I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

audible home page

Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

audible2

This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com. 

RICHARD BEN SAPIR – THE FAR ARENA

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

FarArena

I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!

THE WITCH PROMISES GREAT BEST-SELLERS

A BOOKISH CHOICE – A literary-minded witch offers you a choice. With a flick of her wand, you can become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades (phooey on that!) or a popular author whose books give pleasure to millions (definitely). Which do you choose? (Is this a serious question?)


Was I ever young enough to think money doesn’t matter? If I ever said anything that silly, I apologize. To anyone to whom I may have expressed such arrant nonsense, I must have been on drugs. They warned us about the brown acid.

75-BooksHP

You can always write some (or many) good books if you have a publisher and an audience. If your books sell well, you don’t have to write drivel. There’s nothing to prevent you from being a best-selling author and a fine writer. I can think of a bunch of authors who succeed at both.

Great writing does not exclude popularity. Exceptional books will find their audience if they get a reasonable shot at it … which means, any exposure at all.

Go with the best-selling choice. It’s a win-win.


And Mr. Huberman, you need a course in spelling and grammar. I don’t wish to insult you, but please, take the time to proofread your posts before publishing. You are writing for writers. We notice.

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

THE BEST BOOKS I NEVER READ BUT SAID I DID

 

Ulysses James JoyceIt starts in school when they give you lists of books to read. I was always a reader. Most of the time, I’d already read most of the books on any reading list. Most others were not big deal. Reading a book was not normally a problem for me. After all, I love books.

But literature courses inevitably include a lot of books that I would never read voluntarily. Maybe books that no one would voluntarily read. How about Silas Marner? When was the last time someone read that because it sounded like a fun read?

Despite current trendiness, Jane Austin was nobody’s favorite author in high school. I read it, but I didn’t have to like it. Pride and Prejudice was the only book I ever threw in a lake. There, I’ve admitted it. I do not like Jane Austen. Not then, not now. Neither does my husband. We also don’t like the movies made from the books.

By the time I got to college, among the many books I did not read was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not only didn’t I read it, I barely got through the Cliff Notes. But I got an A on the paper for my “unique understanding of the characters and motivation.” Good Cliff Notes, eh? I did read Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and thought it wasn’t half bad. At least I could discern a plot and everyone in it wasn’t a prig — as they were in Austen’s novels.

I slogged my way through all of Dostoyevsky books. It was voluntary, but I still couldn’t tell you why I did it. Maybe to prove I could?

I read all 1800 pages of Romaine Rolland’s Jean Christophe because my mother loved the book. She also had me read Growth of the Soil, Knut Hamsun’s depressing tale of grinding poverty and despair in the Norwegian highlands. I barely made it through Madame Bovary and War and Peace was a non-starter.

Growth of the SoilI never made it through anything by Thomas Hardy. Or Lawrence Durrell. I loved Larry’s brother Gerald Durrell. He was hilarious and wrote about my favorite subjects, animals. I slogged my way through Lady Chatterly’s Lover only because everyone told me it was hot. I thought it was dull. My brother had some books stuffed under his bed that were a lot dirtier and more fun.

I never owned up to not reading those important, literary masterpieces. When the subject came up — which it did when we were students and even for a few years after that — I would try to look intelligent. I’d grunt at the appropriate moments, nod appreciatively.

So yesterday, I was looking at a review I wrote last January about Dahlgren and realized I was lying about literature again. I hated the book. I didn’t merely dislike it. I found it boring, pretentious. It had no plot, no action, and as far as I could tell, no point. I mealy-mouthed around my real feelings because it’s a classic. Everyone says so.

So my question is: who really read that book? Who really loved it? Did everyone pretend to love it because they heard what a great book it was? How many people lie about reading great books when in fact, they never make it past the preface before falling into a coma?

I’m betting it ain’t just me.

A HUNDRED YEARS OF WAR

Today, August 4th, 2014 is the centennial of the first day of battle of World War One.

Although war had been declared a week earlier (28 July 1914), the 4th of August was the day on which troops clashed and men died. Millions more would die before the war ground to a halt four years later.

It was not only the start of The Great War. It was the end of the Old Regime in Europe, of a way of life. The beginning of a modern era of endless war in which more than 50 million people have died on battlefields, in death camps, of starvation, and disease. And of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Rupert Chawner Brooke was born 3 August 1887 and died 23 April 1915. He was an English poet known for his sonnets — mostly written during the First World War, in particular “The Soldier”, which follows. He was well-known for his good looks, which were said to have prompted William Butler Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England.” He died before his good-looks had time to fade.


1914 V: The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke never came back from the war. He was one of an entire generation of men who died in that war. The male population had barely begun to return to normal when War II began. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 37 million. It  included tens of thousands of Americans, and millions of English, Australian, Canadians, French, German, Belgian, Austrian, Russians and many others.

Civilian casualties out-numbered military casualties.

We are marking the hundredth birthday of “the war to end all wars.” It was merely the opening salvo of a century of endless war which still continues. Maybe some day it will be over. I hope I live to see it.

As for what lesson we learned from this war? A war that achieved nothing except slaughter and destruction? We learned nothing.

A TUESDAY FANTASY WITH HAROLD – RICH PASCHALL

The Wizarding World of Harold, a neat and mostly organized man


Harold needed to get back on track. He would not let A Tuesday Mystery throw him behind his perfectly planned schedule. He finished dressing by selecting socks from the mystifying sock drawer, then hurried to the kitchen where coffee had been waiting an hour for his arrival. He poured a cup, set it on the table and opened the porch door to collect the newspaper.

“Where is it?” Harold wondered. Was this another schedule attack? He looked around. The paper was leaning against the house behind a shrub. “I will have to talk to that paper boy about his accuracy,” he thought as he trotted back to the kitchen.

During Harold’s working years, his schedule had been periodically disrupted. Machines broke down, employees took leave, got sick. Materials ran short. And then there were meetings, inevitably unproductive, more obstacles in Harold’s path. If these events had taught Harold anything, it was time lost could be regained if you stayed your course and focused on your goals.

Harold left home more or less on time. A small personal triumph. A hot, humid Florida morning greeted him. The heat was not part of Harold’s plan. When he had moved south for pleasant year-round weather, tropical heat wasn’t what he had in mind.

With the car’s air conditioner on high, Harold headed for the library. He parked and entered the foyer of the modest library. He paused to think about his next book. He pulled a paper from his pocket, a list of the books in the library which might interest him. He had read most of what the small library had to offer about engineering or design, so it was probably time to move to another genre.

Maybe history next. There were great books about World War II he wanted to read. Duty by Bob Greene, The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw were on top of Harold’s list. But which book today?

As he approached the history racks, he noticed a young man reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He could tell by his face he was absorbed by the story.

harry-potter

“I wonder what’s the big deal with those books,” Harold thought to himself. He guessed he was one of the few people who had neither seen any movies nor read any books about the boy wizard.

Harold was aware of the phenomenon, of course, but the idea of spending time on something so frivolous didn’t fit into his idea of a well-ordered life. He could not imagine devoting hours to stories about a magical boy who could fly on a broom.

“Excuse me sir,” Harold said impulsively. “Where are the Harry Potter books?” The man just pointed. In a most un-Harold fashion, he went to the shelf and started scanning the titles.

When he spotted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harold froze. He knew it was the first book of the series. Should he take the book? Just to see what the fuss was about of course. Harold wasn’t sure he could let himself read a book not on his list — a children’s fantasy at that. Caught on the horns of a dilemma, Harold stood there, temporarily paralyzed.

After an internal debate, Harold pulled the book from the shelf and went to the table where the young man had been seated. He sat in a different seat, lest the man come back and want his chair. He opened the well-thumbed book and began reading — and was immediately drawn into Harry Potter’s world.

A few minutes later, a boy of perhaps eight took the empty seat. As Harold read, the youngster just stared at the picture of Harry Potter on the cover. It made Harold uncomfortable. He was awkward with children, never knowing what to say. So he asked a question instead.

“Can I do something for you, son?” The boy shook his head. “Perhaps I could help you find a book to read?” Harold would have continued, but the boy gave him a sad look and sat quiet and unmoving.

Harold returned to the book, but even while he read, he could feel the boy’s eyes on him. It made him so uneasy, he soon got up to leave. It was earlier than he had planned.

He had found the Potter story so engrossing he decided against all logic to take it home. He checked it out at the desk, then went to his car.

“This certainly has been a strange Tuesday,” Harold declared to no one in particular. The mysterious lost egg had equally mysteriously reappeared. Now he had impulsively taken a book from the library which was not on his reading list and was not the kind of book Harold would ever read.

At that thought, something made Harold look back toward the library. The boy who had been staring at Harold was now standing on the sidewalk watching Harold leave.

Unbidden, Harold thought, “I hope that little guy has a decent home to go to.” When he got to his sweltering car, Harold looked back again. Something wasn’t right though he couldn’t figure out what.

The boy was gone.