Yesterday I wrote that Beatrix Potter’s fairy tales are now available on the Kindle — including her spectacular watercolor illustrations. And I’d like to think that Beatrix Potter would approve. In 1906 she’d actually tried a new format for delivering her famous fairy tales — and it didn’t involve a book!


Intended for babies and tots, the story was originally published on a strip of paper that was folded into a wallet, closed with a flap, and tied with a ribbon.

The format was unpopular with booksellers and within a few years of the book’s release it was reprinted in the standard small book format of the Peter Rabbit library…


Click here to see a picture of the book’s original format!

Only two of Potter’s shorter stories were published in the “panorama” format — The Story of Miss Moppet and The Story of a Fierce, Bad Rabbit. (Yes, that really was its title…)

It just seems especially appropriate that they’ve escaped the book format once again, and 100 years later…you can buy them on your Kindle.

(UPDATE: And ironically, if you Google “fairy tales for kindle,” this blog post is now one of your top results!)

Good Men in a Bad World

April 27, 2010

I think this is poignant. Someone came to Google and typed in…

Everyman is a good man in a bad world

Were they looking for solace? Someone to understand? Whoever they were, they found their words echoed back, in the first line of a long-ago novel written by William Saroyan.


Every man is a good man in a bad world… Every man himself changes from good to bad or from bad to good, back and forth, all his life, and then dies. But no matter how or why or when a man changes, he remains a good man in a bad world, as he himself knows…

That’s from the 1952 novel Rock Wagram, and I’d blogged about Saroyan as “The Novelist You Can’t Read on Your Kindle.” I just worry that he’ll be one of those authors who won’t transition into the next generation of media. In our shiny future, we’ll have expensive “readers” with fancy new features – but with a couple of last-century authors who somehow just didn’t make the cut.

Which makes its feel that much more poignant that here on my blog, at least, I was able to match up this long-ago author with one more anonymous reader from the 21st century.

One more anonymous good man who’s lost in a bad world…

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

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

“And it still isn’t enough time.”

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

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

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

You don’t find any.

But you do find a biography about his bittersweet life…

A reporter asked me if I was worried about possible price increases in all Kindle books from Macmillan publishers. And I said no — because most of the books I read on my Kindle are free!

And I’m not the only one…

Look at Amazon’s list of their best-selling Kindle books. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is actually in the top 10 — 120 years after it was published — and “Treasure Island” is #24. In the top 100 you’ll see Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, Dostoyevsky and H.G. Wells — plus several books by Jane Austen and other classics. There’s also two books by Leo Tolstoy, the original “Little Women”, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

And that’s just in the top 100! I’ve seen other classics with a sales rank just below that, so I know other Kindle owners are “buying” free books as well. The list of free books on my own Kindle fills up nearly three pages. Curious? Here’s a quick sample….

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
The Story of a Mine (by Bret Harte)
The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne
The Autobiography of Ben Franklin
A Short History of the United States (a classic history text)
Two Years Before the Mast by Henry Dana

Maybe it’s the dirty secret about the popularity of digital readers. A
traditional bookstore will still charge you for a hard copy of a classic.
But on digital readers, they’re all free. And (judging from Amazon’s
best-seller list) the classics are already extremely popular.

Now I’ll admit I don’t know how popular the classics were before, in print editions. But they’ve got to be even more attractive when they’re absolutely cost-free. I’d already started to think that digital readers will change reading as a pastime. But one of the surprising results may also be an increased popularity in the classics!

Here’s one of the things I love about my Kindle. Not only am I successfully juggling 10 different books at one time. They’re all free!

I live near San Francisco, so it’s especially fun to read what’s essentially a blog post about the city…written in 1836.


Friday, December 25th. This day was Christmas; and as it rained all day long, and there were no hides to take in, and nothing especial to do, the captain gave us a holiday, (the first we had had since leaving Boston,) and plum duff for dinner. The Russian brig, following the Old Style, had celebrated their Christmas eleven days before; when they had a grand blow-out and (as our men said) drank, in the forecastle, a barrel of gin, ate up a bag of tallow, and made a soup of the skin…




That’s from Two Years Before the Mast, a young Harvard grad’s journal of his years working as a common ship’s hand — as they work their way up the Mexican territory on the Pacific Coast which, just 13 years later, would enter America as the state of California.

It’s one of the first moments where I’ve felt such an intimate connection to someone who lived nearly two centuries ago. But while young Richard Henry Dana was traveling in what was then a foreign land, he seems lonely but intrigued, which gave him a special willingness to share his sincere human reactions with a concise humility.

My girlfriend told me Dana was a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson at Harvard, and Dana’s father was a poet. But in his own honest way, I think Dana stumbled into the grandness of literature itself.

Yet a sailor’s life is at best, but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain.

The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous…

It Begins

October 31, 2009

Okay, I did it.

At 12:38 a.m. on Thursday, October 29, I bought my Kindle — refurbished — on Amazon.

And thus, the journey begins…