I Got the Kindle Voyage – And I Love It

I used to read a lot of books – and then one day, for some unknown reason, I just seemed to stop.

Let me back up a bit. My father was a book wholesaler. Growing up, I’d come home to find cartons of books on our doorstep – many publishers would mail us their new releases each month. Or I’d go to see my dad at his warehouse and he’d give me an empty carton and let me roam through the place and fill it up. He always looked at what I was taking but never told me to put anything back. I don’t think my parents cared too much about what I read as long as I was reading. In my teens and twenties, I read mostly science fiction. Now I almost never go near the stuff but Philip K. Dick remains my favorite author to this day.

When I traveled, whether it was for business or pleasure, it was always a struggle to decide how many books to take with me vs. the weight of the books I’d need to carry. Living in Hong Kong, which has mostly shitty English-language bookstores, any trip to a country with a decent bookstore always meant filling up my suitcase with books on my return.

I remember the first e-book reader I came across, years ago. It was from Sony and I thought it was fabulous, but it cost $400 and I thought that was just way too high. I bought the Amazon Kindle 2 when it came out in 2009 but I thought it was kind of clunky. And while I was never bothered by the lack of a built-in light on real books, I didn’t like having to keep a reading light on (or buy a clip-on light) to read from this. I used it sparingly for about a year and then pushed it to the side.

I thought the iPad was the answer. I’ve bought almost every generation of the iPad, loaded each of them up with a couple of hundred books, and then hardly ever read them. I thought I might go back to reading physical books again and bought a few when I was in London a few months ago – all of which are sitting on the floor by my desk, unread.

I’m very aware of the fact that my mother who is 93 and has macular degeneration still manages to read a book a day, thanks to the fact that on the Kindle every book is a large print book. She thinks the Kindle is a miracle.

Then a friend posted on Twitter and Facebook asking about buying a Kindle. Some people, myself included, advised buying an iPad because it could do so many other things on a single device. But he bought a Kindle anyway and I found myself looking at reviews of the latest models. Amazon released the Kindle Voyage at the end of October and the reviews were pretty spectacular. And so when my wife asked me what I wanted for a present for our first anniversary, this is what I requested.

The Kindle Voyage is relatively expensive. It’s about double the price of the Kindle Paperwhite. But I reasoned that I was going to use the same one for several years so I wanted the latest and greatest. In the U.S. the Kindle Voyage sells for $199 “with special offers” – on screen ads, or $219 without the ads. That’s for the WiFi versions. If you want 3G, that adds another $70 to the price. Amazon won’t ship the Voyage to Hong Kong but there is a Hong Kong distributor – and a much higher list price, around HK$2580 (roughly $335).

Shop around a bit and you’ll discover that you can find the Voyage for as low as HK$1990 – but that just comes with a 7 day shop warranty. The one from the Hong Kong distributor with a full warranty can be found for as low as HK$2,180, and I managed to negotiate a bit further and get it at HK$2,130. I balked when I saw it was the version with ads but I was told that’s the only one that’s being sold in Hong Kong.

First off, this thing is almost insanely small for what it is. 6.4 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide and just 0.30 inches deep. It weighs just 6.3 ounces. It fits in the inside pocket of my jacket and I barely know it’s there. Here’s the Kindle Voyage next to my old Kindle 2:


It blew my mind when I realized that the screen on the Voyage is actually the same size as the screen on the Kindle 2. But it’s so much easier to read.

It has an amazing e-ink screen. At 300 ppi, it’s almost 50% sharper than the previous Kindle Paperwhite. It has a touch screen (the lack of one was another reason I hated the Kindle 2, it just seemed too kludgy and non-intuitive to have to move around the screen with that tiny joy stick) and it also has these essentially invisible buttons on the sides that Amazon is calling “Page Press.” You can touch the screen to turn pages or press these buttons. You get a bit of haptic feedback on the Page Press thing, but I find I prefer touching the screen.

Battery life is said to be 6 weeks (with reading 30 minutes a day, WiFi off, light at a medium setting). Storage is 4 gigabytes; I’ve got about 250 books on it at the moment and I’ve barely begun to fill up the memory. I got a “smart cover” that functions similar to the iPad’s covers; turning it off and on when I close and open the cover.

The other advance is the front-lighting system. You can adjust the brightness via an onscreen menu, or you can use something Amazon is calling “adaptive lighting”. There’s a light sensor built in and it will adjust the light relative to the light around you. In practice so far I’ve found it to make the screen slightly dim for my liking so I haven’t been using it too much.  There’s another feature you can toggle that will gradually dim the light when you’re reading at night, also supposed to be good for your eyes but I haven’t tried it yet.

I was worried about the ads, but they don’t appear on screen when you’re reading a book. They take up the entire screen when the Kindle is “off” (the e-ink screen uses no power when the light is off and you’re not turning pages) and there’s a small banner across the bottom of the screen when you’re looking at the list of books in your library. So it turned out to not be an issue for me.

Here’s the main thing. The iPad was really terrible for reading in bed at night. Even though I’d adjust the light on the thing, it was always too bright and my eyes always got tired after 10 minutes of reading. I found that all of the iPads (I currently have the iPad Air first generation) were too heavy to hold comfortably while lying down and reading. And my wife would complain that the screen was lighting up the room too much and making it hard for her to fall asleep.

The Kindle Voyage is so light I can hold it in one hand and not notice the weight. The e-ink screen and the light they use are easier on my eyes so I can read for much longer without getting tired. My wife isn’t complaining about it being too bright.

And I’m reading again. At the moment, I’m halfway through Stephen King’s latest, Revival. The physical book is 421 pages. I’ve read the equivalent of 200 pages in the past three days and barely noticed it. (The last book I read was My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. I read that on the iPad. It was 335 pages and took me almost a month.)

So basically I feel excited about reading again. I’ve only had the Kindle Voyage for a few days but if feels as if my “reading life” has been rejuvenated and I think this is a feeling that will last.

From what I’ve read in various reviews, if you already have the Kindle Paperwhite, then think twice about doing an upgrade. But if you’re buying your first e-book reader or upgrading from a much older one, then the Kindle Voyage is the one to get. I’m completely satisfied with mine.

Starless and Bible Black

(It’s a King Crimson song. For some reason I think the title fits what I’m about to write.)

I don’t watch Bill Maher’s Real Time every week, but I did watch it last week because I was curious to see what comments he might have about the situation in Hong Kong. (Verdict: not funny and borderline racist.)

One of the guests on last week’s episode was new to me, author Sam Harris. He’s written a series of books that could best be described as anti-religion. His latest is titled Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.  I’ve been flipping through another of his books, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the End of Reason. (He seems to like titles with colons.) The gist of this book is that religion is the root of all evil and unless we do away with it, mankind is doomed to extinction.

I don’t really disagree with what he’s saying, but I think he may be a bit heavy-handed. And I think he’s arguing to the converted. While I’m highlighting a bunch of passages for myself for future reference, I don’t think that any religious person who stumbles upon this will find their faith seriously challenged. As Harris says, since religion is a matter of faith, arguing against religion using logic would seem to be a losing proposition. (And I know from firsthand experience how true that is.)

Then today I came across the NY Times review of a new book from Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence. Wilson’s 85 and the review says this may not be his best work, but it looks like something I might want to seek out. Here’s a few quotes from Wilson and the review by Dwight Garner.

Stephen Hawking has called humankind “just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” 

“Let me offer a metaphor,” [Wilson] says. “Earth relates to the universe as the second segment of the left antenna of an aphid sitting on a flower petal in a garden in Teaneck, N.J., for a few hours this afternoon.” 

Among the questions he is most asked, he says, is: “What can we learn of moral value from the ants?” His response is pretty direct: “Nothing. Nothing at all can be learned from ants that our species should even consider imitating.”

He explains that while female ants do all the work, the pitiful males are merely “robot flying sexual missiles” with huge genitalia. (This is not worth imitating?) During battle, they eat their injured. “Where we send our young men to war,” Mr. Wilson writes, “ants send their old ladies.” Ants: moral idiots.

Another writer might explain how ants cooperate. Mr. Wilson puts it this way, on how leaf-cutter ants fend off killer flies: “The problem is solved, mostly, by tiny sister ant workers that ride on their backs, like mahouts on elephants, and chase the flies away with flicks of their hind legs.”

He suggests we ask the leaders of each religion and sect to “publicly defend the supernatural details of their faiths.” He wishes to “charge with blasphemy any religious or political leader who claims to speak with or on behalf of God.”

“The great religions are,” he writes, “sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world.”

Throughout “The Meaning of Human Existence,” he has generous things to say about each of those squabbling siblings, science and the humanities. Yet he is clearly exasperated that we dote so much on the latter.

“Even the best-educated live on an ad libitum diet of novels, movies, concerts, sports events and gossip all designed to stir one or more of the relatively small range of emotions that diagnose Homo sapiens,” he writes. The sword of science, he says, “cuts paths through the fever swamp of human existence.”

The book to read, to get the full story on Mr. Wilson’s eventful life, is his memoir “Naturalist,” published in 1994. But he tells good stories about himself in his new book.

When the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction went to Carl Sagan in 1978, he says, “I dismissed it as a minor achievement for a scientist, scarcely worth listing.” Yet when Mr. Wilson won the same prize the following year, “it wondrously became a major literary award of which scientists should take special note.”

Review: Howard Kaylan – Shell Shocked: My Life With the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, Frank Zappa

Early in his freshman year at UCLA, Howard Kaylan told his father he was quitting college to make music. His parents were naturally livid but he promised them that if he didn’t have a hit record within 6 months, he’d go back to school.  It didn’t take 6 months for his first hit record, it took only 4.

50 years later, Howard Kaylan has written his autobiography Shell Shocked: My Life With The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc., written with Jeff Tamarkin, with a cover by the great Cal Schenkel and an introduction by Penn Jillette.  If you know his music, then you already know this is a great read. If you don’t know his music, allow me to fill you in on his amazing career.

You see, I’m a lifelong Howard Kaylan fan. I grew up watching The Turtles on TV in the 60s. I saw the Flo & Eddie edition of Frank Zappa and The Mothers live at the Fillmore East. I’ve got every Flo & Eddie album and can vividly remember their show at the Bottom Line in New York in the 80s.  They’ve sang back-up for everyone from Marc Bolan to Bruce Springsteen to the Ramones. They’ve interviewed every other rock star in the world on radio and TV.

[Full disclosure: I was provided with a free ebook download for review purposes. Both Howard Kaylan and Jeff Tamarkin are Facebook friends, though I don’t know either of them “in real life.”]

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Howard Lawrence Kaplan was born in The Bronx (is that one reason I’ve always liked him so much?) in 1947 and spent a mostly angst-free childhood in Brooklyn and upstate New York and finally Westchester, a part of Los Angeles near LAX and not far from Santa Monica.  As a child, he rapidly developed a love for both music and comedy. He started playing saxophone while at Westchester High School and one day found himself in the school choir standing next to another class clown, one Mark Volman. It may not have been as momentous as the day that Mick Jagger met Keith Richards, but it wasn’t far off either.  The two of them have been singing together for more than 50 years.

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In high school, Kaylan was already in a band called the Crossfires. Volman became their roadie (to the extent that a high school band has a roadie) until the day that his father insisted he should be part of the band as well. The Crossfires became The Turtles and rock & roll history was made.

The Turtles had a hit the first time out of the gate with a cover of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe. I believe that The Turtles were the first ones to have a rock/pop hit single with a Dylan song. (Their cover predates The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man by about six months, earlier Dylan cover hits were all more folk than rock.) Their other hits of course include Happy Together, Elenore, and She’d Rather Be With Me,

Kaylan’s recollection of The Turtles era is filled with wonderful stories of sex and drugs. Most prominent perhaps is his tale of their first trip to London, meeting everybody including Lennon and McCartney, getting asked for his autograph by Brian Jones and throwing up all over Jimi Hendrix.  This was the basis for a feature film in 2003 that Kaylan wrote – My Dinner With Jimi.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book recalling the time he met Dylan in 1980 (Dyaln was in the audience when they were singing back-up with Springsteen and he came backstage after the show):

And there he was – after all these years – backstage, just milling around, Bob fucking Dylan. I had to approach him.

“Mr. Dylan,” I sputtered. “Hi. I’m Howard Kaylan from the Turtles. Thanks for writing our first hit.”

“Was it any good?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So we both made money then?”


And he shook my hand. “Well then, I thank you. Let’s do her again sometime.” And that was it. Four sentences in fifteen years.

There was a dark side to this as well. The Turtles were young and trusting. People stole a lot of money from them and they eventually discovered that they not only didn’t own the name “The Turtles” or any of their recordings but that, thanks to a swirl of lawsuits that took more than a decade to resolve, they couldn’t even perform or record under their own names.


So poor management and legal squabbles meant the Turtles were over.  A chance run-in with their old friend Frank Zappa found them joining Zappa and the Mothers, appearing on several Zappa albums as well as Zappa’s film 200 Motels.  Since they couldn’t perform under their own names, they somehow decided to call themselves The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie – the nicknames of two of their roadies.  Kaylan was the Phlorescent Leech (but later it would get flipped around on them when the cover photo on the first Flo & Eddie album was flipped).

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As I mentioned earlier, I saw this edition of the Mothers play at the Fillmore East and to this day Fillmore East June 1971 remains one of my most frequently played Zappa albums.  They were with Zappa at the Casino de Montreux when a fan burned it down (an event immortalized in Deep Purple’s Smoke On the Water). A week later, playing the Rainbow in London, a fan attacked Zappa on stage, badly injuring him.  With Zappa out of commission, Flo & Eddie’s time with the Mothers came to an end.

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So they launched on their own, as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, later simplifying it to just Flo and Eddie. I still feel their first album on Warner is one of the great pop-rock albums of the 70s.  The second album was produced by Bob Ezrin, years before he climbed The Wall. All four albums have some brilliant pop songs, songs that clearly build on the legacy of the Turtles’ best work. The later albums all mixed these brilliant pop songs with parodies of the then-current rock scene.  But as George Kaufman said, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night” and these albums never made much of a dent on the charts.  By 1976 they found themselves without a contract and out of work. (There would be a final record 5 years later, a reggae album, believe it or not, recorded in Jamaica with some legendary Jamaican studio musicians.)






They managed to keep working, in no small part because everyone wanted them as back-up singers. They were especially close to Marc Bolan (listen to Electric Warrior and try to imagine it without Flo & Eddie’s vocals, it just wouldn’t have worked as well). And there was Springsteen, Roger McGuinn, Stephen Stills, The Psychedelic Furs, the Ramones, Duran Duran … the list goes on forever.  They were also a hit for awhile hosting a nationally syndicated radio talk show thanks to support from their friend Howard Stern.

Finally in 1984, they got the rights back to use their own names and use The Turtles name and they got the rights to all of the original Turtles recordings.  There’s big money to be made from licensing old records, especially ones as perennially popular as Happy Together.  And of course now they could tour as The Turtles (featuring Flo & Eddie), doing their own gigs as well as joining packaged 60s tours.  Life would finally work out.

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Today, Kaylan keeps busy in other ways – he’s released one solo album and has turned his talents to writing science fiction.  He’s also recording a new album with former Mother Jeff Simmons.

Shell Shocked worked for me on a variety of different levels.  The first is as a collection of some truly hilarious tales.  It’s like you’re sitting with Kaylan having a beer (or, more likely, a smoke) and he turns to you and says, “Did I ever tell you about the time that Tom Jones waved his enormous schlong at a bunch of teenyboppers from the tour bus?”  “Did I ever tell you about the time I got Zappa to smoke weed with us?”  “Hey, lemme tell you about the time we snorted coke off Abe Lincoln’s desk in the White House.”

But there’s more to it than that. Because this is a tale of survival. This is the story of a man who hit it big before he was 20 and who lost it all – several times. And yet he was never defeated, he was down but he was never counted out. He never comes across as bitter or morose, he just kept plugging away, having faith in himself and his talent and sure enough, in the long run things more than worked out for him.

I don’t know Kaylan. I’ve never met him and I’m not likely to ever meet him.  But I sure as hell liked him after reading the book.  And I have this theory – that just about everyone who ever worked with him liked him, and that’s one reason they kept calling him up to record with them, to tour with them, to hang out with them.  Look, when you’re David Bowie, you can work with anyone you damn please, so you might as well work with people you enjoy being with, no?

What I also love about the book is that there are no regrets.  Howard Kaylan won’t be going on Oprah any time soon to cry and talk about how he found religion and doesn’t want people to make the same mistakes he did.  There’s none of that phony bullshit here. Either accept him on his own terms or not, it’s your choice, he’s not meeting you halfway. And I love it.

The book is definitely Kaylan’s voice.  It says “with Jeff Tamarkin” but both Kaylan and Tamarkin insist the words are all Kaylan’s and that Tamarkin’s contribution was to help him put it all together and shape it into a cohesive narrative.

The one thing that I felt was missing was that there actually isn’t much about Mark Volman in the book.  You’ll learn much more about Frank Zappa and Harry Nilsson and Marc Bolan than you will about the man he’s partnered with for 50 years. (Actually, the parts of the book describing his final visits with both Zappa and Nilsson are heartbreaking.) I’m guessing that Kaylan decided early on that this was his story, not theirs, and that Volman would be free to tell his own side if he ever wanted to.

So don’t come to Shell Shocked expecting great philosophical lessons. It ain’t that kind of book. What it is is a very funny read.  If you already know who Howard Kaylan is, you probably wanted to read the book before you read this review. If you didn’t know who he was, hopefully you want to read it after reading this.

And if you don’t know the music and want to hear it, I’ve done up a Flo & Eddie playlist on Spotify. It includes my favorite songs from the Turtles, Zappa and the Flo & Eddie albums, as well as a few tracks on which they contributed background vocals.  (Note that some of the Zappa tracks are NSFW.)  Do give it a listen, especially the Flo & Eddie album tracks. (Note that when you click on the Spotify link, you’ll have to install the Spotify player if you don’t already have it. But then you’ll be able to stream this playlist, and about 20 million other songs, for free.)


Omni Magazine Back Issues Are All Online

The Internet Archive now has every issue of Omni Magazine.  You can read all of the issues online or download them in a variety of formats, including PDF, EPUB and MOBI.  Don’t know what Omni was?

From Wikipedia:

OMNI was a science and science fiction magazine published in the US and the UK. It contained articles on science fact and short works of science fiction. The first issue was published in October 1978, the last in Winter 1995, with an internet version lasting until 1998.

OMNI was launched by Kathy Keeton, long-time companion and later wife of Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, who described the magazine in its first issue as “an original if not controversial mixture of science fact, fiction, fantasy and the paranormal”. Before launch it was referred to as Nova, but the name was changed before the first issue to avoid a conflict with the PBS science show of the same name, NOVA.

The magazine was initially edited by Frank Kendig, who left several months after the magazine’s launch. Ben Bova, who was hired as Fiction Editor, was promoted to Editor, leaving the magazine in 1981. After Kendig and Bova, Editors of OMNI included Richard Teresi, Gurney Williams III, Patrice Adcroft, Keith Ferrell, and Pamela Weintraub (editor of OMNI as one of the first major standalone webzines from 1996-1998). Kathleen Stein managed the magazine’s prestigious Q&A interviews with the top scientists of the 20th century through 1998. Ellen Datlow was Associate fiction editor of OMNI under Robert Sheckley for one and a half years, and took over as Fiction Editor in 1981 until the magazine folded in 1998. The very first edition had an exclusive interview with renowned physicist, Freeman Dyson, the second edition with American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler.

In its early run, OMNI published a number of stories that have become genre classics, such as Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata”, William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and “Johnny Mnemonic”, Harlan Ellison’s novella “Mefisto in Onyx”, and George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings”. The magazine also published original sf/f by William S. Burroughs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Carroll, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and other mainstream writers. The magazine excerpted Stephen King’s novel Firestarter, and featured a short story, “The End of the Whole Mess”. OMNI also brought the works of numerous painters to the attention of a large audience, such as H. R. Giger, De Es Schwertberger and Rallé. In the early 1980s, popular fiction stories from OMNI were reprinted in “The Best of OMNI Science Fiction” series and featured art by space artists like Robert McCall.

OMNI entered the market at the start of a wave of new science magazines aimed at educated but otherwise “non-professional” readers. Science Digest and Science News already served the high-school market, and Scientific American and New Scientist the professional, while OMNI was arguably the first aimed at “armchair scientists” who were nevertheless well informed about technical issues. The next year, however, Time introduced Discover while the AAAS introduced Science ’80.

You’ll have to click through issue by issue to get them all but at least the archive is searchable.  The world was a very different place when Omni was being published and it should be interesting or at least nostalgic to look back at a different (albeit recent) era.


8 Reasons To Tell Your Boss to F#%k Themself

At first I was thinking, “gosh, this would have been useful at my last job.”  Thinking about it more, I had no shortage of reasons for wanting to tell my boss to go fuck himself.  But I never did.

Reading this morning a bit on Huffington Post about a book called 5 Reasons To Tell Your Boss to Go F**k Themselves: How Positive Psychology Can Help You Get What You Want (Volume 1).  The “Volume 1″ in the title would seem to suggest that this could be at least a trilogy, perhaps an epic series to vie with Hunger Games or that bunch of books about hot teenage vampires who never seem to have sex.   HuffPo already seems to have inflated the 5 reasons to 8.

Actually looking at it now, it looks vaguely lame. The first one starts off, “If your boss thinks ‘leadership’ means trying to intimidate and scare you …”  Check.  The solution?  Tell your boss where to go or find “Jolts of Joy,” which they define as listening to a favorite song or eating lunch under a tree.  Lame.

But it gets a little more substantial after that first slide.  Here’s the one that I zeroed in on.

Unfortunately there’s a very small group of bosses – about 5 out of every 100 – who suffer from psychological disorders that cause long-lasting, uncontrollable emotional disregulation. … The symptoms of these disorders varies but the common element is the inability of these bosses to empathize with others – to feel what another person is feeling – which allows them to perpetuate their acts of cruelty.

Reminds me of someone I know knew.

You might want to head over to HuffPo and view the entire slideshow there.  It all boils down to one thing:  if your boss sucks (and Hong Kong bosses are famous for extreme amounts of suckage), in the end all you can do is go out and try to get another job with another boss and hope you get luckier next time.  That’s certainly what I’m hoping for. But, like the old Mel Brooks song, hope for the best, expect the worst.

EBook Prices Are Dropping – And a New David Byrne Book

From PaidContent:

 The Department of Justice’s ebook pricing settlement was approved last Thursday, and HarperCollins, one of the three settling publishers, has already entered into new contracts with ebook retailers – including Apple. The retailers can now set their own prices on HarperCollins titles. So what kinds of changes are we seeing?

Go to that site to see a chart of some price changes.

This I know first hand:  I’ve been waiting for Michael Chabon’s new novel Telegraph Avenue to come out, which it did earlier this week.  Last week, the regular Kindle edition was priced at $12.99 and an enhanced version with some audio & video files was $16.99.  I just checked and the regular version is now $9.99 and the enhanced version is $12.99.   On the U.S. iTunes iBooks store, the regular edition is also $9.99 but the enhanced edition is $15.99.

The HarperCollins website says:

 This enhanced edition includes an original theme song, 10 stunning designs from the artist Stainboy, and a custom-made map of Telegraph Avenue, all commissioned by the author for the digital book. Also includes audio excerpts read by actor Clarke Peters (The WireTreme) and a video interview with the author.

I think for an extra 3 smackers over the regular edition I’ll go for the enhanced edition via Amazon.

David Byrne (yes, Talking Heads David Byrne) has a new book out with the intriguing title, How Music Works.

Dwight Garner, reviewing the book in the New York Times, absolutely hates it.

It ain’t no party, this book. It definitely ain’t no disco. Your money would be better spent on Mr. Byrne’s intermittently lovely new album,“Love This Giant,” made with Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent), out just this week.

But Cory Doctorow, reviewing the book for BoingBoing, is head over heels in love with it.

David Byrne has written several good books, but his latest,How Music Works, is unquestionably the best of the very good bunch, possibly the book he was born to write. … this is an insightful, thorough, and convincing account of the way that creativity, culture, biology and economics interact to prefigure, constrain and uplift art. It’s a compelling story about the way that art comes out of technology, and as such, it’s widely applicable beyond music.

Curiously, Amazon is only selling the physical book, a hard cover edition currently priced at $19.04.   (You can get a signed first edition from McSweeney’s for $50.)  The iTunes store does have an e-version of this, priced at $11.99.

Hello Goodbye Hello

Looks like Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown is going to be a must-read.  The Kindle edition is available tomorrow.  Sub-titled A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, the NY Times review notes, “One of the stranger conceits of “Hello Goodbye Hello” is that it describes 101 meetings and expends exactly 1,001 words on each one, resulting in a work that is 101,101 words long.”

No, don’t go to sleep.  Read on, please:

According to the captivating new book “Hello Goodbye Hello” Alexander Woollcott, the writer and Algonquin Circle wit, loved to play a game called Strange Bedfellows. One of his biggest coups took place at a Cap d’Antibes villa in the summer of 1928 when he succeeded in bringing together Harpo Marx and George Bernard Shaw (“corned beef and roses,” as he called them) at lunch. The two hit it off, and later that week Harpo drove Shaw to Cannes, where a friend of Shaw’s cast them as extras in a movie; a scene featuring them playing billiards, alas, would be left on the cutting-room floor.

Mr. Brown also tells us how Tolstoy met Tchaikovsky, who met Rachmaninoff, who had a musical duel with Harpo Marx at the Garden of Allah hotel in Los Angeles: annoyed by his neighbor’s piano playing, Harpo took out his harp and began playing the first four bars of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor over and over again for two hours, until he succeeded in driving the composer to another bungalow.

No, it’s not only tales of Harpo Marx (though that in itself would make for a wonderful book I’m sure).

Of the historic meeting of James Joyce and Marcel Proust at a Paris dinner party (also attended by Stravinsky and Picasso) Mr. Brown notes that Joyce arrived after coffee, “drunk and shabby, swaying from side to side.” Proust, he reports, arrived at 2:30 a.m., looking, as one dinner guest recalled, “as though he had seen a light in a friend’s window and had just come up on the chance of finding him awake.”

As Mr. Brown tells it, there are at least seven versions of what transpired between the two writers. In one version they discuss their various illnesses. In another Proust asks “Do you like truffles?” and Joyce replies, “Yes, I do.” In a third Joyce recalls: “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’ Proust asked me if I knew the duc de so-and-so. I said, ‘No.’ Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of ‘Ulysses.’ Proust said, ‘No.’ And so on. Of course the situation was impossible. Proust’s day was just beginning. Mine was at an end.”


How Creativity Doesn’t Work

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer is currently #14 on the NY Times Nonfiction Hardcover Best Seller List and has sold over 200,000 copies to date.  The Times summarizes the book by writing, “An account of the science of creativity argues that it is not a gift but a thought process that can be learned.”  I think this is an interesting topic and I’d previously put this onto my Amazon wish list to check out later.

Now his book is being pulled from the market by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  I just checked and both the hardcover and e-book versions have disappeared from Amazon (although the audio book version is still there).

It seems that Lehrer might have been a bit too creative when writing his book, fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan.  The Wrap reports:

“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,'” Lehrer, 31, said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”

He’s now resigned from The New Yorker.

Lehrer has also come under fire for plagiarizing himself.

The seemingly prodigious young writer drew criticism last month when he admittedly recycled his own writing in blog posts for the New Yorker, including lines taken almost verbatim from previously published Wall Street Journal essays.

Lehrer’s other books include The Decisive Moment and How We Decide.  I’d be curious to know more about the decisive moment when Lehrer decided to simply make up stuff.


E-Book Prices to Drop?

It would seem as if that’s the case, at least temporarily.  This is from the NY Times today:

As soon as the Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it was suing five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, and simultaneously settling with three of them, Amazon announced plans to push down prices on e-books. The price of some major titles could fall to $9.99 or less from $14.99, saving voracious readers a bundle.

But publishers and booksellers argue that any victory for consumers will be short-lived, and that the ultimate effect of the antitrust suit will be to exchange a perceived monopoly for a real one. Amazon, already the dominant force in the industry, will hold all the cards.

The government said the five publishers colluded with Apple in secret to develop a new policy that let them set their own retail prices, and then sought to hide their discussions.

After that deal was in place in 2010, the government said, prices jumped everywhere because under the agreement, no bookseller could undercut Apple.

HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster settled the charges Wednesday, leaving the other two, Penguin and Macmillan, and Apple to fight.

I haven’t had time to check through my want list on Amazon to see if prices have indeed dropped.  I’ll be doing that this weekend.  Anyone else notice any price changes yet?

Winter Is Coming

Yeah, that’s right, Game of Thrones season 2 starts on April 1st.  The latest trailer for the HBO series can be found here.

Although we’ve already watched Season 1 of the series, I bought the Blu-Ray set this week and we’re watching it again, 1 episode per night, to refresh our memories and get psyched.  And without even having watched any of the bonus features yet, I have to say that the 1080p transfer is gorgeous.  The colors and the clarity of the image are amazing.

(That’s both good and bad.  We watched Episode 3 tonight and in one of Emilia Clarke’s many nude scenes, it was pretty obvious that she should have removed her bra a bit longer before they started filming the scene.)

I’ve read the first 3 books in the series and I’ve just started the 4th one.

Meanwhile my mom, who as far as I know has never read a science fiction or fantasy novel in her life, has read the first 4 books all within a single week and is now into the 5th and is totally in love with it.  She’s so in love with it that she sent me an email today asking me to write to George R.R. Martin on her behalf.  Martin does provide an email address on his web site and while he says he doesn’t have time to respond to every email he receives, he also writes:

That’s not to say I don’t read it all, however. A few of the letters are cranky and a few are just, well, strange. The vast majority of them are wonderful, however. Believe me, after decades laboring in the sort of anonymity that is customary for most authors, it’s great to hear so much enthusiasm for my work.

What did she ask me to write?  She wanted me to let him know that she’s going to be 91 years old in 3 months and that at the rate he’s writing, she may not live long enough to see the 6th book in the series let alone the 7th (and presumably final) book.  She wanted me to ask him to write faster.  Failing that, she wanted me to ask him if he could share with her how he plans to end the series and that if he clues her in, she promises not to share the details with anyone.

So yes, I have days when I try to be a good son.  I’ve written to him.  If I do get a reply, I’ll let you know.