Amazon’s giving away for free…

I’d begun investigating the next logical question: Okay, who’s singing that song that’s playing in the background? The singer’s name is Annie Little, and Amazon is giving away one of her songs for free in their “mp3 downloads” store. It’s the song that appeared in Amazon’s second Kindle ad — a duet that Annie recorded with her fiance, Marcus Ashley, called “Stole My Heart.”

“Once upon a time, I saw you
walk along a moonbeam. What a
lovely girl. I followed you around the world.
Uh-uh oh, I love you. Don’t you see?
You stole my heart in one, two, three.
I love you. Yes it’s true.
You stole my heart, and I’m gonna steal yours too.”

I remembered Annie’s story. Amazon held a contest for the best home-made ad for the Kindle, and Annie’s song appeared in the winning entry — a cool stop-motion animation video suggesting all the stories you could read on your Kindle. (While in the background, Annie sang “Fly Me Away.”) You can also download “Fly Me Away” — the song which plays in the background of Amazon’s Kindle commercials — but they’re now charging 99 cents for it. And in addition, the couple has recorded two more songs, and they’re selling all four together as an EP for just $2.97.

1. Stole My Heart
2. Telegrams to Mars
3. Fly Me Away
4. Still Missing You

With a little more research, I discovered a few more secrets. The complete versions of the songs are longer than what’s aired in the commercial, so click here if you want to read all of the lyrics for “Stole My Heart” or “Fly Me Away”. (They’ve been transcribed on the couple’s web site.) I guess the last thing I discovered is that it’s hard to resist the couple’s charm — and their endearing message that true love…is a little bit like reading your Kindle.

“You’re my favorite one-man show,
a million different ways to go.

Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you, my love.”

Things I Learned While Reading on the Kindle

The Count of Monte Cristo original illustration

EDITOR’S NOTE: My girlfriend just finished reading a massive novel on the Kindle, and wanted to share what she’d learned from the experience.

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So a couple of weeks ago I mentioned reading The Count of Monte Cristo at a tender young age, and then there, before my eyes, in the Kindle Top 100 Free section, is the book itself! I remembered the basic plot line. A young man with a bright future gets taken down by jealousy and political maneuvering. He plots his revenge against the three men who caused his torturous imprisonment, then returns incognito as a count, wealthy beyond all imagining (how convenient).

I wondered if I would have a richer reading experience now that I’m a adult. Boy! The things I missed the first time around.

And the things I learned reading this book on the Kindle…

This is a two-part post; this week I’ll talk about the things I learned using the Kindle. Later, I’ll talk about the book itself and the surprise lesbian storyline. (She’s the daughter of one of the bad guys…. But I digress).

The first thing I learned is that The Count of Monte Cristo is llllloooooonnnnnnggggg. Like a-real-novel-that-you-check-out-of-the-library long. The end came at location 24681. (The Malacca Conspiracy, the free action thriller I reviewed here previously, is 6554 locations and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is 4274 locations by comparison). Obviously back in 1844, when the book was written there was no TV, no radio, no electric lights, and no Wii — so there was lots of time to read a good book. The novel as an art form was still pretty new at that time and Dumas is a master of the craft. The book moved along briskly, and kept me intrigued at every step.

I found the “Locations” tracking at the bottom of our original Kindle’s screen, in the dark gray area, to the left of the Menu button and the battery life and signal strength indicators. (As you probably already know, the numbers change as you read, allowing you to track where you are in the book.) But the trick is playing with the line directly above that gray bar — the one with all the dots. If you move your cursor one click above the Menu button, it’s placed directly across from this line of dots. When you press the scroll button, the bar highlights and you see little boxes with numbers. These are almost like the chapters in a printed book, and allow you to move through the book without using the “Go To Location” function on the Menu screen.

The next thing I learned is that I’m completely addicted to the Lookup Function! I yearned for this capability while I was growing up, reading voraciously. (You can even use Lookup if you don’t know what “voraciously” means — sooooo easy!). I knew that when I ran across a word I didn’t know, I should get up, go get the dictionary to find its meaning, and fully understand the novelist’s intention. Did I do this? Hardly ever. Yet, now, at my fingertips, I have that ability — and I rejoice!

However, there are two important caveats. The first caveat is that the Kindle doesn’t always provide definitions for foreign phrases or words. For example, “rouleau” was defined, but several other words of French origin were not. Being as Dumas wrote in French, this was a slight drawback for me with this specific novel. Still, it was a fun gamble using the Look Up feature during reading The Count of Monte Cristo. My other caveat is the Lookup Function provides you with every single word in the sentence. Every. Single. Word. I want to Look Up “rouleau” and get the definitions for “eye,” “hundred,” “hand,” and “rose” as well.

The third thing is I became adept as using the Highlight feature (just below LookUp on the menu that pops up when you scroll to a specific row. And you can use the same technique to add a note to yourself just by picking “Add Note” instead of “Add Highlight.”) Magic, indeed, to a reader who spent years thumbing through books looking for favorite passages!

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We love my Kindle, and she loved The Count of Monte Cristo. Click here to read it as a free ebook!

Free Action-Thriller eBook Review

The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown cover

EDITOR’S NOTE: My girlfriend just finished reading The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown, a former U.S. Navy lawyer. And she’s also uncovered some important information about his true identity…

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That’s DON Brown, not Dan Brown, as I originally thought. (I’d been excited about reading another book on the Kindle to follow DAN Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.) I even read the description before I downloaded the book from the top of the Kindle 100 Free section. (Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that I spend a lot of time in the Kindle Top 100 Free section. My boyfriend lets me download anything on his Kindle as long as it’s free. If you want me to start reviewing stuff not in the free section, take it up with him!)

First, the positive. It is a good-sized novel, meaning it took me longer than half an hour to read it. (This is a step up from several titles I’ve downloaded recently.) Next, I learned a lot about the area around Singapore and Indonesia, with bonus points for several maps included with the text. Also, Don paints a great portrait of the Navy SEALS. Er, that’s about it.

The plot involves a power-hungry Indonesian general who wants to turn Indonesia into an Islamic superpower — the new Evil Empire (Islam) against the Christian USA. And yes, I mean Christian — specifically Republican Christian. The president in this novel quotes bible verses to himself at every turn and glows with Republican fervor. He mentions Ronald Reagan ad nauseam. He talks about the man, plus the people who fly in and out of Ronald Reagan airport in Washington D.C., and even named one of the critical air craft carriers in the plot after Reagan.

Don glows about fine Republican presidents of the past (although, strangely, neither of the Bushes are mentioned). His Republican president is strong, refusing to quit Washington D.C. because that would be bowing to terrorists. (Was that a reference to the fact that President G.W. Bush was in the air one hour after 9/11, and didn’t come down for hours, then went to an undisclosed location?)

But his president is also a bit whiney, asking God why HE has to deal with this terrorist attack; none of his predecessors had to contend with a nuclear attack on American soil. Why did it have to fall to him? Of course, whining is not weakness, as it leads to quoting bible verses and prayer. Let me be clear that in general I don’t mind people turning to God in times of great need. Also, it takes a strong man to turn to his God for help. However, it seems contrived in this story line as a way of quoting the bible. Kind of like when Charlie’s Angels contrives situations to show the girls in bikinis. (Yes, it’s in the plot line that they all of a sudden have to get on a boat, but it’s a stretch!)

Personally, I’m a bit tired of the “Evil Empire vs. godfearing Americans” plot lines. The new model has both sides talking to God (o.k., one side talking to God, the other to Allah). This is a step up from the godless communists but the intent is still the same.

OMG! Will the terrorists strike fear in the hearts of all Americans? Will the Islamic Indonesian Superpower rule the world ?!? Will they succeed in blowing up San Francisco, and then Washington, D.C.!?! How will it end?!? No spoiler alert here. You can guess the ending yourself.

Don wrote four other novels, this one published in June of this year, making me wonder why it was offered for free. Then I found that the Wikipedia page for Don Brown is flagged for removal because he’s a non-notable author who has no press coverage. Ouch. That explains why this book is in the free section — to get some press coverage! And I’m happy to oblige.

I would recommend giving this novel a skip, even if it is free.

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But if you’d like to give it a try, click here for a free copy of The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown!

Amazon’s most popular free mystery ebook

An original Sherlock Holmes illustration

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amazon’s most popular free mystery ebook — currently #5 on their best-seller list — is also one that my girlfriend read as part of a very strange Christmas — and a secret crime all her own…

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The year I was 12, my brother received The Complete Sherlock Holmes for Christmas — and I received a bunch of Camp Fire Girls stuff and a copy of the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. Ick! Luckily for me, my brother didn’t really like Sherlock Holmes, any more than I wanted to read the Bobbsy Twins. (O.k., I liked them when I was 7 or 8, but really. By then my reading level had advanced to the point where I was reading real novels like The Count of Monte Cristo…)

But my brother wouldn’t give up control of his book. He hid it in his room which was, of course, completely off limits to his little sister. I am now able to confess this crime — I went into the forbidden room, found the concealed Sherlock Holmes collection — and pilfered it! Luckily for me, he didn’t want the book, just control over it, so I read through the entire collection without him knowing it was gone. What joy!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer and crafter of stories. Intricate, detailed situations with flawed characters, gripping plot lines and very surprising endings. And Doyle himself led a very intriguing life. He studied medicine at the University of Edinborough, then signed on as a ship’s doctor on a boat traveling to the West African coast. Upon his return, he opened a doctor’s office in a small English town, but building a practice in a strange town takes time. So while he waited for his patients, he wrote his first mysteries.

The first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887. Mr. Holmes was modeled after one of Doyle’s university professors. The likeness was so good that Wikipedia says Robert Louis Stevenson (another Scotsman, then living in Samoa) recognized the professor and mentioned it in his letter of congratulations to Sir Doyle. I’ve since become a great fan of mystery novels, soaking them up like water after a surgery and long convelescense several years ago.

But Sherlock Holmes set the standard by which I’ve judged all others. I used to think I wasn’t smart enough to solve the mysteries and just read them for the pure entertainment value. Then I started reading other mystery novels and found I could solve them as I read along. Then I rediscovered Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle!

I was originally worried that maybe my joy of reading the Sherlock Holmes stories is thus overlayed with the guilty pleasure of forbidden reading — the same joy I’d get by reading by flashlight under my covers when I was supposed to be asleep. But there they all were — The Hound of the Baskervilles (MUCH better than the movie), The Red Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Five Orange Pips, and so many more. (There are over 50 Holmes stories). There was the wonderful writing, the fascinating plots, the twisting and turning, and such a wonderful read every time. And his friend Dr. Watson was always sharing my cluelessness.

I found that I remembered the stories, but often not the ending and as I read. I recognized things as clues but still couldn’t solve the crimes by the end. (How frustrating!) I had been excited to approach these stories with my new adult mystery-solving abilites. Then I realized there is no way to solve a Sherlock Holmes crime! I’d read carefully, finding clues, making guesses, working hard at figuring out the crime, then Bam! Mr. Holmes comes up with some puzzle piece so completely out of left field that could never have figured it out.

It was the specific type of cigar ash, Watson. Surely you’ve read my monograph on different types of tobacco from all over the world and the ash each one produces. Oh, oops, silly me for forgetting the monograph! (Which, by the way, was never available to us non-fictitious mortals….) Note to Sir A. Conon Doyle: Write the damn monograph or quit using it as the only way to solve the mystery!

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t worry, my girlfriend says she still loves all of the Sherlock Holmes books. Click here if you’d like to read a free Sherlock Holmes mystery for yourself!