Saturday, August 8, 2009

Making Stuff Up In The Great White North

by Mike Knowles

Koan: If a Canadian writes a crime novel set in Canada, does anyone read it but his mother?

I would have to say that I have been lucky in terms of publishing. I wrote my first book over the span of a year or so and typed it while I taught summer school (and don’t go scratching your head about how I did both at once. I can do plenty of things at the same time just like you can read this blog and simultaneously wonder who I am). I submitted the book to two publishers who accepted on-line submissions and one said yes. I got a three book deal out of a really raw manuscript and the ball started rolling.

Soon after manuscript acceptance, began the process. The book first got bent over by an editor and pounded into something better than I had first handed in. Then, the publisher printed a bunch of Advance Copies. I got two of them when I went to my first conference and I gave one away within ten minutes to Quentin Jardine who dazzled me with praise, and that magical glint in his eyes, and promised to write about it on his blog. I read that man’s blog for months, but there was never a write up. My wife tried to console me with, “I know he said he’d write, but maybe he just didn’t like your book that way.”

I didn’t let the literary one night stand with Quentin slow me down. I contacted as many authors as I could and got them to agree to read an advance of my book in hopes of providing me with a blurb to put on the cover. There were an unbelievable number of cool writers out there who were willing to take the time to read something by someone they had never met. I am in debt to writers like these and I don’t ever think I will be able to pay them back.

So Victor Gischler, Allan Guthrie, Thomas Perry, and John McFetridge all gave me positive blurbs (you’d think all that name dropping would make the page scroll down on its own). I was on a high. People I respected, hell loved, thought I was doing something right. Then came the reviews in newspapers and magazines. I thought with the huge star power on the cover I would get Barbra Walters knocking on my door – I got a few local, one national, and two from the States. It wasn’t Barbara, but it was great to have anyone read the book. Luckily, all the reviews were pretty much positive. And this dear friends is where our ride ends. I got good blurbs, positive reviews, and that was about it. There was no offers to buy the book rights, no fantastic sales, just a book available everywhere with nothing to show but two Amazon reviews (I’ll deal with them next week).

Now I know what you are thinking. You think I’m being unrealistic. Tons of people write books that end up sitting on shelves or fading into the background of used bookstores. There is nothing special about a book not making it to the big time. I totally agree with you and I am fine with the idea of writing books that aspire to one day reach the heights of cult status. But I learned something interesting a few weeks ago. My agent, yes I got one; he is Scottish and he loves me for me not like Quentin Jardine who says he will write but never does. My agent told me that a book he was shopping around for me was denied because it was, and get ready, too Canadian. I thought the book was good (I’m too humble to say awesome), my agent thought it was good (he’s not humble, he says the book is awesome), the publisher we submitted it to thought it was good, but they told us that they already had a Canadian on the roster and they thought another would be just too many. Two Canadians are too many? I was shocked. Could it be my citizenship that was holding me back. Could I be the next Spillane if I just set my books an hour away in Buffalo?

The reason this comment floored me, I think, was because I found it so ridiculous. Reading fiction is pure escapism plain and simple. No one reads books about the mundane things that take place in their own lives. Books like that are called diaries and they are usually only interesting to your mother or your little sister. I write crime fiction in which people fight, steal, kill, and do all kinds of other bad things. It is the same kind of bad things that take place in American and European crime novels. Does geography change the potential interest in a murder or a theft? Does it make a novel suddenly unpalatable? I would argue no because I generally read books that aren’t about where I’m from and I find them interesting. I’ve read crime from America, Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Russia. Egypt, and Japan. The locations in all of these books is itself an entity in the story which changes characters, motivations, and laws into something different. It is these differences that often make the books I read fresh and entertaining.

Or could the problem be me? Do I have the stink of a Canadian on me? Are there too many aboots, eh’s, and hockey references in the book for an American audience to understand what I am trying to say?

And riddle me this: if setting a book in Canada is such an issue how does science fiction work at all. Would I have been better off setting the book on Mars and giving everyone lazer guns so that they could commit space crime? And would the science fiction suddenly become less publishable if the space ship were Canadian?

This blog is supposed to cover seven people’s thoughts on reading, writing, publication and modern media. My thoughts this week as I wait to find out the fate of my unpublished book revolve around the publication process. Most people are probably unaware that there is more to getting published than just writing a good book. You have to also get past the publishing bouncers who have a strict guest list in mind. If something about you is not on the list, you won’t cross that velvet rope. I’m not saying you will never get published, this is just the experience of one guy, but the bigger markets might be out of bounds for some right away. It just seems like a shame that something good could be shot down not on its merits, but rather on its components. It would be like opting out of dining at a four star restaurant because it happens to be Italian food in favour of a McDonalds because it’s more American.

I wonder how many good books I missed over the years because they didn’t fit the mould. How many times was a new idea shot down in favour of another big city private detective with a sassy mouth and skeletons in the closet, or a cop going mano-a-psycho with a devilish serial killer?

I think more people should make more of an effort to buy their books like they buy their fruit. Buy local, check out home-grown authors as often as you can. And every now and again try out something new from a far off place and see if you found something you like. It worked out well for me and papaya.

Of course, this could all be complete nonsense. The whole “too Canadian” thing could be completely fabricated by my agent as a way to let me down without hurting my feelings.

If you are one of those skip to the end of a blog kind of people, or you are just trying to get to someone else’s blog, here’s the gist:

1. Canadians are people too. We’re not that different than you. If you came to Canada we would invite you into our igloo’s with open arms.

2. Quentin Jardine is a heartbreaker.

3. Good is good. It shouldn’t matter where you’re from or where you set a book if it reads well that should be all that matters.

4. If a Canadian writes a book more people will know than his mother. She will tell at least three friends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

When Icons Disappoint

by Scott D. Parker

I encountered two living icons this summer. Both times I was disappointed. I’m trying to figure out why.

Earlier this summer, Elmore Leonard published his latest novel, Road Dogs. Jack Foley’s in this one. If you hadn’t read the book, Out of Sight, you probably know this character as the one George Clooney played brilliantly in the movie version of the same name. It also starred Jennifer Lopez in her pre-J-Lo days. Mr. Leonard doesn’t stop there. He also brings back two other characters from two other books: Cundo Rey (from LaBrava) and Dawn Navaro (from Riding the Rap). Here’s the gist: Foley and Rey are doing time in the same prison. They become “road dogs,” guys who’ll watch each other’s backs while in stir. Rey gets a hot-shot lawyer to reduce Foley’s sentence to almost nothing. The end result is that Foley will be getting out a month ahead of Rey. The short Cuban tells Foley to go to California and get with his common-law wife, Dawn, and start working out a few schemes. Foley’s done robbing banks but knows, in his bones, Rey’s going to call in his chip. Meanwhile, Dawn wants to use Foley to abscond with all of Rey’s money. For Foley, there’s only one question: what’s a guy to do?

Leonard is a brilliant writer with over forty-five books to his name so clearly, he knows what he’s doing. A couple of his early westerns—Valdez is Coming and Hombre—are modern masterpieces demonstrating the economy of writing. They go down easy but say so much more. He can write dialogue like nobody else in the field. You hear a snippet of dialogue that’s hip and cool, it’s probably Leonard. You could even make the case that without Leonard, Quentin Tarrentino’s style of movie doesn’t exist. Leonard’s Rules of Writing are legendary and I have a copy posted near my desk (or in my head) whenever I write. The man is a genius.

I almost didn’t finish Road Dogs. It just went nowhere. Leonard has said numerous times that he likes to get some characters together in the same room, have them talk, and figure out the plot later. The problem with Road Dogs was the former: all they did was talk. Yeah, it was some hip and witty banter and the reader of the audio book, Peter Francis James, was quite good at the dialogue. (BTW, listening to Leonard is the best way to gulp down his books. They *sound* great.) But there was no story. When the story ended, I just sat there, in traffic, and felt disappointed. I kept waiting for the “Aha” moment, that special moment after you’ve read a book when you get it. I am still waiting.

Speaking of waiting, I’ve waited a long time to see Bob Dylan. An icon if there ever was one, I am a late-comer to the Dylan party. I’m one of those fans who never “got” Dylan until his 1997 CD “Time Out of Mind,” the start of his late-career renaissance. Sure, I knew the man, made fun of the way he sang, but I preferred his songs sung by someone else. Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” stands head and shoulders above the original as does Springsteen’s “Chimes of Freedom” from 1988. Since 1997, I’ve purchased every new Dylan CD and gone back and picked up many classic back-catalogue titles such as Blonde on Blonde and the raucous live 1966 recording “The Royal Albert Hall.” But I had never seen the guy in concert.

Until last weekend. When I saw that The Bob Dylan Show starring Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp was scheduled for Houston, I was not going to miss it. Sure, it’s August. Sure it’s hot. But, hey: that’s Texas in the summer. Suck it up. Nelson was his subtle best, playing that nylon-stringed Martin guitar as good as anybody. Mellencamp shined like he always does, even bringing out an acoustic set with just him and a guitar, playing a new song he wrote just three weeks ago. Late in the evening, when Dylan’s set started and the lights died and the music boomed from the speakers, I kid you not that a thrill shot through me when I saw the bard from Minnesota standing there, center stage, guitar in hand, blasting out “Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat.” The band was tight, the music loud, and there was Bob Friggin’ Dylan.

Two songs in, however, Dylan got behind a keyboard…and never left. I longed for a song with just him and the guitar. Didn’t happen. He abdicated the stage and appeared as just one of the band. The band were consummate professionals…but lifeless. And Dylan himself? Well, you know what they say about his singing, that he can’t carry a tune. You listen to his studio recordings, however, especially the modern ones, the man can still sing. Not on stage, apparently. He growled more than he sang. And there were no back-up singers either to even out the sound from the stage. It was just Dylan, his growl, and the music. A couple of times, it wasn’t until the chorus when I figured out “Oh, he’s playing that song?”

I almost left early. I didn’t, but I almost did. I’ve read reviews of the concert in the week since and folks glowingly praise the show. A glance at the set list for the following night and Dylan changed over 80% of the songs. That’s the kind of musical act I appreciate. But, for one night, I was disappointed.

So, what does all this mean, what am I really trying to say about two icons of our times? I’m not sure. Part of it comes down to expectations. The past few Leonard books, starting with Cuba Libre and especially The Hot Kid, were great books containing good stories. In the meantime, I’d read some older Leonard classics and marveled at the work of a master. Ditto for Dylan: his CDs from the 2000s are wonderful and his 2006 CD, “Modern Times,” hits the zeitgeist of this decade smack in the middle of the face. When you experience the work of a master, you expect everything to be amazing. It simply can’t happen that way. We’re all human, right?

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Do we, as readers and listeners (and movie goers and television watchers), expect too much from our icons? Have we put them so high that they can’t have an off-night or an off-book? Is that the evil truth of our modern celebrity culture?

Oh, you might be wondering, with all this wafting in disappointment and let down, if I’ll be in line for the next Leonard book or the next Dylan concert. Without a doubt.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Russel D McLean

I made my bones writing short stories.

The first market I remember cutting my creative teeth on – outside of the UoD’s creative writing zine, Eric – was a webzine called Demensions. They were a non paying outfit, but they had a good rep and some class SF shorts in their back catalogues. It was a big deal for me when they accepted my shorts, even if there are some elements in those early stories I would go back and change now.

After that, I worked over to crime markets when my focus changed. The now sadly defunct Third Degree published a short that riffed off my allegedly irrational fear of clowns – yeah, there was a clown blowjob and a horrible moment with a poker that made me glad my mother didn’t see the story – and soon after that other zines started to pick up my work as well. They were heady times; I was no making no money, but having a bloody good time doing it. And I still love the frontier nature of small presses; seriously, some of them were - and are - fantastic fun to work with.

And then the big one: Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. A paper - and more importantly to my bank manager, a paying - ‘zine with a rep for more traditional stories took on a hardboiled, two fisted tale of Scottish scumbags and I couldn’t have been happier (in fact AHMM is a great mag and there’s a wider mix of stories there than many people give it credit for).

So yeah, I came up and learned my trade writing shorts and having a grand time doing it. I think it helped shape me as writer. Shorts helped me to find my voice, to learn how to trim the bullshit and to appreciate the power of words. When you only have a certain amount of space, you have to understand the value of clear and Its how a lot of my peers started, too. But some days I wonder whether the only people reading shorts are other writers. It’s a shame if its true, because, as Stephen King says (more or less; this one’s paraphrased from memory, but its somewhere in the intro to one of his short story collections), a good short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger and sometimes kisses can be as much as a love affair.

My other favourite idea about the short story came from a piece I read years ago by the SF author Philip K Dick. Now, I have lost the original collection this came from, so again we're relying on my infamously dodgy memory, but he said something akin to the fact that a short story is all about the moment. A short story is an idea in its raw and most immediate form. Things happen in a short story. Where in a novel you have the space to allow the idea to simmer and can focus on other things. I think the example he used was "style", although I think that is maybe a little unfair to the short which as well as being about raw and immediate ideas cane also be incredibly stylish.

I love a good short. A sharp idea that comes at you without pausing for breath. One of the best books I read last year was the Megan Abbott edited, A Hell of a Woman, which has to be one of the strongest collections of shorts I’ve read in a long time; right now I’m having a hard time remembering any clunkers in there. And, God, Jen Jordan’s sequel to Expletive Deleted (I can’t have an opinion on that particular collection, cos I’m in there), Uncage Me, looks like another strong contender with an excellent line up of authors contributing their time and talents.

What I love about short stories is not just that I can read them in fifteen or twenty minutes, usually coming to the end just in time to look and see the dentist walk into the waiting room grinning manically and holding that horrifically oversized drill, but that very often they can be masterpieces of economical writing that really hit home. Their very brevity gives them their power. Its hard to do a short properly, believe me, and maybe it’s the assumption that they’re easy – tiny things to be tossed off in an afternoon, which the worst examples often are – that means they don’t always get the respect they deserve.

But if you’re looking for prime examples of short stories on the internet – often edited superbly, I should add, these guys are all pros – you could do worse than these places: The Thrilling Detective, Spinetingler, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher. These guys, to me, represent the cream of the crop with some damn fine authors contributing to all of them. But of course, there are so many others I could mention as well. Although if I did this wouldn't be so much a blog post as a never ending list of links.

But naturally, I couldn't not mention my UK publishers, Five Leaves Publications, whose Crime Express Series brings you small, but beautifully formed tales of criminality and wrongdoing.

But the question you have to ask about today’s post is this:

Was it all merely an excuse to put a up video of Randy Newman singing Short People?

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bloggy, blog, blog, blog

by Dave White

I used to say I hated blogging. And at the time I really did.

But at that time I didn't exactly know what I was blogging for or who I was blogging to. I just spilled my guts about writing and crime fiction. And while I'm sure that's what people out there in the crime fiction community want to read about, it's also what everyone else out there is blogging out.

Take a minute and go to Crimespot and take a look at what everyone else is blogging about. Go ahead, I'll wait.

(That old gag.)

Oh, you're back?

What'd you see? Book reviews, probably. Someone talking about the right way to write. Most likely. How to write a sex scene? (I've read that blog post by about 17 different people. One day I want to see a blog post about "How to write about people eating dinner.") There is nothing wrong with these posts. I've read 'em. I still read 'em. And I usually enjoy them.

But I'm deep in the crime fiction community. I follow all the publishing gossip, the little cat fights... I'm still trying to learn how to write a sex scene... And after I point, I started thinking about my own blog, who was reading it, and if it was helping me out.

Turns out, I don't really think it was. I was probably getting the same 75-100 people checking out my new posts about crime fiction and writing.

So I took a step back and thought... What is going to bring more people to my blog? Maybe even some people who don't give two craps about the in-depths of the crime fiction community and a way to sell an extra 17 books.

And I decided that my posts had to be broader.

And now I do several things to gain a bigger blog audience. I am one half of The Dave and Krewer Show... a comedy podcast, available through my blog or iTunes. I live blog STOOOPID movies (like Twilight). I talk about New Jersey and why it's better than every other state (who knew so many people from Maine would find it? And be pissed!). I talk about my fears. I get personal.

And a funny thing happened. The hits on my blog started to go up. Whenever I did something completely ridiculous (like the aforementioned Twilight post) my sales rank on Amazon jumped a little. Just a bit... probably meant I sold one book. But whatever, it also meant someone knew checked out what I was blogging out.

I think when people talk about promotion, they tend to get focused on how to sell something to the crime fiction community. That is important, but you also have to appeal outside the community.

You have to expand your horizons. You have to think about different things.

I don't know if that works. I've seen some changes, a little bump in site traffic. But, in the form of blogs, each one has to be different. I mean it's my blog and it's about my interests, so you're still going to see crime related things and book related things. But if that's all my blog was going to be about, it wasn't going to be interesting to me anymore.

You'll probably find more of the same nonsense from me here at Do Some Damage.

You have to find your blog voice, just like a writing voice.

And a blog should be fun.

At least, I think it should.

Yet, I still don't know how to write that damned sex scene...

What do you guys think about blogs?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Should I Write a Screenplay?

by John McFetridge


Okay, maybe you should, but I shouldn’t.

I spent a long time writing and trying to sell screenplays. I sold a few options and even had a couple of low budget movies made from my scripts. I even have an imdb listing.

But I will never again write an original screenplay and try to sell it. There are a lot of reasons, but the main one is this: my favourite movies are either based on other material or auteur-driven.

Of course, you may still want to write a screenplay.

So, here’s a test. Write down the names of your ten favourite movies form the last five years. Go to and see how many are based on original screenplays and how many are adaptions from another source. If eight out of ten are original screenplays then write a screenplay. If it’s fewer than that, then write the original source material. Novel, comic book, play, short story, song – whatever it is, for some reason Hollywood has more respect for it than they do for an original screenplay.

Eight out of ten is completely arbitrary, of course. You can try whatever formula you like, but you’ll find that most of your favourites are based on material from another source. Or, they’re director-driven movies like Judd Apatow’s or Quentin Tarantino’s, guys who aren’t reading screenplays to find their next project.

Academy Award winners aren’t a very good cross-section but it’s easy to research. So, from 2000 to 2008 let’s see where the winners came from: Gladiator (original screenplay, though it’s based on some historical facts and it was written by the guy who wrote Amistad, also historically fact-based); A Beautiful Mind, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire all based on books, Million Dollar Baby was based on short stories, Chicago was based on a musical which was based on a play which was based on some true stories and Crash was an original screenplay – Paul Haggis won for best screenplay adaptation for Million Dollar Baby the year before and he wrote and directed Crash.

If I researched box office champs I’d find the Lord of the Rings movies and a bunch of movies based on comic books.

Screenplay writing is like the gold rush these days – the people making the most money are the ones selling picks and axes and jeans. They sell books on screenwriting and offer seminars and charge reading and editing fees.

Sometimes writers even sell a screenplay – usually they sell an option. I’m told that for every ten scripts turned into movies a hundred are optioned. That sounds good, you can get paid even of your script is never produced. You don’t get paid as much, of course. In Canada a screenplay option is usually somewhere between $2500.00 and $5000.00. Around the same amount as an advance on a first book. Of course, if the movie actually gets made, you get another fifty grand (or so).

But what if the movie doesn’t get made? What happens to all those scripts?

Nothing. There's nothing you can do with unsold screenplays. You can't self-publish them, you can't publish them on your own blog (well, you could, I guess) and when you do get a book published you can't go back to them.

I spent a lot of time writing what I thought were some good stories. I guess it was valuable experience, a lot of words on the page getting me closer to those million words Elmore Leonard says you need to write to develop your own style. But after a while having really nothing to show for all that work started to really get to me. I made about $10,000 in options over about ten years. And probably wrote about a million words.

But looking back (which I don’t actually do very often) I wish I’d spent that time writing books.

TV is entirely different, though. I just spent the better part of a year working as a writer on a new TV cop show, The Bridge (CBS in the USA and CTV in Canada) and while there is some spec script writing required to get into TV but it’s not like screenplay writing. That’s for another post.

One more thing. This is my first post for Do Some Damage and I want to thank the other guys for inviting me along for the ride. It looks like fun already.

And, I want to say that one of the things I like the most about blogs is that the post is just the starting point - the comments are really what makes it interesting. So please, if you have the time, leave a comment. Thanks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writer's Block And Other Urban Legends

by Jay Stringer

I’ve been thinking a lot about writer’s block lately. I was recently asked for some advice on how to deal with it. I did manage to give a practical tip, but I'll leave that for the end.

Writer's block, in my opinion, is nothing more than a bogeyman to scare us at night. William Goldman believes in it, and I tend to go with what he says, but in this instance I’m not so sure.

Okay, perspective check; Goldman is an award winning writer. I’m a guy on a street corner, shouting ideas from a soapbox. I’ll let you decide who to believe, okay?

I see there being three kinds of problem that get labeled as writer's block:

The first kind seems to be an epic affliction. It’s the sort of illness that can only be suffered by very loud and angst-ridden people, who want to share their everyday drama with the world. It seems somehow both noir and arty at the same time. It can cause a writer to go decades –or in some instances half a century- between books. Now, this first kind seems very romantic. You can imagine Raymond Chandler being able to describe this kind of block in very writerly prose.

But myth buster time – is this an affliction, or simply a lack of ideas? Just because everybody has a novel in them, doesn’t mean that we should all be able to crank things out on a yearly basis. Sometimes we just don’t have anything to say, and it seems a peculiar thing to turn this into a great dramatic affliction. Let's face it, the vast majority of people in the world go their entire lives without feeling the urge to write a full-length novel, and yet they don’t go around stressing about being blocked.

The second kind, and the one I have most discussed with people, seems a very specific thing. There’s a deadline looming and the words won’t come, or chapter thirteen just doesn’t want to start. Maybe there’s an action scene that won’t make its way from your head onto the page, or no matter how you try, you cannot make the third paragraph flow. Douglas Adams called it “staring at the page until your forehead bleeds.”

There’s no drama here, though. Not that I can see. No great affliction. This isn’t writer’s block, this is writing. Your brain needs time to work these things out.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a different kind of writer, maybe the above issues are very real concerns for people who work in a different way. For me, I’m very comfortable with the fact that sometimes I may go awhile without setting words on the page. In that time, I may not sit and type, but I’ll be taking a lot of long walks, or way too many showers in a day. Maybe I’ll be re-wiring my guitar or learning a new recipe. Most likely I’ve just found a very interesting crack on the wall to stare at for a few weeks.

This is all writing. It’s giving the cogs in your brain time to spin, time to let things fall into place. I can’t find the exact quote, but I’ll paraphrase as best I can. When William Goldman was asked how long it had taken him to write Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, he answered “It took me a fortnight to write the script, but I’d been thinking about it for six years.

Is there a third kind? Well, there’s always the issue of deadlines. And sometimes nothing can stop you working better than a deadline. Especially if you have the newest version of Football Manager. But this third version is to be expected, really. If you’re forcing yourself to do something unnatural –to force out the work before it’s ready- of course you’re going to struggle. So again, no drama, no mystery, no affliction.

So far I’ve found three versions of writer’s block. The first and the third one seem to spring out of not paying any heed to the second one. And the second one is not block at all. So I think it’s a myth. A romantic idea we’ve sold ourselves.

But what do I know? I’ve not even got a book out yet. I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts; maybe someone has a story they could share about struggling with it?

I do have one piece of practical advice to offer before I wrap up, something that I’ve found useful: Leave your brain wanting more.

Never finish the chapter you’re on. When you’re reaching the end of the day, or morning, or whenever it is you sit and write, stop early. Step back from the computer halfway through a scene, maybe even halfway through a sentence.

That way, when you sit down for the next session, you already know what happens next. You already know how the sentence ends, and you can simply start typing without the worry of a blank page ahead of you.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The State of eBooks and the Stone of Orthanc

“There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more.” - The Smiths

By Steve Weddle

I like to think that Nicholson Baker and I don’t often agree. Turns out, maybe we do.

I first read his stuff when I was at LSU. We’d been assigned “Books as Furniture” in our non-fiction class. The essay was smokin’ hot, looking at all those books stacked up on coffee tables and chests in the Pottery Barn catalogs. Soon I was reading VOX, his phone-sex novella, which was, ahem, smoking hottier. Man, I would have much rather been reading that on an ereader. Some folks kinda move away from you when they see you’re reading that one.

But I’m not so sure I’d want to read it on the Kindle, and here I suppose I tend to agree with Mr. Baker. His recent “A New Page” in the New Yorker explores the Amazon device that costs a little more than the iPod Touch and does a lot less.

Mr. Baker takes a close look at the Kindle and ereading in general. He is, of course, a very bright man. You know this because he writes things such as: “Everybody was saying that the new Kindle was terribly important – that it was an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization.” Haha. I don’t know what the hell he just said. Something about the Kindle being important because you can read the Steve Gutenberg biography, I think.

Anyway, the Kindle is fantastically popular, because once you spend a few hundred bucks or more on the device, you’re able to buy $10 ebooks. I’m not certain I understand why this is popular. I generally don’t understand why things are popular. (Except that slap chop re-mix on the YouTubes. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.)

So it’s nice that Mr. Baker takes the time and the New Yorker’s budget to fly around talking to people about why they love the Kindle. “Maybe, I thought,” he thought, “if I ordered this wireless Kindle 2 I would be pulled into a world of compulsive, demonic book consumption, like Pippin staring at the stone of Orthanc.” Again, um, no idea. However, if I were reading this article on the Kindle, I could just connect to Wikipedia and look up this Orthanc thing. Turns out the name Orthanc, according to the great W, “means both ‘Mount Fang’ in Sindarin, and ‘Cunning Mind’ in Old English, the language Tolkien uses to ‘translate’ Rohirric.” I had to wait to find this out until my iPod Touch was within range of a Wi-Fi network, by the way. Still, I feel so much better now that I have access to all of this information I don’t understand.

I think this would be a problem with the Kindle, this linking to the world of information. If I’m reading a book or article on paper, I’m much less likely to go from rathole to rathole, searching out answers to questions I only vaguely understand. I’m more likely to just sit down and work my way through a book, in linear fashion. The problem with the Kindle, one of the problems, is that it opens up the whole world to you, by way of being connected to everything on the Internet. You want to download the next book in a series as you’re finishing this one? The Kindle is for you. If you’re a curious person, though, I’d think you’d be as tempted as I am to clicky-click on a word to find out more. (My attention tends to scatter off like birdshot after a drunk neighbor.) I read ebooks on my iPod Touch, so I’d have many more steps to find the information, which, as I've mentioned, would only be accessible when Wi-Fi was present.

I don’t know how you are (Seriously, how could I?) but I’m more likely to finish a book on my iPod Touch than I am a print copy. If I get to page 20 of a paperback and I’m not sure about continuing, I’ll just set it down. There it is, over on the shelf. I can see it. It exists. I can go get it in a couple of days if I feel like it. I'm not afraid to set it aside, because I can pick it back up and start reading again. But on the ereader, it’s gone. I close that file and open another one and it falls back into ones and zeroes, as if it doesn’t really exist. The new ebook acquires the space of the older one. I have no second chance with that book. In a couple of days, if I’m in the mood for a thriller, I’ll be unlikely to go back into the list of files on the iPod Touch and search for that one. I’d be much more likely to notice it laid sideways on the bookshelf, waiting for me to pick it back up when I’m in the mood. So moving from one ebook to another is forever. I have to keep reading the ebook or it’s gone. I have a couple dozen books on my iPod Touch. Every book I’ve started there I’ve finished, except Shutter Island, which I’m currently reading. That’s far from true about the shelves in my house.

On the iPod Touch, I can read books in many forms, unlike the proprietary Kindle files on the Kindle. (Buy a book at the Kindle store and you can only read it on the Kindle or Kindle-licensed products.) I have Stanza (pictured), eReader, B&N eReader , and the Kindle reader on my iPod Touch. Each piece of software offers various reasons to use it. The Kindle software syncs up with the Kindle store, allowing me to buy Kindle books without having a Kindle. Stanza has great links to online stores with a good deal of free content.

And that’s what this is all about, finally. Content. Would you read a book on a small screen such as the iPod Touch? I tried with the first Palm I ever had, the Palm M125 which I’ll blog about in a couple of weeks. Reading on that Palm did not work. Reading on the iPod Touch does. As Mr. Baker says about the iPod Touch in his essay, “The nice thing about this machine is (a) it’s beautiful, and (b) it’s not imitating anything.” Now that’s something I can understand.

The iPod Touch is my music player, my blog reader, my email checker, my soccer manager player. I use it to check the weather, read my Word files and update my Facebook status. The thing is always with me. That’s the main reason I get so much read on it. It fits into my pocket. Whatever book I’m reading is always with me as long as it’s on my iPod Touch. And isn’t that what we want? Books that stay with us.