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October 2012

Guest Blogger: Dylan Jones on Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell”

The Biographical Dictionary of Popular MusicDylan Jones is the author of The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music, an incredible and opinionated collection of his thoughts on more than 350 of the most important artists around the world—alive and dead, big and small, at length and in brief.

Bob Dylan has always been a master of the perverse, and the man they call Alias has often paid scant regard to the treasures his obsessive fans hold dear. Live versions of his songs often bear no resemblance to the original recordings, largely because Dylan doesn’t regard the original recordings as gospel, just the way it all went down in the studio when he did them. However if Dylan has a particular idea of how a song should sound, he’ll bash away at it for years until he gets it right. Or simply leaves it to rot. This was the fate of one of his best songs, one he thought he would never finish.

The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 (Columbia) is a synopsis of a parallel Dylan career, a shadow career spanning thirty years and fifty-eight performances. “Blind Willie McTell” is generally regarded as the best song from this shadow career – and from this record – a piano-led performance that is now considered to be a classic, a landmark song of the decade, dark and deep and all-consuming. It was an outtake from the 1983 album Infidels, a country blues protest song, a song of the South, and the failure of humanity writ large (driven by a melody borrowed rather too easily from the blues standard, “St James Infirmary”). “The singer finds not evil in the world but that the world is evil,” wrote Greil Marcus. “The whole world is an auction block; all are bidders, all are for sale.” There is no redemption here, and while Dylan played McTell’s songs when he was young (McTell’s style was called a cross between Mississippi Delta blues and East Coast blues), like pretty much everything he did, this is masterpiece metaphor all the way.

From the window of a New Orleans hotel room, the narrator contemplates the history of slavery, and the murder among the magnolias. He sings of damaged, condemned lands, “All the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem,” traversing “appalling sights and sounds” (according to Sean Wilentz, author of Bob Dylan In America). And what does the singer know from these sights and travels? That “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” the images conjured up by Dylan here have more resonance than usual. “The song is exquisitely concrete from start to finish,” said Paul Williams. “You can see, hear and smell everything – but it is also, and in a truer sense, the window of memory, of awareness, of feeling, where everything one has heard and seen in relation to one particular subject is suddenly conjured up in a moment of pure feeling, like Proust’s sweet cake epiphany.”

Mark Knopfler played guitar on Infidels, and when he lobbied too hard to have it included on the album after Dylan junked it (like many of the songs he left behind, he couldn’t realise what he had in his head), Dylan finished the record without him. The writer Larry Sloman recalls Dylan saying, “Aw Ratso, don’t get so excited. It’s just an album. I’ve made thirty of them.”

A Dark City Survival Guide

SarahFineSarah Fine is the author of Sanctum, the first book in the Guards of the Shadowlands series. In this exhilarating adventure, a seventeen-year-old girl has one chance to rescue her best friend's soul from hell. Here’s Sarah’s survival guide for the dark city. Happy Halloween!

If you want to stage a rescue mission in the afterlife, you really need to think ahead. The dark city especially is not a place to enter lightly. Here’s a handy list of supplies to help you out:

1. A snack or three. Unless you enjoy moldy bread, mushy apples, and soup that smells like feet, you may want to pack some rations, because the food in the dark city absolutely sucks. You can have as much as you want, and all of its free, but do you really want to deal with the stomachache from hell?

Sanctum2. A translator. The dark city houses people from every country in the world. Your chances of finding someone who speaks English are fair, but you’re more likely to run into folks who speak Mandarin, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, or Hindustani. Apparently Siri has a language hack, though. You should probably look into that.

3. A compass. There’s only one person in this city who has a map, and he’s not going to share it with you. It’s easy to get lost, especially since the buildings grow like fungus and occasionally move around. So if you want to keep your bearings, you probably want to bring a compass—because the city is over fifty miles from wall to wall in every direction.

4. Night-vision goggles. The dark city is … dark. There are streetlamps, but the light is pretty weak, and the shadows are thick, concealing a few individuals who will see you before you see them. Give yourself a fighting chance, okay?

5. Appropriate footgear. This is part of that whole ‘fighting chance’ thing. If you happen to find a Mazikin (okay, let’s be honest, it’s going to find you first), you’re going to need to run. Fast. Over slippery, uneven terrain. The Mazikin look like ordinary people—until they start bounding toward you on all fours. Picture a lion chasing after a fleeing gazelle … and make like the gazelle. A gazelle wearing the best running shoes money can buy.

6. Weaponry. Now, Mazikin are fast, so unless you're some kind of track star, assume you're going to have to fight. A knife wouldn’t be a bad idea. A scimitar might be a better one—if you know how to use it without slicing yourself to ribbons in the process. Really, you can improvise. Broken bottle, random crowbar … there’s lots of debris lying around. I hope you can be creative under pressure. The Mazikin certainly are.

7. Ink. Your chances of finding your friend or loved one will go up if you happen to have a picture handy, so you can ask people if they’ve seen him/her. But with all the running and fighting you’re going to be doing, you’d probably lose a picture, so I suggest having the person’s face tattooed on your arm. The only way you could lose the tattoo is if a Mazikin chewed off your arm or something. And how likely is that? (That may depend on whether you took me seriously about #4-7.)

8. A major sense of irony. So that’s it! You’re prepared! Congrats! Except … I hate to break this to you, but your food is going to rot as soon as you enter the city. The needle on your compass will start spinning as soon as you sneak through the Suicide Gates. Siri is going to laugh at you in this unhinged voice every time you ask her a question. And the night-vision goggles might as well be deadweight on your head. Not that you can actually bring any of that stuff to the afterlife anyway. What were you thinking? All you can bring is your courage, your craftiness, and your loyalty. I hope they serve you well. Good luck! You’re going to need it!

Find out if this survival guide really helps in the dark city in Sanctum, now available on Kindle and in hardcover.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Comes to Kindle

DiaryofAWimpyKid_KindleIllustrationFor young readers and adults alike, audiences have become captivated by the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Books 1-6 have been the most popular children’s book series on Amazon during 2012, and arrive as Kindle eBooks for the first time today. As part of the exciting launch, Kindle has received an exclusive letter to readers from the author, Jeff Kinney, which will be included in each of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Kindle eBooks.

Author Jeff Kinney is as excited as we are about bringing his series to Kindle: “What’s been very rewarding to me as an author has been seeing kids carrying their dog-eared copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid with them. The Kindle allows kids to have the whole series at their fingertips, and the reading experience is crisp and clean every time…with no chance of today’s breakfast staining the pages.”

In addition to the exclusive letter from the author, Kindle has also received a very special original illustration portraying Greg Heffley, the main character of the series, reading on his very own Kindle (see above).

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, as well as Kinney’s illustrations, have captivated audiences and fans can’t seem to get enough of Greg Heffley, the main character. We’re thrilled to have Kindle editions now available for books one through six of the series as well as pre-order available for book seven, which is the most pre-ordered Children’s title in print for 2012.

Browse the Jeff Kinney store to learn more about Jeff Kinney and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Introducing Whispersync for Voice & Immersion Reading

Whispersync for VoiceWe are excited to announce Whispersync for Voice and Immersion Reading, two new Kindle and Audible innovations launched in September that enhance the utility and overall experience of reading. Whispersync for Voice offers a continuous reading experience by allowing Kindle owners to switch seamlessly between reading a Kindle book and listening to the companion Audible audiobook without losing their place. If you’re absorbed in a Kindle book before falling asleep at night, you can get in the car and drive to work the next morning and listen to the same book, picking up exactly where you left off in the text.

With Immersion Reading, owners of new Kindle Fires can synchronize Kindle text with Audible’s professionally narrated audiobooks to create a more immersive and engaging experience of stories, as well as deepen learning and comprehension. As you read, text is highlighted on the screen as it is professionally narrated, and you can also speed up or slow down the narration without impacting the quality of the listening experience, or revisit earlier passages with the narration picking up seamlessly at the same point.

For a limited time customers can try both Whispersync for Voice and Immersion Reading for free with 10 Kindle and Audible titles, including Dracula and A Tale of Two Cities. To use Whispersync for Voice to switch between text and audio using Kindles and your smartphone, download the Audible mobile app for iOS phones and Android phones at www.audible.com/wireless.

Learn more about Whispersync for Voice and Immersion Reading at www.amazon.com/wsv.

The Mercury Trilogy: Divine Humor

Mercury-fallsIn his Mercury Trilogy (Mercury Falls, Mercury Rises, and Mercury Rests), author Rob Kroese explores world-ending annihilation with surreal humor and parody. The devil in Kroese's books wears a track-suit and resembles that guy who sports white sunglasses in a nightclub. That guy has power, and he's intent on destroying the earth in cinematic fashion…if only he could control the political infighting amongst his not-so-subservient demons.

The Mercury Trilogy’s take on heaven is as funny as it is depressing. This divine institution/corporation is chalk-full of illogical procedures, bureaucratic layers, and legal posturing.Mercury-rises Much of the angels’ work in this supernatural hierarchy involves watching over the most mundane activities of human life. And then there's Mercury, a smart-ass angel, who ignores his assignments, preferring instead to hang out with humans--occultists mostly--who wait for the end of the world.

Soon Mercury meets Christine Temetri, a cynical reporter for a Christian magazine, The Banner. She specializes in reporting on the end of the world. After the exploding house incident (you’ll just have to read it Mercury Falls to find out), Mercury and Christine team up to stop the anti-Christ and the devil, who have bigger plans.

Mercury-rests In the third book, Mercury Rests, Christine teams up with Jacob Slater, an FBI agent beset with Tourette's Syndrome. Together they mount a search for the missing Mercury. They'll need to find him if they want to stop the devil's next stunt.

Kroese’s fiction employs alternate theology, history, and physics as it conjures a good-versus-evil world that is drolly spinning to the end. This is a world in which Monty Python might feel right at home.

Man Booker Prize: Hilary Mantel on Her Double Win

Hilary Mantel has won the Man Booker prize, again. First for Wolf Hall in 2009 and again for Bring Up the Bodies in 2012. In this exclusive blog post she talks about her surprise at winning for a second time, and the intimidating prospect of writing the third book in this prize-winning trilogy.

BringupthebodiesI'm still stunned.  I went to Tuesday's award of the Man Booker Prize with no clear idea of who would win--except that it wouldn't be me.  I didn't lack faith in my book, Bring Up The Bodies.  It's just that I'd won so recently in 2009. And I knew that in the history of the prize, only two authors have won twice.  So I expected that Wednesday morning would see me on the train home to Devon, with the trace of a good loser's smile fading from my face.

Instead I found myself in front of what felt like a thousand camera flashes, and within moments of the announcement live on radio and TV.  I still felt disbelieving.  Even if you don't expect to win, there's a moment of anticipation when your heart squeezes small.  And often, the chairman of the judges prolongs the agony, with a long show-biz pause.  But this year's chairman was brisk.  He took us by surprise. Before I had taken in what was happening I was on the stage, and before I had taken a breath I was making a speech.

I know this was a strong year. I know how hard these decisions can be, because in 1990 I was a Booker judge myself.  So I feel lucky, and honored. All day I've been talking. Giving an account of myself. Talking about the disaster and discouragement I've encountered. Trying to explain the unexplainable--how I write. Trying to explain to interviewers that no writer is ever an overnight success. Fame may arrive overnight, but there's usually a story behind that story, and almost always it's a story of prolonged and strenuous effort that is largely hidden from the world. This is my story.  Twelve years of work before I published. Twelve published books before one of them, Wolf Hall, shot to the top of the bestsellers' list and gained me a million readers.

I'm still not quite used to that. Previous books sold a few thousand copies only. Something in Wolf Hall struck a chord with both the critics and the public. Writing is an unpredictable business, and so is publishing. I don't think any of us realized Wolf Hall would be such a huge hit.  That book was the first of a trilogy. Bring Up the Bodies, is the second. No pressure, then…

I'm not asking myself, at this stage, whether I can possibly win the prize for the third time. That would be plain greedy. All my attention, next year, will be concentrated the book itself. It has to capture and hold the first two books within it, and yet stand up as a story in itself.  Technically, it will be a nightmare.

But I feel I'm writing better than at any time before. I think these novels have made me extend my range and take bold decisions. I think the material is full of possibilities. I think there is more I can do.

Top Five Reasons Not to Become a Newspaper Carrier

Author Michael Sherer gives us Blake Sanders, a humble newspaper delivery man with a complicated past, in his new mystery Night Blind. The world is turned upside down on a cold November night, when an elderly woman on Blake’s newspaper route is brutally stabbed to death and Blake is charged with her murder. Faced with life in prison, his only hope is to find the real killer. Now Michael Sherer gives us his top five reasons not to become a newspaper carrier. Take heed!

NightBlind5. No job security. In case you hadn’t heard, newspapers—the printed versions, at least—are going out of business. Between 2008 and 2010, eight major newspaper companies went bankrupt, and hundreds of small daily and weekly papers closed or moved online with Web-only publications. Industry experts have predicted that half of the remaining 1,400 daily newspapers in the U.S. could close their doors in the next decade.

4. The pay sucks. In a competitive market like Seattle where there’s still one major daily newspaper and a relatively large readership base, carriers can expect to make, on average, about $1,000 per month. Experienced carriers with large routes can make as much as $1,500 in a good month. But factor in vehicle maintenance, insurance, depreciation, health care, etc., all of which carriers must pay for from their own pockets, and it barely pays to get out of bed some days.

3. The hours are terrible. Carriers go to work around 1 a.m. It takes from one to two hours to assemble papers, and another two hours or so to deliver them, depending on the route. The Seattle Times guarantees delivery by 5:30 a.m., and printed papers aren’t delivered to its distribution centers until about 12:30 a.m., so carriers have only about five hours in which to do the job.

However, the hours fall right in the beginning to middle of third shift—the graveyard shift. For most carriers, predominantly immigrants—The Seattle Times estimates that at any given time about half speak English as a second language—delivering papers is a second or even third job.

That aside, people who work the night shift have more sleep disorders, a higher incidence of serious diseases, including cancer, are more prone to accidents, and have higher rates of obesity and substance abuse than people who work days. In fact, the 15 million Americans who work nights are at higher risk for just about everything except skin cancer since they don’t see much sunlight.

2. The schedule’s a killer. Route drivers deliver papers seven days a week. No days off, no holidays. No such thing as time-and-a-half for working those weekends or holidays, either.

1. You’re more likely to be a crime victim. Carriers have been robbed, carjacked, assaulted and hit by drunk drivers. If you’re as unlucky as Blake Sanders in Night Blind, you might even be framed for murder.

Too Good to Be True

Benjamin Anastas is the author of the new memoir Too Good to Be True. His two previous novels are An Underachiever's Diary and The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance. His writing has appeared in GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and Granta. He lives in Brooklyn.

Too_good_to_be_trueI never thought I’d be the one to write a memoir. But then again, I didn’t expect to wake up at the age of forty and find myself in a life that I could hardly recognize. My career as a writer was on life-support; my marriage had crashed, burned, and rolled off the highest cliff in Brooklyn; I was so broke that I carried Ziploc baggies of loose change around to buy my groceries; my four-year-old son was only with me part-time and his bedroom stood empty more often than it was full of giggling, thrashing, four-year-old life. “How did I get here?” I asked myself over and over again, and one day, instead of brooding about this question while I stared out the window, I grabbed a notebook, some coffee, a handful of pens, and I started writing in longhand to try and figure it all out.

My son’s bedroom was the best place to work. By far. I used to set my alarm for the most ungodly hours (4:30 a.m., 5) and slip out of bed while it was still dark. I made coffee, turned on the IKEA moon above his empty bed, and settled down with my notebook to start the morning’s work. I can’t tell you how many sunrises I saw in the apartment windows while I sat on my son’s bed, his heap of stuffed animals my only audience. If he was staying with me, I would let him sleep and set up shop at the dining room table instead, writing until I heard his footsteps padding down the hallway and he climbed into my lap with a morning yawn.

I wasn’t just writing the book for him. It was more selfish than that. I had lost my way and I wanted—really wanted—to find my way back; I had work that I wanted to do, and bills that I needed to pay, and a future that I wanted to plan for instead of being at its mercy. First things first: I needed to find a job! Writing Too Good to Be True early in the mornings, before the sun came up, day after day after day, helped me start my life over again. It’s the record of being found again when everything seemed lost.

Guest Blogger: Mark Frost, author of "The Paladin Prophecy"

The Paladin ProphecyCo-creator of the groundbreaking television series Twin Peaks, Mark Frost brings his unique vision to  The Paladin Prophecy. This sophisticated adventure combines mystery, heart-pounding action, and the supernatural.

Here, Mark Frost writes about his top eleven T.V. shows by decade.

1960s:

The Andy Griffith Show—I visited the set at age ten and met Andy and Ron, who showed me the jail cell’s secret back escape route.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.—inspired my first (unpublished and unpublishable) novel, written when I was eleven.

The Prisoner—which blew my mind and taught me (foreshadowing) that a TV show didn’t have to follow the rules. . . .

1970s:

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—because I worked my way through college on the production crew (with a young stand-up named Michael Keaton), and because Fred Rogers was and is the best human being I’ve ever been privileged to know.

The Six Million Dollar Man—because it was my first professional WGA gig, three weeks out of college, which soon led to . . .

1980s:

Hill Street Blues—where for three years I learned from the best: my boss, Steven Bochco, and my senior colleague David Milch. I went to work every day unable to imagine a better job. Hill Street Blues was a hugely influential show that is now almost absurdly underappreciated.

The “Showtime” Lakers—no one made better television than those guys.

1990s:

Twin Peaks—because my buddy Dave and I just went for it, and had more fun than humans should be allowed to have.

Seinfeld—because my dad played George’s (almost) father-in-law, and because nothing ever made me laugh more until . . .

2000s:

Curb Your Enthusiasm—funniest show ever, and . . .

The Sopranos—the most important TV drama ever. Period. The end.

2010s:

Not officially on the list yet because the decade is young, and so is the show, but getting closer . . . Boardwalk Empire.

Honorable mention:

ABC’s Wide World of Sports, SportsCenter (with Dan and Keith), The Larry Sanders Show, The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), BBC’s new Sherlock, and Downton Abbey.

The Impact of Ian Fleming's James Bond

Ian Fleming was the creator of the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond. Modern classics that transcend genre, Fleming’s novels were re-released on October 16, 2012 restored to the original text from the editions published between 1953 and 1966. This guest post by best-selling author Barry Eisler discusses how Fleming pioneered and popularized many of the elements that define contemporary spy fiction. Eisler recently released the Kindle Single, The Khmer Kill, starring the former Marine sniper, Dox, now available on Kindle.

With something like twenty-five James Bond movies released over the course of over half a century, it’s natural that the popular conception of Ian Fleming’s iconic spy has been shaped largely by cinema.  Also natural—though in some ways unfortunate—is the extent to which the film versions have tended to obscure recognition of the quality and impact of the books themselves.

669-31Fleming didn’t invent the modern spy novel (his contemporary and countryman Eric Ambler is generally credited with that), but Fleming’s work pioneered and popularized many of the elements that devotees of spy fiction have demanded ever since.  I love the refined aesthetic taste and deadly hand-to-hand skills of Trevanian’s assassins, Jonathan Hemlock and Nicolai Hel—but Fleming combined these now-classic spy traits earlier in Bond.  I admire the realistic and detailed surveillance and counter surveillance that underscores Adam Hall’s Quiller novels—but Fleming’s Bond did it sooner, employing tradecraft extensively and well.  And while John le Carré is justifiably celebrated for using the spy novel to examine enduring themes of human nature, such as the potential tension between personal and institutional loyalty, Fleming dealt with these themes earlier:  friendship and loyalty (Dr. No); the morality of killing and revenge (For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and The Living Daylights); the danger that, in hunting monsters, one can become a monster (The Spy Who Loved Me).  And though you wouldn’t know it from the films, where Bond has typically been depicted as certain of his cause, the Bond of Fleming’s novels was at times notably ambivalent not only about his own ruthless means, but about the ends to which those means were dedicated.  Subsequent writers would take those themes of moral ambiguity much further, but again Fleming had sown the seeds.

LiveandLetDie CasinoRoyale1But these elements, though certainly vital to what we now recognize as the Spy Novel, are still not the heart of the matter.  For that, you have to look at the whole implicit conception of the Bond books, which is that a lone man, operating in the shadows and using brutal means in the service of a noble end, can protect the fragile forces of civilization and indeed change the course of history.  This is a worldview exploited not only by multitudes of subsequent spy novelists; it’s also, for better or worse, a worldview embraced by various world leaders.  In fact, in 1960, Fleming dined with President Kennedy and proposed a number of schemes to discredit Fidel Castro.  I can’t help wondering how many of those schemes inspired, or were themselves part of, Operation Mongoose, Operation Northwoods, and other long-term Kennedy Administration shadow programs that attempted to damage, depose, and assassinate the Cuban leader.  If ever there has been an example of life imitating art, probably it’s Kennedy Administration covert action and the novels of Ian Fleming.

Fleming was also a trendsetter in being part of the secret world he would subsequently use in his novels.  He was followed by many others:  Adam Hall, John le Carré, Charles McCarry, and yours truly, if I might mention myself among such august company.  In fact, Fleming’s adventures in British Naval Intelligence were so exciting that they’re the subject of an upcoming biopic about the author, not his more famous fictional alter ego.  Travel to exotic locations; reckless affairs with femmes fatales; a taste for the finer things; secret derring-do against the forces of evil… sound familiar?  Fleming’s own life was itself sufficiently interesting to make for solid cinematic fodder.  Imagine how richly his life endows his books.

Well, you don’t have to imagine.  You can read them—and more easily today than ever before.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

Browse the Ian Fleming store to learn more about Ian Fleming and the James Bond series.