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View the weekly Robert’s Roundups  || Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section

Preface

(View last week’s ebook roundup).

Although this is a weekly column, once every month or so I’ll be doing a separate roundup about Smashwords (SW) titles. Last spring I put together a   list of SW ebook gems and enjoyed  it so much that I want to do it regularly.  In 2 or 3 days I will post another Roundup about ebook deals on Amazon, and on Thursday December 27, I will post another SW deal roundup to mention notable ebook bargains for the end of the year SW deals.  

One interesting thing about today’s SW  roundup is that a significant number of these authors do not publish on Amazon for one reason or other; often it has to do with the author’s country of origin or how niche  or unmarketable an  ebook is.

Favorite SW Ebook of the Month 

  • White Mythology by W.D. Clarke. Silly me, I was going to write a review of this wonderful book, but got sidetracked! I’ll link to the review later here in a few days. ($4, priced at $1 until Dec 31). 
  • (Also, my previous fave:  Cats on Film by Anne Billson. In my review of this photo-packed cinematic reference, I said it “gives a delightful and irreverent tour through world cinema from the standpoint of the cats who appear in it. … the book has unexpected bonuses. For the movie ALIEN she does a brilliant interior monologue of the same story from the cat’s point of view. (You remembered that there was a cat in that movie, right?)….  The book is a celebration of cats for what they naturally are in mainstream movies; At the same time, there’s more than enough  obscure Japanese, European, animation and old genre movies described here to make the ardent film buff happy.”

Giveaways /Free Promotions

David Antonelli is a filmmaker and novelist who has lived in Chicago/Canada/UK. From his interview it’s clear that he is strongly influenced by Continental authors (Dostoevsky, Handke, Flaubert) and  world cinema masters (Bergman and Truffaut). None of his 9 books are  on Amazon.com, but I am happy to report that they are all free on Smashwords. Glancing over the titles, they seem to be psychological thrillers; Antonelli said, “Many of my novels rotate around a crime as a means of exploring a psychological, spiritual, or moral issue.” I’ll try to do a review of one of these titles eventually. 

Short Stories Volume IV by Edward McWhinney.  (FREE!)  Short stories by an Irish author, and all of his stories are set in the Cork region. I can’t find vols 1-3, but Contrarymagazine has a nice index and longish interview with him. Happy to report as best as I can tell that the online stories don’t overlap at all with the SW volume. 

Darth Vader: The Good Guy Who Lost by MS Lawson is a tongue-in-cheek fake biography of Darth Vader as a historical figure. According to the book description, “Darth Vader, has been grossly misrepresented by historians. In fact he is a Richard III-like character given gross deformities and credited with all sorts of evil deeds to make the story of a supposedly fun rebellion against allegedly harsh overlords seem better.” Lawson has another free ebook, A Planet for Emily , an adventure in space about a captain who goes searching for her lost sister on a new home planet. Worth noting is that neither ebook is on Amazon, and 2 other ebooks are available from an ebook subscription service. See also his online collection of essays on Good Guys are Lost.  This reminds me of a brilliant essay by Gary Kamiya, “All Hail Pottersville” about how the nightmare scenario imagined in the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” wasn’t as bad as people made it. 

Newtonberg Stories by David Emprimo collects 3 volumes of short stories into a single volume. Normally priced at 3.99, but it’s free until  Dec 31.  (Author Website).  This collection contains humorous stories taking place in a small Texas town in decades past, sometimes with religious undertones (overtones?) There’s some   Woebegoney elements here  (how could you avoid it?), but based on the first three stories I read, the stories are a little more like gentle character sketches and less like satire.  Everything is very easy-to-read, written in plain language, and some of the same characters reappear throughout the volumes. (The other volumes on SW are also free, but this omnibus ebook is really all you need). 

Barbara G. Tarn has written several sci fi/fantasy series that  build an elaborate story universe and then populate it with characters and stories. (Author site). Prices hover in the $3-5 range for individual titles and $6-8 range for omnibus editions containing multiple volumes.  I’ve been previewing two works in the Star Minds series which imagine Earth in the near future after it has joined some interplanetary alliance with several different species, including a telepathic race or two. (Humorously,  the humans seem to have adapted just fine to these events and go about their usual lives).  The complete trilogy is here for $7 (same as Amazon), and there are tons of books not-in-the-trilogy-but-part-of-the-same-universe. I’ve been reading Adventurer (about a telepathic female from a destroyed planet who is hired to assassinate a corrupt Earth ambassador) and Chasing Stardom (about the Sturm and Drang behind an interplanetary pop music group). Based on the very small amount I sampled, the writing is casual and fun to read and full of adventure. (Also, the cover illustrations are fun and out of the ordinary).  This just scratches the surface of Tarn’s  series. Silvery Earth is described as “unconventional fantasy set on the world of Silvery Earth. Inspired by our planet’s cultures but not exactly our planet. QUILTBAG friendly.” (Book descriptions suggest a kind of   Earthsea vibe).   Her current series, Future Earth Chronicles describes what happens after “Planet Earth got rid of us pesky humans and has moved on.” Several titles will be forthcoming in 2019, but book 1 Brainwaves starts with a woman named Bel watching movies inside a post-Apocalyptic settlement before she decides to venture outside). Hey, I guess if I had Netflix and Kanopy with Internet, I could survive an apocalypse too!

I am happy to report that Tarn has given me some free codes for one of her Silvery Earth titles. (First come, first served!): Angelica, Scholar (Silvery Earth Heroines) by Barbara G.Tarn (novel). Secondary world fantasy with the history of the world.  6.99$ Coupon: HD67X. 100% off. (Valid for 5 uses)

(By the way, two months ago Tarn blogged about some of her favorite literary discoveries in the last year. Check it out!)

SF/Fantasy author Kevin Williams publishes a lot of stuff that are hard to describe, but generally full of fun and adventure. (author site). He produces two series (Teddyhunter and Aaron+Henna)  consisting of 5 books (with the first book of the series being free and the remaining volumes costing $2 each). Aaron+Henna is a more conventional sword and sorcery tale about  a wizard’s apprentice who has various adventures; it is light-hearted and easy to get into. Teddyhunter explores the nooks and crannies of a futuristic world populated by cyborgs, robots, mutants and (I assume) humans; the protagonist is a “Teddyhunter Tracker,” some kind of bounty hunter who performs various shady missions under the direction of various people (to kill rogue bots, I’m guessing). At first, it’s kind of overwhelming; the world feels quite alien (is it earth?) and the characters speak in jargon which can seem cryptic at times. But as you get used to it, you begin to perceive what’s going on (it feels a little like Bladerunner or Wall-E or  William Gibson’s cyberpunk worlds). If you’re in it for the long haul and longing for some hard SF and don’t mind inhabiting a world populated by bots, mutants and cyborgs, this is it. (Williams publishes some story collections and some peculiar stick-figure comics ebooks as well, but I’d start with the book 1 of either series before you go exploring the other minor stuff). 

Fifty Egg Timer Stories by Richard Bunning.  99 cents! Bunning is a prolific UK author of  fairy-tale speculative fiction. (Here’s his author page).  He has written two  volumes of “egg timer stories” and has edited several short fiction anthologies and written some novels such as the reasonably-priced $3 Another Space in Time

Clive Gilson is a UK novelist  who recently has been publishing a series of folk tales in a series called Tales from the World’s Firesides.  (Here’s his personal blog). As best as I can tell, he compiles tales from separate sources and adapts them for a more modern audience. Two of the books (Insomniac’s Booth and Mechanic’s Curse seem to be modern retelling of fairy tales — i.e., the characters are political lobbyists or use mobile phones or microwaves or visit supermarkets. Some are explicit homages to HC Andersen (one of my favorite authors as well).  Additionally, Gilson has written cyberfiction a la Philip K. Dick   and a crime thriller.  Gilson has published almost a dozen works on Smashwords for FREE! to my knowledge, nothing is for sale or on Amazon.  These look really promising! 

Robert W. Fuller is a physicist, philosopher and longtime educator. He was once president of Oberlin College.  He has published several books (including one novel and children’s book)  for free both on SW and Amazon (although Amazon has several additional   ebooks that actually cost money). His novel Rowan Tree received over 300 reviews on Amazon; some reviews were positive, but a surprising number found fault with the story (about a college president who has an affair with an African American student) and thought it resembled a political diatribe. Theory of Everybody is a bunch of essays about various scientific topics. 

Strangely, none of  the intellectual humor books of  Nobody!  have been reviewed on Amazon or Smashwords even though the ebooks are easily found (and a FREE download!). Despite the loose sloppy form and the sophomoric/subversive presentation, these books are quite brilliant, and I definitely will be writing a review of them soon.  You can check the equally cryptic  Goldman’s Bulldog publisher page for clues about who produced these books or why (trust me, I’ve looked over them and found no useful clues).

Susan Skylark is a prolific fantasy author who writes extended stories with an almost mythical quality (author blog). Lots of her titles are currently free on SW; many are available as individual books but also as a collection. A good place to start would be The Foibles: A Collection (Free on SW!) which consists of mythical beings humorously showing up in contemporary settings (i.e., a woman goes to a job interview, and  the HR manager turns out to be a real-live dragon). The other novels/stories/series seem to take place in the mystical land of fairy tales and are definitely more serious and dramatic. After skimming her ebooks, I have  noticed that the last 20-25% will sometimes consist of samples from other ebooks. 

John Joseph Adams is a publisher of sci fi titles and magazines and various other stuff. (Website here) Not only does he run a sci fi imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, he also edits several noted anthologies and sci fi journals. SW has some FREE samplers from Lightspeed SF mag and also notably  the brand spanking new Futures & Fantasies which contains a large number of stories originally published in Lightspeed magazine. (I notice that the same anthology sells on Kindle for 99 cents too. Sci fi really isn’t my  main thing (although I always enjoy reading it!)  but the upcoming titles from his HMH imprint sound compelling — also, those covers are fantastic! 

Discounted Titles 

Although Anne Billson titles are generally not discounted (they all hover in the $5 range), she has been compiling her  film reviews into yearly volumes costing 99 cents each  (see here and here and here and here).  One of the volumes is actually FREE! The Billson Film Database (actually 450+ pages of capsule reviews over 4 decades, $4.99) is a delight to browse through and lower-priced than comparable volumes by other critics.   There probably is  overlap between the two, but the annual compilations have longer articles that cover more than one film and  focus on more general topics. 

SPECIAL PRICE WITH COUPON:Hauling Checks by Alex Stone  (Humorous Fiction; Aviation)  A screwball comedy about a cargo airline.  (Author Site).  $4.95  Coupon: YY86H for .99 cents or 80% off. (Valid until Dec 31, 2018)

Delicate Passionate World of  Gregory Morgan and Vivien Prevette. is a 5 volume series by Slovak-born author Mia Marko (her website). Classified as a “fairy tale for thoughtful, sensitive adults loosely based on the tale of Psyche and  Eros… exploring desire and love’s milestones from this gentle and elevated point of view is intended to take the reader toward the Big Questions of life.” Book 1 (now at 99 cents). The successive volumes are more expensive (5-10$). All 5 volumes were published both on Amazon and SW in the last month, so nothing has been reviewed yet, and book descriptions are vague, but I’ve flipped through the ebooks; it seems to be about a grand passion with a mysterious man  starting in the early 20th century. By the way, I love the Psyche/Eros story — I once wrote  a novella on the same theme. I have no idea whether Marko’s  story will justify the extended treatment, but the narrative seems ambitious,   philosophical and setting us up  for some long old-fashioned tale. 

Personville Press Giveaways & Deals 

I run a small literary book press called Personville Press where most ebooks sell for under $4.  For each SW Roundup column, I’ll include a few 100% giveaways and coupon codes. Generally the 100% giveaways coupons will be very limited in number (rarely more than 5), but the 99 cent discount giveaways will be unlimited.  Up until 2018, all Personville titles are by author Jack Matthews, but 2019 should see some different authors as well.   

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  (FREE until 1/16/2019, no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbaby and itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  •  Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use CN39R Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction.  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use KL39SC Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: Epub, Mobi.

Finally…..

If you know of any Smashwords deals you’d like to share, drop me a line by Christmas!  Next Robert’s Roundup will be in 2-3 days (I have a gigantic backlog), and the next SW Roundup will be Thursday Dec 27

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Housekeeping Notes

Ok, running a little late on my roundups.   I’ve busy doing other book-related stuff. Some other thoughts.

Smashwords Roundup will definitely be tomorrow (it was practically ready last week).  Before I thought I could do 4 Amazon roundups and 1 SW roundup a month. That’s not realistic. 1  SW roundup and 3 Amazon roundups seems like a better pace.  That gives time to work on other things.  

I’m toying with the idea of starting a week with an empty Amazon roundup and adding to it over the rest of the week. I just pick up so many titles each week! 

I was thinking that I could do one review a month. I think I’m going to try to do one full review and one capsule review a month. Actually I sort of already wrote my one capsule review already.  Oh, here’s an idea. Maybe I should link to my favorite review of the month (not written by me of course!). 

One may ask: how do I keep up with all my purchases/freebies/review copies/etc? The answer: I don’t!  I mean, I really try. I’m gotten diligent about collections on my kindle (If an ebook doesn’t belong in one of my collections, it essentially does not exist!)

Finally, any creative person starts to ask himself: is this project worth my time? I’ve decided that devoting 10 hours a week to doing roundup and litblog stuff is a worthy investment, but I can’t spend too much time or else it would take away time from writing and publishing (and reading!).  For about 10 years I was perfectly happy NOT writing book reviews. And frankly, I am happy enough doing the bloggy thing slowly and  haphazardly. 

Can’t talk any more. Have to  clean house, send off some job applications and drop the books at the library! 

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View the post series | VRead how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section

See previous Robert’s Roundup.   and the next Robert’s Roundup (Smashwords edition)

Preface 

First, I noticed that Amazon offered me a 3 month trial to Kindle Unlimited for 99 cents (After that, it’s 9.99 a month).  I totally don’t want to pay 10 dollars a month for this, but it’s a great way to do try-before-you-buy for many indie titles. 

Second,  though I typically avoid sci fi fiction, this seems to be the month where I stock up on the genre.  

Third, my monthly Smashwords roundup is running late  (It should appear in the next 2 days).  Smashwords will be offering a sitewide sale on titles during the last week of December. My plan is to report on the great buys ASAP — (probably Dec 27), so be sure to save some funds for that  post-Christmas splurge. 

Blue Moon Deals 

Collected Stories by Frank O’Connor. $2.50 . 750 pages. Wow, what a deal! (Let’s see how long it lasts!– Update: One day!)

Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis Trilogy) by Octavia Butler  3.99. About two months ago I was bowled over by the  Bloodchild Story collection (a sort of fantastic tale about the interactions between humans and another superior alien race). As luck would have it, Google’s algorithms gave me a $3 store credit, so I bought this trilogy for only a dollar! Significantly, I never saw this sale price on Amazon….

Three Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past Book 1) by Cixin Liu. 2.99  This very famous prize-winning sci fi novel has gone on sale once or twice a  year for a day or so — only to return to the regular expensive price.  I have checked this book out several times without making much progress on it yet! 

Collected Stories of William Humphrey. 1.99 This collection contains stories from two early volumes. (Humphrey wrote mainly novels, but he did write a well-reviewed September Song in his later years). He is a Texan author best known for writing about family life in small towns. (He is best known for Home from the Hill — which I read too quickly — I confess I wasn’t ready for it…

Under the Radar

Joseph MacKinnon is a Toronto-based author who writes sci fi thrillers with a political edge. His Guy Faux Books press publishes his titles — including two acclaimed cyberpunk titles (Cypulchre, and Archetypal).  Newsreal,  (FREE!  on AMZN during Thanksgiving), cowritten by Carlo Schefter, is a “dark comedy, which explores today’s political carnival and tackles the soft divisions in American society concretized by and after the 2016 presidential election.”

Evil Men: Short Stories by Erik Wennermark (Free on Thanksgiving weekend) is, according to Michael Martone, “an ambitious collection completely realized and expertly crafted. [Wennermark] renders in this Poe-ian, shaped-charged fiction a startling catalogue of very visceral and deeply disturbing tales. He is very perceptive to this world of his characters and also to the world around them and how they and their environment interact with the reality of our own reality. He is especially sensitive to the variety and complexity of the human psyche.” PS, Martone is one of my fave authors. This title was free a weeks ago, and then again this weekend.  Here is Wennermark’s personal website. 

Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected  Stories by John J. Clayton (author page). 1.99 This low-cost edition contains stories from 3 previously published books. (Note: the price has been 1.99 for almost the entire year, so the price probably won’t go up anytime soon). Clayton has won multiple story awards and writes about urban living from the perspective of a New England Jew. Several of his books haven’t been digitalized, but I notice that a more recent story collection (Minyan) and a novel (Kuperman’s Fire) are available. 

Siege of Walter Parks by Colin Robertson (99 cents)  is a nice Office Space type satire  that takes place during a financial recession. He has written a series about hackers or zombies or something like that. 

Panayotis Cacoyannis. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed several titles being promoted by this Greek/Cyprus  author living in UK. (Here’s his Amazon author page).  Reviews of his books usually mention the satirical element, the psychological complexity, the insights into love and human relationships.  

Gary Reilly. Last month I mentioned Reilly’s prodigious output after his death. Very rarely have his titles gone free, but today his Volume 7 of his Asphalt Warrior series is  free. 

Them Bones by Howard Waldrop. (STILL 99 CENTS). 1980s  time-travel novel about a 21st century man who travels through a time portal to prevent WW3 and lands in the wrong time period. Austin-based author. 

Poetry Collections: Magic with Skin On by Morgan Nikola-Wren (FREE!)

Squish the Fish: A Tale of Dating and Debauchery by Dave Lundy, Mariah Sinclair, Ro O’Connor. Hedonistic novel revolving around  a football game. (The book is divided into corresponding quarters of the game). Eye-grabbing cover too. 

Various historical fiction  titles by Edward C. Patterson.  (author website) Patterson is a prolific author with an interesting background in Chinese history. IIRC, some of his titles have slight gay themes and storylines, but more often historical themes (and not just about Asia). So far I’ve captured a few  free titles, but he’s the perfect kind of author to do an author alert on ereaderiq.  Aha, I see that Patterson used to be on Smashwords, but then moved all his titles to exclusivity deals with Amazon. I’ll be writing about this Hobson’s choice later. 

Nigel Bird is a prolific Scottish author and poet whose biggest venture seems to be in crime fiction (author website). I’ve grabbed his Dirty Old Town (short stories, 100 pages) which is at the affordable 99 cents.  He has about 1/4 of his stuff on Smashwords (try here and here), and I’ll be monitoring those prices. 

33 Days in the Hole: Chicago Experiment by Rob Kern. (FREE!)  Longish essay (not really book-length) about a rock critic who forces himself to listen to nothing but Chicago music group for 33 days. 

Blink-and-it’s-gone Sales

God, so many of the EarlyBirdBooks have come and gone. I already binged on EBB titles last Spring, so most of the authors and titles are already familiar to me. (Indeed, all of the EBB names were big in literary circles at one point).  I didn’t buy much this time, but the EBB spot sales reappear frequently. As an aside, EBB and Bookbub have basically gotten consumers used to paying 2-4$ in ebooks. I don’t think there’s any turning back. (thank god!)

Deals on ebooks published by Amazon 

(These 99 cent books expire at the end of November — sorry for waiting so long to decide!) I should explain that I make my purchase decisions usually by reading only the first chapter and skimming the book description. Still all these sound like winners at 99 cents (and Amazon gave me a $3 ebook credit for buying so many of these monthly deals).  I think a few deals carry over into future months, so stay tuned. When the December 99 cent deals come rolling around, I’ll try to tackle them and report on them more quickly!

  • Too Good to be True: A Memoir by Benjamin Anastas. Daily struggles of a younger middle-aged author who has become a father. 
  • Stage Four: A Novel by Sander Kollaard. Very well-received angst-ridden tale of a European couple who take a trip after the wife receives a diagnosis of cancer.  Enjoy the references to Lagerlof  and Soderberg, which I guess is not unusual for a Danish author. 
  • Gods who walk among us by Max Eastern. Nice humorous first person tale of a NYC paparazzi who gets mixed up in the lives of people he photographs.  Really enjoy this character so far. 
  • A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion. Nice domestic dramedy about a woman’s life in a Wisconsin suburb. Feels like Anne Tyler.  
  • Evelyn, After: A Novel by Victoria Helen Stone. The first chapter details a woman’s attempt to investigate details of the life of the woman who slept with her husband. Book description implies that the book will soon veer into a different direction, but I’m liking what I’m reading so far! 
  • Damocles by S.G. Redling. Sci fi novel about explorers trying to find a habitable planet for humans to live in. A really well-written first chapter, and Redling has written novels about a variety of subjects (not just sci fi). 
  • Kelpie Dreams by Steve Vernon.  Comic fantasy romp about — well, I’m not sure based on the first chapter, but I think a fantasy creature is involved. Never expected to get into this one, but it had a great first chapter. 
  • Moonlit Garden by Corina Bomann. Story about secret pasts — with some connection to a violin from a faraway land. Bomann is a German author of historical novels. 
  • Second First Time by Elisa Lorello.  Quirky relationship story happening after the death of one person’s father. 
  • Picks from Previous Roundup: Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin, Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Icons) by Michael Wood, The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts by Nicholas Delbanco, and Five Night Stand: A Novel by Richard J. Alley.

Creative Commons/Public Domain titles

You may already know that after 20 years of no titles falling into the public domain, 2019 will resume the normal release of titles from 1923. Apparently Project Gutenberg will start digitalizing 1923 works next year, and I nominated these titles for digitalization:  

  • Weeds by Edith Summers Kelley, First published in 1923, Weeds is set amid the tobacco tenant farms of rural Kentucky. This pioneering naturalist novel tells the story of a hard-working, spirited young woman who finds herself in a soul-destroying battle with the imprisoning duties of motherhood and of managing an impoverished household. The novel is particularly noteworthy for its heartbreaking depiction of a woman who suffers not from a lack of love, but from an unrequited longing for self-expression and freedom.
  • If you can stand reading PDFs, I highly recommend: New Plato : or, Socrates redivivus by Thomas Lansing Masson, Thomas Lansing (published in 1908). Socrates steps out of the pages of Plato into Mr. Masson’s humorous colloquies as easily as he quits the steerage of the Lusitania and takes up his headquarters at the Mills hotel. He acquaints himself with New Yorkers, visits their homes, and discusses with true modern insight such subjects as The married life, The gambler, The bridge player, Socialism, Learning, Surgeons, Philosophy, The missionary, and The nature of happiness.

I occasionally do volunteer editing for Distributed Proofreaders (the group who produce all the Gutenberg titles). Through this work I have learned about the wonderful  Book Review Digest  (a series which started to be published in 1904 on a yearly basis).  So far, only 2 volumes are on Gutenberg,  but I think every volume between 1905 and 1922 is being worked on, and in a year or two you will be able to flip through them at your leisure. I particularly recommend the 1917 volume . Two things are clear after flipping through this volume: 1)the state of book reviewing was very advanced in the early part of 20th century and 2)despite the sense that Project Gutenberg has so many titles available, only a fraction of titles mentioned in the Book Review Digests have ever been digitalized. (Sure, some are on archive.org or google, but these are just cumbersome facsimiles).  

Smashwords Titles 

I’m about to publish my Smashwords roundup, but I just wanted to say that White Mythology: Two Novellas for 99 cents is a great deal (I read the book too). 

Non-Amazon & Non-Smashwords Titles

None this time..

Miscellaneous (Used books, library titles, book-related articles, etc)

  • Solitary Twin by Harry Matthews
  • Why I read: Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser (Lesser’s essays all are a joy to read, and they are starting to appear in the Early Bird Books deal newsletters). 
  • Click Here to Kill Everybody by Bruce Schnier
  • Podcast: Montaigne and the Art of Conversation. Timothy Hampton is a Berkley comp lit prof who gives a great talk about Montaigne. Here’s his blog, some of his Montaguish thoughts and even a nice commencement address.  Oddly  a few months ago I had stumbled upon some of his writings while perusing the Cornell U press catalog. 

Review Copies Received 

(I have a backlog of review copies to write about.  Here are some recent review copies I snagged:)

Closing Thoughts 

First, if anyone outside the USA is reading this, I’d like to hear what kind of freebie ebook options that non-US readers have access to. I confess to being totally in the dark about which stores are offering (non-infringing) freebies to readers in Canada, UK, Australia, India, etc. Or are shoppers at the US Amazon store just lucky? (I should note that Smashwords offers a lot of freebies to readers around the globe — and without DRM too). 

Let’s not write  pissy reviews! I’m all in favor of free speech, but I can’t tell you how often I come across superficial 2 sentence pissy and incoherent reviews on Amazon book pages.  (I wrote a response to one recently).  Once in a while a remark is pithy and damning, but for the most part  these types of comments are substance free and call attention to the commenter’s lack of effort to say anything meaningful. Ok, we get it, the book didn’t grab you, but shouldn’t you be open to the idea that people have different literary tastes? 

Wow, a month after I signed up to be listed on the IndieView’s list of book reviewers willing to review indie titles, they unceremoniously de-listed my name without bothering to tell me why.  This both irks and amuses me. Do they actually think that the number of people  willing to review indie titles is so great that they have to set ultra-strict criteria to filter them out?  Though I have specific criteria for what books I’d be willing to review, I’ve really made it a point to avoid the usual places to pick up Advance Review Copies (ARCs) like Netgalley, Amazon Vine, etc.  IndieView is still an excellent source of information for both readers and indie authors. But this action perplexes me. 

While visiting another book-loving friend, we exchanged titles of books we’d discovered — though we hadn’t actually read most of them   Our tastes are similar enough though my friend  grabs mainly print titles while I do the digital thing. We were marveling at all the great NYROB titles — that acronym stands obviously for New York Review of Books — which republish many outstanding titles from Europe and elsewhere. NYROB titles are great and handsome books as well, but I am flabbergasted at the high prices of the digital editions. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse has an $11 ebook, $11 print book and used copies sell on Amazon for $2. Similarly, another book I have been salivating over has been Elizabeth Hardwick’s Collected Essays (ebook $16, paperback $14, used $9). I’ve ended up checking out both print and ebook editions of both titles from the libraries — multiple times without having finished either one. I guess I can’t complain too much because I have easy access to both titles — and frankly these books aren’t checked out often.  But I can’t help noting that the  NYROB acronym includes the word “ROB” in it, and indeed, I feel I could never afford to buy any NYROB titles without sticking up a Barnes and Noble. I certainly see value in NYROB titles and recognize that the hefty Hardwick essay collection deserves some kind of premium pricing. But these prices are outrageous, especially when we see what Early Bird Books is discounting these days.  I find it hard to believe that it makes business sense to price something which only institutions can afford. 

$1.99
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Holiday lethargy (Smashword edition)

My first installment of Robert’s Roundup Smashwords edition is scheduled for Saturday. Might be a stretch — although I’ll certainly try.  Holiday frivolity is keeping me away from my goal; it might not go live until Sunday.  Stay tuned! 

Monday Update: I feel that I’ll do the weekly roundup on Wednesday (tomorrow) and the Smashwords update on Wednesday/Thursday — stay tuned!

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View the post series |  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section

Preface

Welcome to the first installment of Robert’s Roundup (a collection of ebook deals and discoveries). At least once a week this blog will report about remarkable ebook deals and authors who have discounted their ebooks to free or very cheap. (Read more). Most ebooks listed here were things I acquired for free or a very low price.  If you want to mention an ebook deal, you can do so in the comment section, but first  read the rules.  Once a month I post a Robert’s Roundup about Smashwords ebooks. The first SW roundup will go live here  Saturday November 24. (If you are interested, read how I select titles and what each category means).

Blue Moon Deals 

  • Four Chinese Classics: Tao Te Ching, Analects, Chuang Tzu, Mencius by David Hinton. $1.99  (Recent translations of everything, plus good notes. This sale has lasted for over 2 weeks, so maybe it’s here to stay?)
  • Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley.  1.99 Well-regarded book about mathematical/scientific thinking — quite brilliant actually. This goes on sale 1 or 2x a year. 
  • Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector. 2.99 700 page volume of highly regarded stories by this Brazilian  best love author. (Surprised to see that this sale has gone on for 2 weeks. Get it while you can!) 

Under the Radar

(Set price alerts for these books and authors… When the sale prices return, they are worth seeking!)

  • Charlie Close is a prolific fiction writer who has been discounting his Amazon titles one by one. So far, I’ve ensnared for free  Childish Things: Stories of Growing Up and Before the Ripcord Broke: Stories. (the first can be obtained at any time by signing up for his mailing list). All his other titles are $3.99.  His Amazon bio says, “I believe that ordinary people and situations are interesting and important. That’s where we live every day.”
  • What Remains Unsaid by Audrey Kalman. 99 cents. A son takes his mother hostage so for once she can listen to him. 
  • Not so Complete Birds Afoul of North America by Bill McGill. Hilarious drawings of actual birds, with funny commentary. This is a three part series, and I got this first volume for free on a Kindle promotion. Warning, the file sizes are large and best viewed on a large tablet.
  • Practice what your preach (Edward Vernon’s Practice Series Book 2). 99 cents. Vernon is a UK physician who wrote a 3 volume set of memoirs. I started reading Volume 1 (light-hearted, fun) but waited too long to purchase it. Maybe next time… 
  • One Way Time Traveler by Tom DeMarco. 99 cents. Scifi adventure about a person who travels to the future and discovers a world controlled by women.
  • One Apart: A Novel by Justine Avery. FREE!  Tres is about to be born… with the biggest burden any has ever had to bear. He is beginning again—as an ageless adult trapped in an infant body.
  • Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain by William H. Calvin. 99 cents. This wonderful collection of essays about topics in biology and neuroscience was first published in the early 1990s. He’s published more recent (and expensive) titles since then. 
  • Too Good for the Hood by Michael and Danny D’Agostino. FREE! 2 brothers from Chicago write a lot of light-hearted novels about their adventures growing up. Several titles are free on the US Amazon store, including this one. (Lots of other free and low-cost titles)
  • It Happened in Wisconsin by Ken Moraff. FREE!  This recent Breakthrough Novel Award winner is about a talented but ragtag baseball team who set out to change the world during the Great Depression.
  • Ray vs. the Meaning of Life by Michael F. Stewart. FREE! “Booby-trapped with guns, grizzly bears, and homemade fireworks, the cartoonish park setting skillfully gives wheels to a larger, more intriguing philosophical question. … A tale spins its answer to an age-old question into an inclusive, hilarious, and thought-provoking yarn.” (Kirkus). This won a Booklife prize also.  Mainly for younger/YA readers.
  • A Body’s Just as Dead by Cathy Adams. FREE COMIC SOUTHERN NOVEL. FREE!  “A Body’s Just as Dead is hilarious and wrenching, a portrait of a family’s mistaken pride in its own self-deception. You read it in bursts of laughter, followed by sustained sympathy for characters striving to maintain their dignity in a world they don’t understand or control.”
  • Asphalt Warrior (8 book series) by Gary Reilly. Reilly died prematurely before publishing anything major. Since his death,  his unpublished works have been digitalized; each volume of the Asphalt Warrior series (about a likable Denver cabdriver named Murph) sells for $4.  I got Circumstantial Man for Free! and Asphalt Warrior (Book 1) for 99 cents. I started reading Book 1 and enjoyed the humor and atmosphere. Reilly is really a first class writer and you should be on the lookout for specials on his other volumes. 
  • First William Peskett Story Omnibus. 99 cents.  Peskett is a prolific Irish author and poet now living in Thailand. He’s published a lot of single story ebooks and smaller collections, but this one is the biggest (350 pages).  I started reading these stories: interesting, mundane, plot-oriented. 
  • Various ebooks by Jessica Barksdale Inclan. I’ve set an author alert for any price drops and snatched 8 titles so far. Many of her ebooks seemed geared for the YA audience, but I’m seeing a variety of styles and themes. A major talent….Update: about half of her ebooks are  on Smashwords, so I’ll probably cover her in a Smashwords roundup. 
  • Love and Other Afflictions: A collection of literary short stories by Jonathan Finch. I went ahead and paid full price 1.99 for this one. The first 2 stories had fantastic/metaphysical/Kafkesque elements. 
  • Waco Variations by Rhonda Rizzo. Free!   Story about a musician affected by the Branch Davidian fiasco who turns her life around and discovers music. 
  • Odds and Endings: Fiction Short and Otherwise by Joe DeRouen. A collection of tales of ghosts and the macabre….

Blink-and-it’s-gone Sales

Deals on ebooks published by Amazon 

Here’s what sounds buyable on the 99 cent monthly deals. I haven’t finished deciding what to buy (and I’ve only started looking at fiction), so I’ll be adding more titles next Tuesday. 

  • Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin. Ok, this makes me squeamish, but it sounds useful!
  • Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Icons) by Michael Wood. (Only a 150 page monograph, not in depth, but Wood is a distinguished film critic. 
  • The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts by Nicholas Delbanco (Sounds thought provoking; first chapter was great!).
  • Five Night Stand: A Novel by Richard J. Alley. “Tells the story of three people whose lives intersect over the course of five nights in New York City—a debut novel set to a pounding jazz beat of triumphs, failings, uncertainties, secret sins, and tragedies.”

Smashwords Titles 

White Mythology: 2 Novellas by W.D. Clarke. I’m reviewing this Smashwords novella  for my upcoming Smashwords roundup.  

Non-Amazon & Non-Smashwords Titles

Tor’s free ebook of the month: Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang (Oopsie, unfree after Nov 16, sorry guys).

Creative Commons/ Public Domain Goodies

Miscellaneous (Used books, library titles, book-related articles, etc)

Fivebooks, a website where famous people and nonfamous people recommend 5 books on a certain topic. Brilliant and useful! 

Bought these paperbook books  for practically for less than a dollar each:

  • Stick Dog by Tom Watson (illustrated chapter book with stick figure drawings — quite funny!)
  • It’s all Right Now by Charles Chadwick. Apparently famous only novel published by 70 year old British civil servant. Diary of a nobody, sort of an homage to Joseph Heller (his favorite author) but one critic notes that the tone sounds like Philip Larkin. 
  • Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. YA Sci Fi by Austin author
  • What to Read (with 33 Annotated book lists) by Mickey Pearlman. Out of print book of annotated lists of titles by subjects. Examples: Fairy Tales for Grownups, The Impact of Illness, etc.   Intended to be a resource for book clubs, it actually is fun and brilliant! 
  • Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt. Coincidentally, I almost bought other Offutt titles a few months ago. 

Lendle/Libby/Library Titles (i.e., didn’t pay for!). This list is longer than usual because it covers cool stuff I’ve found in the 2 months. 

  • Monarchy of Fear by Martha C. Nussbaum. America’s foremost philosopher explains why fear can be a fair and valid and constructive  response to external circumstances. Some mentioning of the Trump context… 
  • Story Grid by Shawn Coyne (via Lendle). A brilliant but overpriced (8 dollar) ebook by a well-known editor about how to write a commercial fiction title. To Coyne’s credit, a lot of free content is available on his website
  • Bloodchild by Octavia Butler. Mindblowing short stories. Ok, now I understand what all the fuss is about. 
  • Hype by Nina Shapiro MD
  • Playwrights at Work: Interviews with Albee, Beckett, Guare, Hellman, Ionesco, Mamet, Miller, Pinter, Shepard, Simon, Stoppard, Wasserstein, Wilder, Williams, Wilson . (This is an incredible book!)
  • Tales with a Texas Twist: by Donna Ingham. Remarkable live storyteller from Texas whose book of  stories is even more remarkable.
  • Mindware: Tools for smart thinking. richard nisbet Outstanding book on cognitive psychology. 
  • Hans Christian Andersen: Life of a storyteller by Jackie Wullschlager
  • Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson. Fun trek through American history and seeing generation after generation of people who could be duped. I waited on the first ebook deal, then started reading and loving it, but that sale has not returned! 
  • Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Closing Thoughts

I have been trying to read Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night for a long time. I bought the book out of graduate school and still haven’t read the first chapter. If you have read it and can think of a compelling reason why one should read it, let me know! 

Have comments? You can use the comment section to tell me which deals are expired or to mention your own ebook deals (please read these rules first). (The rules for submitting a Smashwords title are somewhat different).

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How I compile Robert’s Roundups

View the post seriesView the Smashwords deal roundups || Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section

I  throw  these ebook deal roundups quickly so   often I won’t bother including links — just  names and titles.  Everyone here knows how to look up things on Amazon, right? 

Most of the time I have not read ebooks  mentioned on these roundups.  On a daily basis I take quick looks at dozens (if not hundreds) of new ebooks at a low price and pick the titles that sounds most promising. If you want a clue about my reading preferences/biases,  take a look at   my book review guidelines.  My literary standards are lot more flexible and adventurous about low-cost or free titles. (Just this afternoon I bought an ebook about edible  insects — hey, it was only 99 cents!). 

My main interests are titles under 50,000 words (25,000 words for  poetry), price  under $2, non-series and self-published or indie-published things. No hard and fast rules though. I am generally not going to mention books that are regularly discounted or very familiar to book lovers — unless the deal is exceptional.

Outside the USA?  Most of the discounted titles and URLs in this  roundup  are for the Amazon.com US store. Unfortunately for non-US Amazon customers,  you may not have access to the free or discounted prices.  Sorry! On the bright side,  indie authors usually apply the same discount worldwide so you will probably see the same discount percentages. Also, bigger publishers (the main culprits behind these price disparities) have gotten better and more efficient about uniformly pricing their titles across markets. Unfortunately, the free-on-Amazon ebooks seem to be specific to the Amazon.com US store.

Don’t like Amazon? Lately I’ve noticed that publishers are applying their discounted titles across bookstores. That means that it’s becoming easier to find the same price on Apple, Google, BN, Kobo, etc. Also, I am a big fan of Smashwords too (read why below).

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How to Submit Ebook Deals in the comment section

View the post series | View the Smashwords deal roundups || Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section

Starting on the week of November 18, 2018, I will be posting regular lists of ebook deals that I have discovered recently.

If you are an author and would like to make  readers of this blog aware of your under $2 ebook titles (or are  just an enthusiastic reader wishing to alert people to a great deal), I welcome your comments below the blog posts about these titles. Here are some guidelines. 

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Now, for Smashwords authors!

In my last post, I alluded to the fact that I’ll be posting more regularly on this blog about ebooks. I recently prepared a longish guide for Smashwords authors about how my blog can help you.  I will be posting a once-a-month roundup of free and low cost Smashwords titles, with the first roundup appearing on Saturday November 24.

I will be posting significantly more often about ebooks, probably 2x a week. Not only about Smashwords titles, but  lots of topics. 

In other news, Mark Coker, the Smashwords founder, has announced a major facelift in the Smashwords bookstore

In other news, while making necessary changes to my blog, I have noticed how much more complicated everything about wordpress (and the Thesis skin) have become… It’s definitely a work in progress…

Font-geeks may have noticed that I changed the default fonts to Merriweather and Merriweather Sans (both Google fonts). 

Finally, I want home page to continue to  feature full posts. (I generally don’t like truncated posts for that reason).  At the same time I want to want book covers on my sidebar, so in the interest of reducing load times, my posts won’t have too many images. I’m happy to report that the Thesis skin I use looks wonderful on both tablets and mobile devices. 

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Ebooks — Changing the Blog’s Focus

Even though this blog has been fairly dormant for the last two years, starting now I’m going to be doing a lot more reviews about ebooks.

Let me explain.

I continue to write fiction and produce ebooks for Personville Press. That keeps me busy. In the past decade or so, I’ve said that I just haven’t had time for book reviews — although I have always kept a detailed list of books I’m reading (here’s the 2018 list and goodreads list of recent reads).

Even though books are the center of my life (and always have been), I haven’t felt particularly inclined to write book reviews. First, although I’m a “good” book critic, I wouldn’t call myself a great one — and more importantly, I am not a particularly fast one. It’s true that in the early 2000s I posted over a 100 reviews on Amazon.com, but a lot of them were IT/technology nonfiction books, and often I needed only to skim them to form an interesting opinion.

Book reviews are so …. forgettable. I’ve published some great book reviews, but I’m too slow and careful; also, my memory for details isn’t that good. I’m no James Wood or Michael Barrett or Daniel Green or Dan Schneider or  Michael Dirda or Steve Moore. At the same time I have been writing a fair number of essays for the Personville titles, and although they are analytical and carefully written, they have an explicitly promotional purpose.

In the early 1990s I used to write reviews for the Houston Post and maybe other small publications, but it was a thankless task. It can take 10 hours just to read the damn book, and 4 hours to write about it; who has that sort of time? My literary/film critic Michael Barrett can dash these things off, but for me, I’m not as glib about it. Also, I can get sidetracked by deeper issues of aesthetics and storytelling. For most of my life, it’s very hard to write a 500 word or even a 1000 word review. I can do it, I can even enjoy doing it, but others can do it much better.

Over the last decade or two, some strange things have happened. Indie publishing and ebooks exploded, and the quality of book reviewers have declined. There are bloggers to take up the slack, but not entirely. For one thing, the “advance review copy” distribution apparatus has been extremely favorable to the NY publishing world. I have nothing against authors like George Saunders or Celeste Ng or Min Jin Lee, but individual books by these author have been reviewed THOUSANDS of times. Frankly, I tire of critics and bloggers who claim to have high literary standards and then review only titles available on Net Galley or Amazon Vine. I used to think NYTBR or Washington Book Review had daring book reviews, but that is not really the case; the reviewers themselves may be distinguished authors, but the books they review are often the same old books from Random House and FSG

A Cost-Conscious Approach to Ebooks 

As a literary cheapskate, I pay a lot more attention to the freebie and 99 cent titles by authors that nobody has ever heard of. This year (and maybe part of last year) I have rediscovered pleasure reading — and to my dismay I am noting the dearth of reviews about high quality indie or self-published titles. I just started reading — for example — a nice story collection by an Irish author living in Thailand and all kinds of special interest books which are lucky to receive more than 5 reviews. Yes, if an indie title has 5 reviews, 2 or 3 are by friends who rave about it, one is a random person eager to dump over a random author, and one is a shallow 2 sentence review by a reader with juvenile standards.

I’m not saying that a book review needs to be long or in-depth. Sometimes just a paragraph is enough to convey the gist, but often we’re not even getting that. In August I was finding remarkable 99 cent titles from Simon & Schuster (i.e., a major publisher), and I was horrified to see how many titles weren’t being reviewed.

One of the problems is related to reduced prices and reduced marketing budgets of indie authors. The bigger problem is the glut of titles and the declining demand for books in general. This may be an oversimplification; casual readers may simply be unaware of how many cheap ebooks are now available, so they end up paying $10 for a title with ample word of mouth. 

Frankly, I am spending a lot of time searching/uncovering and promoting interesting-sounding books which I haven’t yet read. For the Simon & Schuster sale items, I did this because I wanted to let people know about the titles before they returned to their regular prices. But over this year I’ve become extremely comfortable recommending books that I’ve only read a chapter or two from. First, I’ve already researched these titles to know that I would like them and read enough to confirm this suspicion. I’m reasonably confident that my high opinion will be confirmed when I finally read them from start to finish. Consider the titles below:

EXAMPLE:
Nearly complete works of Donald Harington
Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
Nothing remains the same by Wendy Lesser
Life in the Lion’s Mouth by James Dubbs
Love and Other Afflictions by Jonathan Finch
Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett
Broken Places by Susan Perabo
New and Selected Poems by Charles Simic
Marlene and Sofia by Pedro Barrento
Soil by Jamie Kornegay
Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters
Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
South Street by David Bradley
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
White Tiger on Snow Mountain by David Gordon

Aside from the Simic and Dobelli title, I’ve only read one or two chapters from each title, and yet I’m pretty sure that all of them are going to be terrific! (I obtained almost all of these for 99 cents each!)

About half of these titles (the ones published by Simon and Schuster) are currently priced at $12 or so (ugh!), but if you set up a price alert (on ereaderiq), you can almost certainly buy every title for under $3.

The amazing thing about publishing today is that many high quality ebooks are very cheap. Seriously, if I had enough time, I could  make a list that is 3 times as long.

My methods of finding good cheap ebooks are not esoteric. I subscribe to 20+ ebook deal newsletters (and actually read them every day!)  but really the only ones that matter (from the standpoint of indie publishing) are bookgorilla, bargainbooksy and booksends. For midlist titles from the bigger publishers, earlybirdbooks and bookbub will give you more low-cost ebooks than you know what to do with.

Also: I have included my most useful ebook deal links on my blogroll to the right.

Finally Amazon posts some remarkable deals, and indeed, every month it picks about 100 titles published by its inhouse publishing imprints and discounts them to 99 cents. I am not a fan of Kindle Unlimited/Prime Reading, but an increasing percentage of indie published titles are available to read through that.

As if that weren’t enough, Smashwords publishes a lot of low cost/free titles that for some reason don’t make it to Amazon. Often titles are on both Smashwords and Amazon

Certainly an ebook’s price is not the primary consideration when deciding on an ebook to read or buy. Some library enthusiasts say that the price of an ebook should be irrelevant to the consideration of the book’s value because …. can’t you find it for free from the public library?

This indifference to the price of ebooks can be infuriating.

First, I have library cards with three public libraries (two of which are well-stocked and well-funded). I can safely say that these libraries fail to buy about 80% of the new titles out there, and probably 95-97% of the new indie titles.

Second, although I strongly endorse lending services like Lendle which facilitate the lending of Kindle ebooks, publishers of most commercial titles have turned OFF the lending feature for the Kindle version of their ebooks. (To its credit, lendle has been outstanding for sharing and borrowing titles by indie authors on Amazon).

Third, public library systems have their own priorities about what ebooks they acquire. They remain susceptible to the promotions of the Big 5. Also, they have social and community goals (literacy, inclusiveness, political diversity) that doesn’t always result in the smartest of acquisitions. If you don’t believe me, go to your library’s ebook system and look up how many ebooks the library possesses of these authors: 1)Donald Harington, 2)Jack Matthews, 3)Ronan Bennett and 4)Barry Yourgrau.

Next go to your library ebook’s system and look up books by these authors: 1)Ann Coulter, 2)Bill Oreilly, 3)Suzie Orman and 4)Stephanie Meyer.

After you have recovered, taken a shower and (hopefully) gone to confession, you should understand how public libraries can fall short.

For this reason, I’m going to invest more time in publicizing and talking about overlooked books (even if I haven’t actually read them!)   Usually this will take the form of book reviews, capsule reviews and roundups. For the last year or two I have been posting announcements about ebook sales on reddit, teleread and social media. Now though I’m going to try to put as much original stuff on my blog (and then copy them to other places).

New Focus: Smashwords 

Finally, I am giving special attention to the ebook distributor Smashwords.  I recently posted something about how my blog can help Smashwords authors.

First, I am participating in Smashwords’ affiliate marketing program and would love to find a way to monetize this blog AND help other indie authors. (PS, Amazon’s affiliate marketing officially sucks!)

Second, Smashwords is really the best alternative to Amazon.com at the moment.

Third, Smashwords offers coupon codes and lets you price things temporarily for free. These are things not easily done on the Amazon site.

Fourth, Smashwords offers DRM free ebooks — and EPUBs! Horray for ebook standards!

I don’t want to sound anti-Amazon. Amazon is awesome to authors and publishers and readers. But so is Smashwords, and there is no reason why the quality of Smashwords catalog cannot be as high as or higher than Amazon.

Finally and perhaps least importantly, when talking about ebooks on this blog, I’m not going to include an image of the cover of every ebook I talk about. Sounds easy, but actually it’s a chore to do — especially when you’re book blogging. Also, I like my home page to contain full articles (not just the first paragraph or two).  If I include a ton of ebook covers, that will just cause the website to load more slowly.

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My Policy on Writing Book Reviews

(Occasionally I am contacted about my availability to write book reviews. Here’s something I wrote up to explain my policies and preferences). 

About Me: I (Robert Nagle) have a master’s degree in creative writing, run a small ebook publishing company specializing in literary fiction. I also write fiction in various genres and have published two editions of a technical book.  (Here’s a longer bio).

Note: I only review ebooks!

To contact me: write smash AT fastmailbox.net

Please, do not include an ebook attachment in your initial query, but let me know how you’ll get the ebook to me.  If I would like a review copy, I will reply  within 1 week  about my level of interest. 

I have accounts on Netgalley, Smashwords, Instafreebie,  Tor and Amazon. I especially prefer ebooks on sale  on Smashwords (I explain more   below). I am especially interested in titles which have received fewer  than 10 reviews on Amazon.  Any ebook format is ok. I have an account on Booksprout, but this talk about “Booksprout’s freeloader prevention algorithm” seems offputting. Reviewing is not a volume-based business; it is an occasional labor of love!

Where I post reviews: At minimum, I post reviews on Amazon, BN, goodreads, librarything, my blog and Facebook. (Hmm, possibly Kobo too?)  Occasionally I will post on other ezines, blogs or news website, but that is the exception rather than the rule. (The main reason is that it’s often too much trouble to work with literary ezines – contacting them, submitting it to them, etc),On facebook (and sometimes on my blog) I often give informal recommendations for books.  I wouldn’t exactly call them “reviews” but strong endorsements nonetheless.

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Dear Senator Cornyn,

Friday, you said on the floor of the US Senate: “We will not be bullied by the screams of paid protesters and name-calling by the mob.”

To my knowledge, it is not illegal for people to be paid to protest. I know that lobbyists are paid to make their opinion known to you. I know that political organizations provide grants and scholarships for research and opinion pieces. I also know that the overwhelming majority of people who participate in rallies are doing it not primarily for financial reasons but to express their political values. I’m generally fine with that. I know many people who protest without receiving any form of compensation. I also know that political activism is often organized by political groups, which requires some expenses (for signs, etc.) From my limited experience, I know that large donors have deep pockets, while the smaller organizations they support are often run on very little money. And the volunteers they solicit are certainly not paid at all (except through T-shirts and buttons and that sort of thing).

Referring specifically to the Kavanaugh protests, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of protesters were not paid in any fashion. I have googled around and I have seen no supporting information about this claim (except for a gofundme set up to help defray Ms. Blasey Ford’s expenses — which seems reasonable under the circumstances).

Yet you feel comfortable making this poisonous claim without evidence.

Recently, I saw the above  photo which is hilarious/disturbing on so many levels.

First, the men outnumber the women here! Second, these signs weren’t hand made; somebody paid for the t-shirts, signs and even the bus. Update: The 501(c)(3) “Concerned Women For America” which has a 2 score on Charity Navigator, is funded by the Koch Brothers network including Freedom Partners, the Center To Protect Patient Rights, Tc4 Trust, and DonorsTrust. (Source).

Personally, I’m more bothered by these polite but well-funded activists  funded by fossil fuel billionaires than the rowdy people who probably had minimal access to this kind of funding.

I have never voted for you, but it so happens that you and I both graduated from Trinity University (which I was able to attend only because of an academic scholarship).

In early 2004, after a Republican Administration supported by you launched a needless war in Iraq on the flimsiest of evidence, there was a Trinity alumni event which both you and I attended. It was an event intended to help new alumni to do job networking. Your appearance was added to the agenda at the last minute.

I’m guessing that at least half of the Trinity alumns attending had no idea that you were coming — much less who you were. Yet I certainly looked forward to the opportunity to shake your hand and express in a minute or so my concerns about what the US was doing in Iraq.

As you know, some Trinity alumni are politically-minded, but we are generally middle of the road and follow a certain decorum at alumni functions. It was extremely unlikely for anyone to turn it into a protest or shouting match.

To my dismay, when you showed up at the event (where 100 alumni already were present at), you promptly moved to a part of the house which prevented people from talking to you.  Talking to you was not the MAIN reason I was there, but I kept an eye out for an opportunity to have a minute of your time. This event was for job networking — talking to strangers for 1 or 2 minutes was PRECISELY THE POINT of this event.

As far as I know, during that event, you talked to NOBODY. You didn’t shake  hands with anyone but the event’s organizer; all you did was come up to the front when you were introduced. 

At that point, you talked for 4-5 minutes about returning from a trip you had just made to Iraq and what great things the US government was doing there. You talked about how proud we should be of US soldiers in Iraq. At that point, you left.

Your hasty departure left me speechless. Was the whole point of your visit to lecture Trinity alumni about how great the war effort was?

Perhaps on that particular day you were feeling unwell, or had personal business to attend to. But  I was always struck by your rushed exit.  You didn’t even make a minimal effort to meet with and talk to people who basically had no axe to grind or message to deliver. Trinity alumni are not necessarily representative of   Texas demographics; to be frank, many are affluent and Republican-leaning. Yet I was a loss to understand why you were so unwilling to talk to any of them. Do you treat your constituents merely as people to lecture at rather than to listen to?

Personally I’m outraged about the Kavanaugh hearings for a variety of reasons.

First, on substantive grounds I thought Kavanaugh’s rulings on environmental cases was crazy and dangerous. I was concerned that Kavanaugh was involved in numerous partisan activities that was unbecoming for a judge.

Second, I think the Senate and White House blocked the releases of a lot of records related to Kavanaugh’s past.

Third, I thought Kavanaugh’s testimony about the accusations was belligerent and immoderate; some of his answers bordered on the risible.  This is not the desired temperament for a Supreme Court justice.

Fourth, the way the Senate and White House attacked the accusers was pretty awful. I thought Ms. Swetnick’s claims were very credible. Even if they didn’t implicate Kavanaugh directly, they came from one of many eyewitnesses who say that Mr. Kavanaugh engaged in a considerable amount of drinking and boorish behavior in high school and college. They suggest a pattern of youthful behavior which I found disturbing. I am Kavanaugh’s age and like him attended  an all-boys Jesuit high school  — and yet I never drank. Most of the smart and responsible people I knew at Strake Jesuit in Houston rarely or never drank. As much as I would like to say that people outgrow their excesses of high school and college, I have to wonder whether Mr. Kavanaugh has properly owned up to his past and whether other  judges with less excessive pasts are out there.

Fifth, I was really disturbed by the way  Senate Republicans released sensitive sexual history information of Ms. Swetnick, a witness who made a very serious claim about Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic violence condemned this practice

We are appalled and outraged that the Senate Judiciary Committee leadership has released a statement about comments of a sexual nature allegedly made by Julie Swetnick. Such a statement is unacceptable in all events, but particularly because it attempts to smear someone who has not had the opportunity to be interviewed by the FBI. The release of this statement violates the intent of the Rape Shield Rule drafted by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 and voted into law by Congress in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994. This federal rule is meant to safeguard the victim against the invasion of privacy, potential embarrassment and sexual stereotyping that is associated with public disclosure of intimate sexual details and the infusion of sexual innuendo into the factfinding process. The Senate Judiciary Committee has posted this statement on its website, in violation of the spirit of its own Rule.

In a sworn statement, Ms. Swetnick states she was sexually assaulted. Yet to date, she has not been interviewed by the FBI. Nevertheless, Senate leadership has engaged in a no-holds-barred personal attack on her. It is not unusual for a survivor to describe an experience of sexual violence in ways that do not reveal the full reality of the experience or to try and normalize the experience. However, even aside from these very common reactions, it is unthinkable that the Senate Judiciary Committee would have released this statement publicly and attacked her in this way.

I have written you in the past about climate change and health care and possibly other issues. In general, your position have upheld corporate interests and showed a lack of concern for the underclass.

Perhaps you have been listening to the wrong kinds of people.

Robert Nagle is a Houston writer and blogger who dreams one day of being paid to protest — or  being paid in general.  He runs the ebook press, Personville Press. 

Update 1. Washington Post debunks the nation perpetrated by Trump and others that Soros is bankrolling Kavanaugh protesters

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CATS ON FILM by Anne Billson (BOOK REVIEW)

CATS ON FILM by Anne Billson (2017),  300  pages with illustrations. Author’s Website and Book Blog 

Ebook: Amazon/Smashwords  . Price: $6.99

Print Editions: Used copies are available, but with ebooks so cheap, why bother?

Summary: Critical  look at movies with cats in them. The book is a real hoot to read — great insights and erudite movie  snark.

Recommended if you like:  Quirky film references, anything catty, Disney movies, horror movies.

CATS ON FILM gives a delightful and irreverent tour through world cinema from the standpoint of the cats who appear in it. This book grew out of a blog with the same name and  does not take itself too seriously. The book introduces various cat archetypes: CATAGONIST, HEROPUSS, CAPANION, CATZILLA, PUSILLA, CATRIFICE, CATGUFFIN and many more. To be honest, I am not particularly a cat lover (they’re ok, but…), and I had  hardly given a second thought about cats in film until picking up this book.  Probably the only movie I could think of with a cat theme would be CAT PEOPLE, and this book doesn’t talk about it at all except parenthetically.  What a shock it was to see discussions of so many movies with significant cat cameos.  THIRD MAN, NYMPHOMANIAC (!), Kieslowski’s BLUE, the GODFATHER, the original POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, the original FLY, LA DOLCE VITA, STRAW DOGS,  CLOCKWORK ORANGE (!) 1900, PROOF,  TRUE GRIT, DAY FOR NIGHT, AWFUL TRUTH, GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (!), THE LEOPARD, and many, many more. My first reaction was, wow, there are cats in all these movies? Aside from HARRY AND TONTO, I had hardly noticed them!

This is a logical and well-organized work — you can find a list of film discussed at the logical Table of Contents at the beginning (though it would have been better to have hyperlinks).   It can be fun to stumble upon the unexpected, and the book itself has  glorious color photographs and helpful labels like “Major Cat Movie.” Clearly Ms. Billson writes with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema (she has also published several movie guides and writes about movies regularly for the “Guardian”). I found new insights about movies I thought I already knew (or at least, I thought I did!) I  now know about a lot of obscure films simply because of the odd fact that it has a cat in it.

Because Billson already is an accomplished novelist (specifically in horror, mystery, vampires and other things), the book has unexpected bonuses. For the movie ALIEN she does a brilliant interior monologue of the same story from the cat’s point of view. (You remembered that there was a cat in that movie, right? I didn’t!) For the movie INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the book has a nice extended piece (The Moggyssey) teasing out the Homeric aspects to the plot. (By the way, I totally did not remember the movie having a cat in it!) For STUART LITTLE, she makes a tongue-in-cheek proposal to change the title of the movie to “Snowbell” (because the cat  character is more interesting and complex). Billson writes:

Since Hollywood is largely run by dog people, cats are often relegated to secondary characters with bad attitudes, typified by animated propaganda such as LADY AND THE TRAMP, CINDERELLA, TOM AND JERRY or MERRY MELODIES shorts featuring Tweetie Pie and Sylvester, which try to brainwash children into thinking cats are evil or stupid, while dogs, rodents and birds are virtuous and should be given carte blanche to torment the felines.

These creative takes are fun, clever and interesting.

The book spends a lot of time on cats in genres like horror, James Bond and kid’s movies (which is to be expected). I particularly appreciated Billson’s speculation about the cats themselves as opposed to the role they are expected to play in the movie. She guesses when more than one cat is used for the same cat character in a movie (like THIRD MAN) and provides horrifying backstory about how cats were actually mistreated during the shooting of the film (as in ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS).

This clever book is based on a conceit that cats are more than story props. It’s an intriguing (though now obvious) idea. Fake soliloquys notwithstanding, I don’t get the impression that the book is trying to anthropomorphize the cat characters; it is just suggesting an alternate and yes, a more compassionate way to read movies. The book is a celebration of cats for what they naturally are in mainstream movies; At the same time, there’s more than enough  obscure Japanese, European, animation and old genre movies described here to make the ardent film buff happy.

RELATED: I also recommend the illustrated book of fairy tales, A Cat may look at a King

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June 25 Update. I emailed this message a month ago to one of the library branch managers. Because of the issue’s importance, I have decided to forward the message to Clara Russell, the Fort Bend library director.  Below is the note I included with my original letter and then the original letter itself. 

Letter to Ms. Russell

Dear Ms. Russell:

On May 6 I wrote a complaint letter to the branch manager of the library I regularly visit (Cinco Ranch) without receiving a reply. The complaint was about buying “clean versions” of music CDs.

Just recently I checked out a Grammy-nominated best-selling music CD, “Rainbow” by Kesha. Kesha is not only a critically acclaimed pop singer, she was also embroiled in a recent dispute with her music producer over sexual harassment. Regardless of what you think about this dispute, it is indisputable that  Kesha is in touch with the cultural zeitgeist, the “Me too” movement and youth culture. She uses a moderate amount of profanity in her songs, but in one or two songs of the “Rainbow” album,  she uses profanity pointedly as a form of cultural reappropriation. Indeed, the nation’s leading music magazine “Rolling Stone” published a long essay about her song “Woman” where Kesha explains that in the context of this “female empowerment song,” she had earned the right to use swear words:

That day in particular I felt like I had earned the right call myself a motherfucking woman. I have always been a feminist, but for much of my life I felt like a little girl trying to figure things out. In the past few years, I have felt like a woman more than ever. I just feel the strength and awesomeness and power of being female. We hold the key to humanity. We decide if we populate the Earth, and if so, with whom. We could just decide not to have any more kids and the human race would be over. That is power. I just really fucking love being a woman and I wanted an anthem for anyone else who wants to yell about being self-sufficient and strong. (Yes, men, this song can be for you too.).

Here’s what the Fort Bend library version of this song sounds like:. In effect, the Fort Bend version of the song ruins the effect of the lyrics  and undermines the very empowerment message embedded inside the song.

Here’s how the artist intended the song to sound:

This is not a selected instance of censorship. To me, this seems to be an institutional effort to systematically remove musical examples of vulgar language in its collection — while making no such effort in prose or cinema.

If this were the 1980s, perhaps you can justify the removal by pointing to examples of misogyny or hate speech in the rap music genre. But now Fort Bend is censoring songs across the spectrum, including a well-known album described by critics as embodying female empowerment.

If your acquisitions department didn’t have enough funds to buy the album or if it thought that buying other items were more culturally important, I could at least respect your decision. But here your library has decided as an institution and as a matter of policy to refrain from buying an entire category of  material simply because of word choice.   That is unfortunate and harmful in the long run.

Original Letter (sent 1 month ago)

Dear Fort Bend Library Manager:

I am writing about the music CD collection both at your branch and the Fort Bend library system.

Thank you for maintaining a  growing collection of music in CD media form. I realize that library systems experience pressure to stream/digitalize their collection, but CD media are more permanent and can be repurposed for a variety of platforms. They also are not encrypted in any way and do not depend on Internet access.

This may sound counterintuitive, but having access to streaming music and music CDs through the library makes it MORE likely for patrons like me to spend money on music. No matter how much a library tries, the amount of albums it has in its collection will remain only a small fraction of what recordings have been made and sold.  The chance to hear library copies of one or two albums by an artist increases the likelihood that I will support the artist (through concert tickets and purchasing downloadable music).

But I am concerned that the Fort Bend Library system has a clear preference for purchasing  “clean” or “edited” music CDs over the normal commercial versions.

I don’t normally listen to rap music with explicit lyrics; on the other hand, I would expect that a library collection not to exclude the explicit version of these albums.

I recently checked out two albums from Cinco Ranch: “Damn” by Kendrick Lamar and “Beautiful Trauma” by Pink. Both are extremely popular albums and have mainstream appeal. Neither is particularly known for using vulgar or derogatory lyrics. I have taken the time personally to check the uncensored lyrics for both albums. The profanity on both albums is very mild.

Unfortunately, Fort Bend bought the “edited” music CD of both the Kendrick Lamar and the Pink album. This library system chose NOT to buy the original unedited version of either album.

Kendrick Lamar’s album won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music. This actually was historic because it is the first time ever that a popular music album has won this prestigious award.

As I explore Fort Bend’s collection of music CDs, I keep noticing that a huge number of rap albums CDs are available from Fort Bend only in “edited” versions. Indeed, just to satisfy my curiosity (and to waste maybe 15 minutes), I went to Cinco Ranch branch’s music section, pulled all the rap music CDs and checked the online catalog. My spot check of rap music CDs at Cinco Ranch branch library  is that about 80 percent of the albums at the branch are marked “clean”, and probably ZERO of the albums with clean versions have explicit versions circulating in the library system. Further study would be required, but I am guessing that this trend is true not just as this branch but the entire music collection in the system.

Hoopla carries original versions for SOME of these albums, but not all and certainly not the older albums.

I am not a huge fan of rap music or or profanity in general. I can understand how in some contexts (at school or on the radio), it may be necessary to restrict the playing of songs with explicit lyrics. On the other hand, I value being able to hear the work as the artist originally intended. The Pulitzer judges apparently decided that the profanity on the Kendrick Lamar didn’t detract from its cultural importance; why should Fort Bend library decide otherwise?

We are not in middle school. I  am 52 years old!  Presumably, someone who checks out a music CD is playing it for private use, and social mores have changed to a point where teenagers today listen and watch material with a lot more explicit language than during the years of my youth.

During my last visit to Cinco Ranch branch’s DVD section, I noticed    Clockwork Orange, The Godfather and  Seven. All three are lauded R-rated  movies with explicit and highly provocative content. It would not occur to most people or libraries to ask that the Hollywood Studios which made these movies to  sell a “sanitized” version of these movies.  Why then should public libraries have different rules about music albums?

Having only edited versions of albums sends an unfortunate message to patrons that individuals are not entitled to experience art works the way the artist intended. Also, by making only edited versions available, you are trying the hide the coarseness that the musician wished to convey.

I don’t particularly object to libraries deciding not to purchase works with too much vulgarity; but if you think that an item is worth purchasing, you should buy the version that is closest to what the creator wanted.

As much as I enjoy checking out music CDs and appreciate what resources you offer to the patrons in your county, I recognize that fairly soon it will make more sense for the library to focus on investing in its streaming collection.

Regardless of how this library develops their music collection, I would like to see the library system commit itself to no longer buying “clean versions” of music. Doing so strikes me as culturally retrograde.

Sincerely,

Robert Nagle

PS, One other thing is that although the metadata in the catalog discloses that a CD is edited, the physical CDs show no such indication, making it practically impossible for patrons to know whether the music CD is the original version or a sanitized version.

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(These sales are valid until midnight on Saturday March 10.  I’ll be adding more titles until that time.   If you have any free/almost free titles to recommend from SW, please list it in the comments. Thanks!]

Smashwords may not yet be a household name yet to readers, but it serves as a great alternative to Amazon for ebooks.  For publishers and authors, Smashwords provides a gateway for authors to get their ebooks in  stores like Kobo, Apple, Overdrive (but alas, not Google Books). The main  drawback  of getting ebooks through Smashwords (which I actually consider to be an advantage) is that you have to manually put the DRM-free ebook/epub files on your ereader/tablet/phone of choice.  (My personal preference is to download EPUB files and then upload them to GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS  which is found on all android devices.  Alternatively, if you use iphone/ios, just download them (or email to youself) and then open in the iBooks app. Many titles here also provide .mobi files for sending to your Kindle (and often PDF).

Another advantage of finding ebooks at Smashwords is that it’s much easier to offer discounts or sales or free ebooks than on Amazon.  This is especially true during Ebookweek on March 4-10 where a lot of ebooks  have  (temporary) reductions in price. Amazon will always have a significantly larger ebook catalog (duh!), but for this next week,  prices on ebooks by Smashwords authors are  likely to be significantly lower on Smashwords than on Amazon.com! 

It can be a challenge to find  gems on Smashwords. You have book descriptions, but rarely reviews (although you can just go to the Amazon.com page or Goodreads to see what readers are saying about it).  A lot of Smashwords titles are shorter (like less than 20 pages — yikes!), the percentage of Adult-content titles is higher (ugh!), and the inventory of nonfiction titles can be pretty lame in comparison to what you see on Amazon. On the other hand, high quality fiction, memoirs, poetry, self-help and random academic titles are plentiful on Smashwords — certainly comparable to what you’d find on Amazon.com  To summarize:

You can always find  great, cheap shit on Smashwords!

The challenge is  that so few names are ones you’d recognize, and  most people don’t have time to go through individual titles. Fortunately, I have done the necessary legwork.   Below is  a list of several underappreciated and overlooked titles on Smashwords I found during the week which are free or very cheap.  Caveats: 1)I strongly prefer literary fiction to genre, I don’t like series, and I am  biased against certain genres. 2)I have only browsed book descriptions, author background and maybe read a sample chapter for these titles (i.e., I haven’t finished the books). But all sound very promising.  3)I’m overlooking titles with less than 20,000 words, and  4)I generally don’t care about how popular a title has been. The less popular, the more likely I am to mention it!

Note: Prices listed will take into account the coupon/discount for this week only. After this week, these prices might no longer be valid (but I suspect most will be decent deals anyway).

Literature & Literary Collections

  1.  (Free!) Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews.  My Personville Press  publishes several titles by this great Ohio writer of philosophical stories  (see my book description and biographical sketch ).  Also check out the (Free) story sampler, Three Times Time . Also, I discounted another story collection Soldier Boys to $1 for this week only (which I think is one of his best works).
  2. (All Free!) Fiction and Poetry by  Paul Hina.  Hina is an incredible and prolific author who sells on both Amazon and Smashwords — except that all his titles on Amazon cost money, while on SW, they  are free! I read and loved the Other Shore: Two Stories of Love and Death which I would call highbrow romance in the vein of D.H. Lawrence or Somerset Maugham. It’s about a troubled son of a famous poet who returns to his hometown (and dying father) to deal with the family issues which he’d been avoiding.  In my review, I wrote: “the book captures romance and domestic drama with psychological nuance. Hina writes incredibly well and with tenderness about unique relationship situations and flawed but complex characters.”  Hina has several poetry collections — which I thumbed through. All interesting and expressive.  Grab these titles while you can (before Hina wises up and starts pricing them on SW for nonfree!).
  3. (Free!) Eye of a Needle: And Other Stories. Cornelia Fick (her website) . Here’s a collection of flash fiction/prose pieces about relationships and marriage by South African author (and nurse) Cornelia Fick which was her master’s thesis when she was studying creative writing at Rhodes U. She dabbles in poetry and experimental forms (the book description mentions Lydia Davis, Maxine Chernoff and Flannery O’Connor — and certainly the stories are ironic and observational). Watch out for (and enjoy) the nutty-sounding South African dialect!
  4. (Free!) Fine Print and Other Yarns by Dinesh Verma.  9 separate stories about 9 different Indians visiting Paris during the 1980s and 1990s. Verma works for the Indian government studied overseas in several countries (including Paris) and recently published a translation of stories by  the 19th century  Hindi author Premchand. The first story is a masterful tale about a disappointment experienced by an Indian art lover when given two days to visit Paris. This is an ebook version of a book which was positively reviewed in several Indian literary publications several years ago.
  5. (Always Free!). Speaking of Work: A Story of Love, Suspense and Paperclips. Literary Anthology, with contributions from Jonathan Ames, Lee Child,Jonathan Safran Foer,Aimee Mann, Gary Shteyngart, Joyce Carol Oates, and others.  (PS, it’s also a free download on the Xerox project site). The book seems to be a collaboration between the 92nd St Y and the  Xerox company, and based on my superficial impressions, the stories are based in New York  offices.
  6.  (Free!) Various Novels by Anne Billson  I raved about Billson’s  film books below, and special mention needs to be made of her novels (all of which are also free this week).  They  run the gamut from horror to satire to supernatural. From her own descriptions: SUCKERS (an upwardly mobile vampire novel), STIFF LIPS (a Notting Hill ghost story), THE EX (a supernatural detective story) and THE COMING THING (Rosemary’s Baby meets Bridget Jones) . As I mentioned above, I don’t read much horror, but I will note that Suckers, (her first novel)  was very well-received by readers and critics (one reviewer called it Bret Easton Ellis meets Anne Rice). Also, Stiff Lips has lots of great blurbs: “‘Sexy, sardonic and distinctly spooky… a tale to make you shiver – if you don’t die laughing first’ (Cosmopolitan).
  7. (Free/Set Your Own Price) Call me a Taxi  by Terry Ravenscroft.  Ravenscroft is a very accomplished writer for British TV comedies; he’s also been publishing a lot of novels in a similar vein.  This novel (which I’ve read two chapters of) is about an out-of-work man with the uncanny resemblance to  Oliver Hardy who runs into a strange neighborhood character who resembles Stan Laurel. It’s a promising start to what will surely be a series of comic misadventures mixed with occasional Mitty-esque returns to  glum reality.  Also,  the Razzamatazz Not Entirely PC Encylopedia is like a Devil’s Dictionary for modern times.   These two Ravenscroft works are likely to remain Set Your Own Price after this week, but about a third of his remaining ebooks are free for Ebook week: Stairlift to Heaven, Good Old George! and Dear Coca Cola  (humorous letters to corporations actually sent to companies).
  8. (99 cents) White Mythology: Two Novellas by W.D. Clarke. Clarke is an Ontario-based Pynchon-loving scholar who writes lots of smartypants fiction in the fine tradition of Joyce/Pynchon/Barth/Daniel Foster Wallace. Here are two novellas which showcase Clarke’s dazzling but always  readable style. The first  (longer) novella  describes in stream-of-consciousness manner  the crazy life and thoughts of a certain psychiatrist, Dr. Ed, as he goes through his day . The second novella captures a series of interrelated whimsical conversations and intrigue between various  American expats in Japan.  The first novella is more focused and introspective; the second is more rambling and silly (Those are my initial impressions at least).  Apparently, these two are part of a “Skinner Boxed” thematically-linked series of  novellas. (Apparently, many people  on Goodreads  have reviewed it, using phrases like  “clever,” “wild ride,” the “perfect book for these chaotic, stressful times”). (If you are wondering more about the author, check out this curmudgeonly blog post).
  9. (Free!) Tales by KindleLight by Kate Rigby.  Rigby is a highly accomplished British author who has about 10 titles. They are budget-priced, but generally high quality, quirky, unpredictable, experimental, always trying new subjects, full of British slang and attitude.   This story collection has some sexy and bittersweet stories — and one (“Sharing Sarah” about a strange love triangle where two best friends try to date the same girl simultaneously) made me laugh aloud. Two other longer works are free: Are you Dead? (described as “An edgy, contemporary tale about death and suicide and its effects on two families….Written in bite-sized sections in a colloquial style with elements of black humour and surrealism”) and Little Guide to Unhip (a fun but insubstantial series of rants about unhip things like “Umbrellas,” “early birds,”  Christmas, Badminton, Vicar of Dibley, etc.). Two other nonfree works deserve mention:  Fall of the Flamingo Circus — her first novel about a rebellious punk teenage girl during the 1970s which  lots of positive reviews when it came out in  on Amazon. Also Did You Whisper Back? an award winning  1991 novella about a psychological breakdown of  a girl seeking her twin sister.
  10. (new-Free!) New Old World by C.D. Stowell. Magnum opus 200,000 word semi-autographical novel about a 39 year Oregon photographer reflecting on her life as she travels to various places (and continents). Stowell herself is an award winning photographer who published a creative nonfiction book about an Indian reservation in the 1980s.  In her interview,  she mentions that it took 25 years to complete this novel and that she’s an admirer of Louise Erdrich,  David Mitchell and James Welch. The book itself includes some of her photos. One reviewer said  it had ” top-notch word-smithing, perfectly complimented by the author’s artful photography” and another called it “a brilliant, absorbing, and moving work of fiction.”

  Essays

  1. (Free!) Cats on Film by Anne Billson (and lots more by her).  Billson is  a prolific film critic, cat-lover  and novelist  who runs several special interest blogs and sometimes writes reviews for the Guardian. (Her blog is here). This book contains dozens of essays (and movie stills)  about  cats who have appeared in movies, and although the topic and style is humorous, it’s seriously  tries to understand what role they play in each movie, as well as comment on what they add (or don’t add) to the movie itself.  Each chapter looks at a different kind of cat movie role — the Catagonist, the Heropuss, Catrifice, Catguffin, Catscallion, Cataphor …. Oh, I’m dying here! This is one of those books you’d never thought you’d want to read, and yet I can imagine, spending a lot of time  on reading it(yes,  now, I’ll be watching some of the mentioned movies just to see the cats). This is a MUST BUY!
  2. (Free!) Multiple Titles of Movie Criticism by Anne Billson (see above). Unbelievably, all the Billson titles on SW are free this week. Check out especially the Billson Film Database (500,000 words, that’s about 5x the size of most movie reference guides). Also check out Spoilers Part 1 (1989-1995) and Spoilers Part 2 (1995-2001). (Several other collections are available for free this week).  These are solid, interesting books; watch out Kael and Ebert!
  3. (Always Free!) Dead Media Notebook by Bruce Sterling and Others. This is an encyclopedia about failed/obsolete technologies. Sci fi author and futurist Bruce Sterling  once made an offhanded remark that somebody should write about failed technologies, and this ebook is the result. A random hodgepodge of historical and technological curiosities.(Free!)

Social Science and History

  1. ($2) Sacred History of Being by Thomas Yaeger. This book  of ancient scholarship by a scholar of ancient languages  intrigued me so much that I ended up buying the ebook at 75% off. The book argues that philosophy and the conception of the divine, the nature of reality and being came about well before the Greek philosophers; Yaeger examines historical evidence from cultures predating the Greeks to establish this thesis. Another fascinating and slightly more accessible book, Understanding Ancient Thought  ($1 for this week only) tries to get inside the mind of ancient humans from different cultures in Greece, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Mexico and Asia. You can view the Table of Contents for this book on Yaeger’s blog.
  2. (Free!) Be a Hater: A Polemic on the Hater Mindset by Wes Parham. This erudite but unclassifiable book is a spirited and lively defense of contrarianism in contemporary society.  The book engages the reader with pop culture references (i.e., Taylor Swift’s “Haters gonna hate”), first person narratives, humor and lots of discussions of recent books on psychology and cognition. Interestingly, the book talks very little about politics; Parham has an MBA and PhD in organizational leadership and works in education.

Science and Medicine

  1. (Free!) Snake Oil is Alive and Well by Morton E. Tavel MD.  Tavel is a doctor, professor, medical researcher and grandfather with a distinguished  history in the medical field. This book is an introduction to how to evaluate medical claims and  recognize medical quackery before it  bites you in the butt. The companion book, Health Tips, Myths and Tricks,  contains 2-3 page chapters about ways to stay healthy and fit (similar to Dr. Weil’s books) and full of practical advice. The topics are probably familiar: Eating breakfast, health benefits of green tea, whether you should eat less red meat, that sort of thing. Overall, good and informative, with the caveats that the book research might be out of date (it was published in 2015), the topics are not covered in great depth, and unfortunately, there are some major formatting errors in the book (like, there are a few chapter titles minus chapters — alas, they appear OK  later in the book!). But the content is all there and readable.

Memoir/Biography

  1. (Free!)25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back. Edited by Stacy Juba.  (Free also on Amazon). Juba explains that she used to write articles  for her publications  with a “25 (or 50) years ago today” theme. Then she thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to ask my writing friends what they were doing exactly 25 years ago? This readable anthology is the result. Juba was going to write a mystery  about a person who writes  these “25 years ago today” articles and stumbles upon an unsolved murder mystery. (Ah, published only on Amazon but very well reviewed). Juba has published several chicklist/YA fiction that are somewhat light-hearted and well-reviewed on Amazon
  2. (Free!)Footnote to a Dream by Benny Michel. This is an autobiography of a well-known South African musician, his rise during the “Big Band” era, his affliction with polio and living as a Jew in the early days of Johannesburg’s history. I picked this title less for its literary qualities than the fact that I just found the subject matter interesting in and of itself. (BTW, I had problems opening the EPUB file, but managed to send the .mobi file to my kindle app without problem).
  3. (Free!)An Incredible Talent for Existing by Pamela Jane. Jane is the author of 30 books (mostly children’s books). Here is a memoir for adults about going from the idyllic childhood of the 50s to the turbulent sixties and beyond. I had time only to flip through the chapters, but she spends a lot of time on childhood (and her encounters with various children’s literary works) and college. Highly readable, literate and thoughtful, full of photographs and cultural details, this is a book I probably would never go out of my way to buy, but I think that it will be easy to fall into this memoir (like a character from a children’s book might fall into some inner fantasy land).  BTW, I noticed a nice blogpost by the author about outstanding books for memoir writers.

I probably wouldn’t be able to recommend any titles in the genres below, but if you have something to recommend (or other genres), feel free to indicate.

Sci Fi/Fantasy

  1. (2.99 — not free! )  Onset, Reset, Mindset by E.L. Russell. First, this ebook (actually a trilogy in one volume) is a medical/scientific thriller about a young female athlete (and medical student) who suffers a severe injury, and through genetic reprogramming becomes more than human with special powers. I mention it here because I ran  into Mr. Russell at a local writers’ event. Russell has a PHD in Math, has worked in technology research all his life and now cowrites these technical thrillers with his wife. I found the man and the background behind his sci fi novels to be fascinating and thought-provoking.  I don’t read much sci fi, and I haven’t read this one yet — though I definitely plan to.  The author has lots of ebooks on Smashwords — and some of his shorter works are free, and if I recall, the ebooks contain instructions about how to get other free ebooks by him.

Finally,  remember that these are titles which caught my eye.  Surely I’ve overlooking a lot.  If you have one or titles to recommend from Smashwords, list it below (links are ok, but try not to mention more than 2 titles, especially if you are mentioning your own titles. I’ll approve your comments fairly quickly).

Special Note for SW Authors Listed Here:  If you’d like to provide a custom SW coupon code for a discounted price valid after this week, send me an email ( idiotprogrammer AT fastmailbox.net ). I’d be more than happy to help you sell your stuff!

Finally, as I mentioned above, I run Personville Press. SW currently has three Jack Matthews titles, but I should have 3 more Matthews titles  by Matthews in a month or so. A fourth volume (a short story collection) will be released at the end of 2018. I keep a page of Smashwords coupon codes for Jack Matthews  which I regularly update, so check there for the latest deals.  Incidentally, I’ll be publishing my first fiction title (a short story collection) this summer. It will be listed on the Personville Press page at Smashwords — when it’s ready.

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Ok, here’s my list of things I’ve been enthusiastic about in the year 2017.  Anything which I highlighted in red and bold are not just great stuff, but things which bowled me over and probably will bowl you over too.

AUDIO PLAY (45 minutes): PROGRESS OF THE SOUL OF LIZZIE CALVIN . This free/streamable drama by poet Michael Symmons Roberts imagines a dialogue between a human soul and all the other creatures of the world. Entertaining, poetic, melancholy, profound, starring Glenda Jackson as the main soul. BBC’s Drama of the Week are almost always a treat, and they force you to experience stories in unexpected ways. This fully realized work sends you into a new and amazing world….

MOVIES AND TV SHOWS

It probably shouldn’t count, but over the last decade I’ve been a fan of this PBS travel show called “GLOBE TREKKER“, a one hour show where a young enthusiastic adult travels to some farflung country or city. I’ve been trying to watch all the episodes, and realized earlier this year that the reason I couldn’t find it in my local library was that the show is listed under “Pilot Productions” or “Pilot Film and Television Productions.” Suddenly I realize to my delight that my library in fact has over 100 episodes.

It’s hard to describe what’s so special about this series. Maybe it’s the fact that the hosts are so charming and adventurous or the fact that they go out of their way to seek out the nontouristy things. For example, I was eagerly looking forward to their Ukraine episode (a country I thought I knew pretty well). Instead of hitting the usual destinations, they visited an S&M themed cafe in Lviv, a former USSR missile base and finally Chernobyl. Talk about tourist attractions! In the last 2 weeks I watched a 3 part 3 hour excursion through Indonesia, a wild trip through Uganda and the Congo, and an amazing train ride through Vietnam. While watching these episodes, I realize that they were filmed in the early 2000s, and that these places have probably changed a lot since then.

On Netflix I watched a great ABC miniseries called “THE ASSETS” about the CIA analysts who figure out that Aldrich Ames is the mole revealing the identity of defectors. I usually don’t like docudramas, but the acting and dialogue and suspense was all great. (Plus, there’s an interesting twist near the end I never could have predicted). The great thing about these docu-dramas is that they usually arose from an interesting book (It had to be, or else a studio wouldn’t have made it!). The added bonus is that watching the movie or TV show doesn’t spoil any enjoyment of the original book.

The same happened for the BIG SHORT, a caustic movie about the subprime crisis. I saw the movie a year ago but was driven to watch it again and savor the details. (Although the movie presents these details very effectively, the details are very complex, and even more complex when you go back and read Michael Lewis’ book). (Update: The more I ponder this movie, the more interesting it seems; it aims not only to educate, but to warn. It also tries to dramatize the abstract. Yes, the moralizing seems a bit too much, but this movie will soon join the list of most subversive movies about America. By the way, if you watch clips from this movie on youtube, the comment section is filled with MBA and economics type trying to understand every detail and artistic choice of the movie).

Perhaps I should also mention PHILOMENA, a road trip movie about a reporter and a mother who travel to USA to locate her long lost son. Terrific movie inspired by a nonfiction book. Similarly terrific was the FOUNDER (about the life of Ray Croc who founded MacDonalds). I enjoyed that movie if for no reason that I found the subject of how McDonalds got started to be fascinating, and the movie does not sugar coat anything. I guess I should also mention two longtime fave movies inspired by books, APOLLO 13 and DOWNFALL. (I was much less impressed by the maudlin you go girl, Hidden Figures).

I was intrigued and mystified and spellbound by Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE. The movie is a shock to the system; I feel misled and misdirected, but ultimately I buy into the movie’s obsessions with illusion at any cost. Yes, I think, magicians could actually be that way.

AVE, 2011 Bulgarian drama film directed by Konstantin Bojanov. Bulgarian teenagers hitchhiking to get to a funeral. God, this tragi-comedy was an absolute masterpiece!

I’ve been a fan of the TV comedy series SCHITT’S CREEK (also Netflix), this hilarious tale about a wealthy and superficial family who lose all their money and have to move to a rural town they allegedly own. There’s a lot of comic potential here, plus an interesting statement about the American dream, urban sophistication vs. rural naivety. A father and son not only play the main parts, they are the executive producers (plus the real life daughter/sister has a minor role). This series is warm and gently satirical in a Garrison Keillor way. The show SEEMS to be condescending towards the people who live in Schitt’s Creek, but in fact it is respectful and engages in good-natured ribbing on all sides.

I finally got around to watching FRANCES HA, which is turning out to be one of my favorite quirky movies. It’s the kind of movie I can turn on at any random place and just enjoy the great dialogue. For example, the set piece about visiting Paris has to be one of my alltime faves — makes me feel that I’ve already been there…. Whenever I feel a desire to actually go, all I need to do is to rewatch that part of the movie.

I have started watching operas on DVD, which I’ve decided is really the only way to experience opera. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the librettos so much for two operas, Eugen Onegin and Puccini’s Turandot (this version directed by Zeffirelli at the MET). I hope someday to be able to afford to go to live opera in Houston — we have a pretty active opera house.

(Speaking of which, I’ve become a huge fan of the Great Lecture series on music by Robert Greenberg. Greenberg is a great teacher about classical music and music history and opera, and I hope to go through all his musical series very soon).

Merlin (on Netflix) is a great British series about the adventures of King Arthur and Merlin. It has a unique take: Merlin is a teenage boy who must hide his magic powers from King Arthur while being his bumbling personal servant. Lavish sets, great acting and dialogue (although unfortunately the possible plots are limited by the number of characters in the show). There’s a dragon (played by John Hurt) who utters all these cryptic messages… I loved this series to death, and the series ended on a high note — I am happy to say.

BOOKS:

It is hard to explain. I open so many books, but finish so few. This is the first year that I actually read a good bit — mainly nonfiction, not fiction. I don’t have time to read for pleasure. I’ve mainly reading for a specific purpose or because it’s about an oddball topic. In 2018 the ratio of fiction-to-nonfiction will be considerably higher.

MADE TO STICK, by Chip Heath. Definitely the most useful nonfiction book of the year! It’s about how to optimize your business messaging.

DEEP WORK by Cal Newport. This learning expert talks about how to work without distraction. Newport has great insights into learning. It’s too bad that he thinks that every problem is like a computer programming problem.

DAILY RITUALS: HOW ARTISTS WORK by Mason Curry consists of 1-2 page vignetttes about how artists, writers and scientists work. Fascinating to read.

TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. This is a lovely realistic novel about growing up in poverty in the early 20th century. Apparently this book is widely beloved (and was made into a movie) but is now forgotten.

NIGHT AT THE OPERA: IRREVERENT GUIDE TO THE PLOTS, SINGERS, COMPOSERS, RECORDINGS by Denis Forman. This is a cheap kindle opera reference book. It also is great fun to read. (Update: Apparently the kindle price went way up. It’s not that great, but if good if you can buy it for a bargain price).

INSIDE OF A DOG by Alexandra Horowitz. A deep discussion about dog consciousness from the standpoint of a biologist. Great, fascinating book! (This book is about a dog’s nature, but there’s another book WHAT PHILOSOPHY CAN TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR DOG by Steven Hales is more about philosophy).

REALITY IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS by Carlo Rovelli. Famous introductory lessons into physics by an Italian physicist.

TRYING NOT TO TRY: ANCIENT CHINA, MODERN SCIENCE, AND THE POWER OF SPONTANEITY by Edward Slingerland . This is a deep and thoughtful book that encompasses ancient philosophy and contemporary psychology. I checked out and renewed this book about a dozen times, and to my luck, the ebook was offered through bookbub for $1.99

Biographies: I’ve been reading through several biographies (on Erasmus, Bach, Melville). Haven’t finished one of them!

ORIENTATION AND OTHER STORIES, Daniel Orozco. I only read half of the stories in this collection (they are all great). I just wanted to mention that my library has a special section specifically for short stories. I love grabbing a random book and reading one or two stories from them…

MY publishing Projects:

As you know I’ve been publishing ebooks by author Jack Matthews. I was going to publish my “Minor Sketches and Reveries” story collection this year, but several things happened. First, I ended up switching the stories around a bit and writing some new stories. Then I realized that one of the stories was too long to fit in the collection. Getting this collection finally ready should turn out to be a kind of anti-climax, but expect it next summer.

I went to my local writers’ group, and realized to my amazement that none of my stories have heroes or villians. So I am resolved that from this point forward, I will include more heroes and villians in anything I write.

Here’s a comic sketch I performed at a storytelling event about a talking stop sign. When I performed the story, I quoted the lines of a Fleetwood Mac song as though I were reciting Shakespeare.

MUSIC.

(Note: In most cases I have been able to give links to bandcamp page which lets you hear the album in full).

MIRAGE DREAMS BY Breanna Barbara. Stirring and emotionally fraught gothic blues by a Minnesota-born female crooner. Haunting melodies and guitars, but Barbara’s vocals really sear the soul.

INSCRIPTIONS BY Wil Bolton. Lovely ambient soundscapes that incorporate natural sounds (flickering, bird songs, etc) with slow moody electronica and soft instruments (harp, piano, etc). This is gorgeous stuff, and Bolton has created 4 separate pieces which feel different and don’t tax the listeners too much. Probably now my favorite ambient piece.

Amara Toure (1973-1980). Milestone album by Senegal singer with Gabon-based L’Orchestra Massako. Combines two different recordings, both of which incorporate the Cuban/Latino style with Afrobeat. Stunning and beautiful

Mande Variations by Toumani Diabate (from Mali). Lovely performance using the kora — a harp-like string instrument. Pared-down composition, resembling the solo Spanish guitar, but more ambient, less driven by melody. These are very relaxing soothing performances and yet lively enough to keep you listening.

Most recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Indonesian pop music. Koes Plus is the Indonesian “Beatles.” (Here’s a free Koes Plus album you can download).

I’m a fan of the 70s prog rock band from Indonesia called “God Bless”  and Grace Simon.

Finally, one high point of my year was watching the Eurovision song contest live on Youtube (commercial free!) in May 2017. It was an unbelievably fun way to spend 3-4 hours — the songs and dance numbers were outstanding. I plan to make this a yearly ritual….

(I made a youtube playlist of some fave Eurovision/SXSW tracks: Most are really new tracks from the last 3 years or so.  )

See also: My rundown of favorite emusic discoveries (which I always update),  my online database of music reviews on Google Docs and my annual list of things I read/watch (here’s the 2017 list)

Finally, I’m not creating a hyperlink (I don’t want google to find it), but I collated the various yearly lists of critic Michael Barrett and put them all at this link: https://www.personvillepress.com/private8/mike-list.txt Well worth looking through.

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Stop — Don’t Stop!

(I performed this story at the Houston Liars’ Contest about 6 months ago).

Last Friday I was taking a walk through my neighborhood when I happened to lean against a stop sign.

To my surprise, the sign started tilting, and before I could do anything, it fell into the street.

“You idiot!” a voice cried. “Look what you’ve done.”

I looked around but saw nobody except the cars passing. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. Should I report it?

“Get me up!” the same voice cried.

“What?”

“Why did you push me on the ground?”

As strange as that seemed, the voice seemed to come from the stop sign —  or a tiny speaker attached to it.

“Get me up! If I get run over by one of these cars, you’re going to get in big trouble!”

The Stop sign was tall and heavy. I lifted the sign  and the pole  onto the grass, but it was too big and heavy to  return to the upright position. The stop sign itself was barely hanging from the bracket.

“Well, aren’t you going to apologize?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I can’t believe you broke my bracket. You owe me!”

“What do you want from me then?” I asked.

“Well … I hear the new Star Wars movie is out.”

“What?”

“Rogue One. All the kids are talking about it.”

I didn’t know what to say. “So you want to watch the Star Wars movie?”

“That’s right.”

“Can’t you just wait until it comes out on DVD?”

“No, it’s always better at the theater.”

Just then a bird came over and landed on the sign sign.

“Stop that!” the sign yelled. “Get him off me please!”

I swung my hand in the general direction, and the bird flew away.

“Stupid birds!” the sign yelled. “They never obey street signs. All they do is flutter around, sing those annoying songs and land on your head when you’re trying to take a nap.”

“Don’t worry; the movie theater is indoors — no birds.”

I felt  self-conscious about carrying the stop sign into my car.  But once we were driving, that stop sign became a chatterbox.

“Can you turn the radio louder? I love that Lady Gaga! Why don’t you ever clean your windows? Look — Detour ahead!”

My stop sign buddy had an annoying habit of reciting the words on every single sign he noticed. “Speed Limit 35 mph. Hey, there’s no parking there between 4 and 6. Stop! What time does the movie start? Yield. Stupid human drivers.”

We were at the movie theatre. I carried the stop sign to the ticket booth. “One please,” I said.

The teenage worker looked confused. “Sir, are you bringing that inside?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Hey, you forgot to buy me a ticket,” the stop sign said.

“You don’t need one.”

“But that’s not fair! I deserve my own seat.”

“Fine, you want a ticket? I’ll get one. But no more complaining. Two tickets please.”

We entered the movie theater, ignoring the stares from people around me. As I passed the concession stand, I said, “I suppose you expect me to buy you popcorn too.”

“Of course not,” the stop sign said. “Who ever heard of a stop sign eating pop corn?”

The theater was fairly crowded, but there were still good seats.  The stop sign, I am sorry to report, kept bugging me with questions.

“Which one is Darth Vader? Who is that guy? Is this supposed to be the best episode? Why are there no stop signs on that planet?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe they don’t like stop signs.”

“Barbarism! No wonder the Imperial Force is beating them.”

At the end the audience applauded, and the stop sign rattled a bit too.

As I brought him to the car, the stop sign said, “What’s next?”

“What do you mean, ‘What’s next?’ I fulfilled my end of the bargain, so I’m bringing you back to the intersection.”

“But it’s early.”

“Too bad!”

“I didn’t want to bring this up, but as a talking sign sign, I do have some special abilities. If you agree to be my chaperone for the rest of the day, I have the power to grant you 3 wishes.”

I thought about it a moment and said, “Ok, what would you like to do?”

“I’d like to see a game.”

“What kind of game? Like a game at a stadium?”

“Let’s just go to a park or something where we can watch people play basketball or volleyball.”

“Fine,” I said.

We went driving to a nearby park, and the stop sign says, “I’ve heard a lot about this thing called Bowling. Also, the people are always talking about Frappucinos. Can you find one for me?”

“I suppose.”

“Branson — is that close to here?”

“Not at all.”

“Hey, yield!” the stop sign shouted.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “By the way, my name is not “Hey.” It’s Robert.”

“Robert?” the stop sign repeated. “I guess you want to know my name too.”

“What is it?”

“It’s Stoppy McStoperson.”

“Really?”

“No, just kidding. My name is “Fleetwood Mac.” Like the 70s rock band. Really, that’s my name. What can I say? I’m a product of the 70s. My parents call me Fleet. Oh, stop there! Stop! Stop!”

“What is it?”

“That stop sign we just passed — she’s a knockout! Did you see her angles? They’re a perfect 45 degrees.”

“They all look the same to me,” I said.

“You have to turn around and introduce us.”

“Ok,” I said, parking the car. I carried Fleet to the stop sign at the corner. Immediately Fleet starts conversing with her.

“Comment se va?”

“Bien merci.

“Are you speaking French?” I asked.

“Of course!”

Then he whispers, “Hey, Robert, I think we’re really hitting it off. Maybe you could bring her along to the park?”

“Even if I wanted to,” I said, “I don’t have tools to remove the sign.”

“At least can you tilt me over so that our corners can touch?”

“Ok.”

I move the sign over until one of his corners touches with one of hers. I hear giggling and random bursts of “Je ‘t’aime.” “Tu es belle.”“Tu me manques.”

“Time to go,” I said.

We find a park two blocks away. The basketball courts are empty, but I see a small baseball game played by boys who  looked like they were in  7th or 8th grade.

“That looks like a good game,” Fleet says.

“Sure,” I say, carrying the sign over to the field.

At first the boys pay no attention, but it doesn’t take long for one of them to notice me there.

“What are you doing with the stop sign?” the boy asked.

“Long story,” I said.

The stop sign peppered me with questions. “Why are you out after 3 strikes? What happens if the catcher doesn’t catch the ball? Why do they call that guy the short stop? He doesn’t look like a real stop sign to me — and he’s very tall.”

Finally, the stop sign said, “Maybe you can ask them if I can play too.”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“They have the home plate — they let him play. Why can’t I take his place?”

“Home plates have to be a certain size,” I explain. “Plus, you’re red!”

“Oh, sure, bring that up again! People are always discriminating because of your color. Can’t you just ask them? And remember, if you can’t persuade them, don’t expect to get your 3 wishes.”

Now, I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t entirely confident that this stop sign had the power to grant wishes. I gave it a 50% chance. But I had already figured out my three wishes. One involved a new home. The other involved solving climate change. The third involved a weekend getaway in the Canary Islands with movie star Uma Thuman.

I called out to the teenagers.

“I got a strange proposition, ” I said. “If you’d play baseball and use this stop sign for home plate, I’d give you –” I opened my wallet, “One hundred — and sixty — dollars.”

All of them look quizzically at me. Finally the pitcher says, “Is this some kind of YouTube prank?”

“No, it’s legit… The money is yours — it’s easy money.”

The pitcher calls a huddle. Finally, the pitcher turns to me and asks, “Can you pay us in advance?”

“Sure.”

“Play ball then.”

I put Fleet down where home plate is supposed to be and watch them play. Before the pitcher starts his windup, I hear, “Hey, Batter, hey batter batter, Swing.”

Either I’m the only one who hears Fleet’s chattering  or the rest of the players were ignoring him on purpose.

One team got a batter on third. The score was tied, so everybody was on their guard.

“Stay alive outfielders!” Fleet  yelled. “Easy Out,  easy out.”

The next batter hit a fly ball into center field. The outfielder caught it, but noticed that the runner was rounding third and charging to home. The catcher stood guarding home plate with the ferocity of a bulldog. The outfielder hurled the ball, but it was too high! The catcher could not reach it, and the runner rushed to touch home plate.

But then the stop sign stood upright and started running – at first randomly and then in the general direction of first base. For a while, the runner was confused, but as the catcher tried to tag him out, the runner realized that he still needed to touch home plate for the score to count.

So he ran after Fleet, and so did the catcher and pretty much the whole team. Then I realized something. If this stop sign got away, I wouldn’t get my wishes. I wouldn’t get my dream vacation with Uma Thurman.

“Stop!” I called out. “What are you doing?”

But Fleet paid no attention.

“Fleet! Stop! Come back!”

Fleet paused for a moment, then announced melodramatically, “All of you guys look at me and say, he’s just a stop sign, but I’m different from all of you!

“I Don’t Stop Thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’s be better than before.
Yesterday’s gone, yesterdays gone.”

After that dramatic speech, he dashed away, probably in search of a Frappuccino. And I never got those 3 wishes!

CC licensesd Thecrazyfilmgirl

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