ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Old Books Smell like Vanilla

According to this video from Abe Books, “Chemists at University College, London have investigated the old book odor and concluded that old books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper. The lead scientist described the smell as ‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.'” (Source: Huffington Post)

Secondhand bookstore fans are especially attuned to the olfactory wiles of dusty old tomes. Even as many of us shift our reading habits from printed books to digital books, we still wax nostalgic and romantic about the aesthetic pleasures of old book odor. But do old books smell like vanilla?

Stick your nose deep into an old book and inhale deeply… As it turns out, dozens of different chemicals that are emitted by paper, binding, ink, and glue… break down over time… One prominent compound results from the breakdown of lignin, a polymer found in plant cell walls, as well as paper. As it degrades, it’s converted into vanillin, a chemical naturally present in vanilla beans, accounting for the hints of vanilla. (Source: Vox)

I’m keen on old books and I’m keen on vanilla, but I’m not certain that old books smell like vanilla. According to Matija Strlic (the scientist who lead the 2009 study that has fueled recent aromatic rumination on old books), the grassy, tangy, and slightly vanilla smell of old aging books “is as much a part of the book as its contents.” I better keep sniffing…

Hat top to Todd Goff who brought the Vox article to my attention last summer. Yes, I’ve been dawdling and field testing ever since. Conclusions still pending!

Is Whispersync the Bundle I’m Touting?

For ages I’ve been touting the incredible merits of an audio book / ebook bundle. I’ve conjured. I’ve ranted. But nothing. At last, this.

Now you don’t have to put a good book down… Switch back and forth between Kindle book and the Audible audiobook without ever losing your place. (

Audible claims that Whispersync for Voice fans are consuming more books, and reader’s / listeners’ are pleased with the enriched experience. I’m guardedly optimistic. And interested in your experience. Off to poke around and see what the punditry is saying…

The Emerald Mile: Kevin Fedarko’s Intrepid Tale

Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Steve “Wren” Reynolds… embarked on [an adventure] in late June of 1983, when they defied common sense and the National Park Service and set off, at night, to attempt a record-breaking speed run down the Colorado River in a 17-foot wooden dory called the Emerald Mile… To get from A to Z, they figured, would require roughly two nights and days of furious rowing. That is, assuming they lived through it… (

The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko

The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko

This attention-grabbing introduction to Kevin Fedarko‘s “Rocketing Into the Great Unknown: The Emerald Mile on the Colorado River” appeared in Outside Online in conjunction with the launch of the author’s nonfiction account, The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon.

Yes, the title’s looong. But if you’re chronicling a hair raising, adrenaline pumping, teeth rattling, skull crunching story about three intrepid watermen’s conquest of the Colorado River during impossibly furious conditions, I suppose you can wrap your title up and down the spine as many times as you can fit. At least if you’re a virtuoso storyteller. And Kevin Fedarko is nothing less.

I had the good fortune of listening to him read from The Emerald Mile a couple of nights ago at Collected Works in Santa Fe, and I can vouch for his storytelling. Top notch. I bought four copies, three as gifts, and one to read aloud to my bride. We. Will. Enjoy.

Kevin Fedarko

Kevin Fedarko

Here’s the skinny. Fedarko has intertwined two stories, one about a rare (and really scary) confluence of events in the Grand Canyon in 1983 and another about the natural wonder itself. The Glen Canyon Dam (and the perspectives of those who created and manage it) offers a sort of corollary tale as riveting as the three dory men’s once-in-a-lifetime daredevil escapade.

I’ll update this post once I’ve finished reading The Emerald Mile, but until then I encourage you to visit Fedarko’s Emerald Mile Facebook page to learn more about his hydraulic adventure. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the Kirkus Review:

Man’s indomitable need for adventure is the only thing more impressive than the awesome power of nature and the brilliance of technology described in this lovingly rendered retelling of one of the most remarkable events ever to occur inside the Grand Canyon. (Kirkus)

Intrigued? Let me know what you think.

iPad Insomnia: The Study My Bride’s Been Anticipating

English: A 1st generation Apple iPad showing i...

Apple iPad w/ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Wikipedia)

“I wish you wouldn’t take your iPad to bed.”

“My dear, we’ve been through this before…”

“It’s not good to watch a backlit screen before bed. You’re not going to be able to fall asleep.”

“Except it doesn’t seem to bother me. Remember?”

Unless waking up early the following morning is the symptom, I don’t suffer from “iPad insomnia”. I read on my iPad. I turn off the light. I go to sleep. And usually I sleep solidly for 4-6 hours and wake up, ready to start a new day. Except when I’m super tired. Or sick. In other words, empirical evidence would suggest that I’m not susceptible to iPad insomnia. Unless it accounts for a lower-than-average sleep appetite.

A year or two ago I wouldn’t have believed that my pre-sleep reading preference would ever be an electronic gadget. Today, I honestly prefer my iPad before bed to most anything else. I love books, I mean, really love books, but my tired eyes love the iPad. And I can dim the screen or reverse the text so that the screen is black. Life is good.

And yet, it looks like the good folks down at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute‘s Lighting Research Center agree with my bride that backlit screens can suppress melatonin.

RPI found that looking at a backlit screen, like those on iPads and other tablets, can lead to sleeplessness.

“Our study shows that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent,” said Mariana Figueiro, the lead researcher.  “Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using the devices prior to bedtime.”

In the study, 13 subjects read, watched videos and played games on tablets with backlit displays for two hours. The subjects were equipped with devices to measure the light their eyes were receiving, and some wore goggles that filtered the light they saw. (

Aside from the itsy bitsy teeny weeny test group, it’s worth noting that the study was not limited to reading. Videos and interactive video games strike me as a much more likely to interrupt natural circadian rhythms. But videos and video games are not my daily nightcap, so I’m not terribly concerned. As for my Kindle Fire, my experience with pre-bed reading is similar to the iPad and ink-and-paper books. No experience reading the old school Kindles before bed, but I suspect they’d fall into the same group.

In short, iPad insomnia be damned! My melatonin loves the backlit screen.

Power of Story

About a month and a half ago I received a wonderful gift from my friend and research/editorial/blogging assistant, Katie Shepard. Before the hubbub of the 84th Academy Awards; before this fourteen minute long cartoon about the enchanting power of stories, reading and books won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film; before I would have comfortably volunteered that I loved watching an animated film, Katie sent me a microscopic email.

I think you would like this video…

Since then the video has become password protected at Vimeo, but The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is viewable on YouTube and you can download the short film at Moonbot Studios website.

If you’re a “book cynic”, then I join Bookigee in challenging you not to be inspired by Morris Lessmore. This bibliophiles fantasy was co-directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg in Shreveport, Louisiana. Here’s what they have to say about this tidy little masterpiece.

Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. (

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a timely reminder wrapped up in a “poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.” Thanks, Katie, for bringing it to my attention (and for scooping the Academy Awards!) Everyone else, please accept my apologies for failing to share Mr. Lessmore sooner.

Kindle Fire Pros & Cons, Part III

Welcome to kindle fire

I ordered my Kindle Fire late Thursday morning and it arrived Friday, charged, linked to my Amazon account and brandishing a batch of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

Okay, so I made up the last… But my Kindle initiation was almost that perfect.

Of course, honeymoons don’t last forever, and three days of drive-my-bride-crazy-intensive-Kindle-Fire-field-testing later I’m ready to share my first impressions of the Kindle Fire. This post follows up on “Kindle Fire Pros & Cons, Part I” and “Kindle Fire Pros & Cons, Part II”, but my review doesn’t depend on first reading those posts, so if you’re heart is racing because you’re a mouse click away from investing two hundred clams in a K-Fire, skip the back story and scan, read, consider the following. Read the rest of this entry »

Kindle Fire Pros & Cons, Part II

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Amazon founder J...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Time to swap $199 for a Kindle Fire. I’ve to discover firsthand what makes it sexy and/or clunky. I have cast around for reviews, but now it’s time to understand what this increasingly ubiquitous device is all about. While I wait for the brown truck, you can catch up on my journey so far… Read the rest of this entry »

Kindle Fire Pros & Cons, Part I

Kindle Fire: Out of the Box

Image by Brian Sawyer via Flickr

I’ve decided that I need to understand the Kindle Fire. I’ve borrowed, dabbled and delayed. So far it hasn’t been love at first sight. Not like my bride’s iPad, for example. I love it. Crave it. Waiting for next gen to own my own. Happy fortieth birthday, virtualDavis! Perhaps…

But the K-Fire is here to stay. For a while. Until its sexy progeny dethrone it. K-Fire’s adoption rate alone has been staggering, so I need to test drive this chunky Technicolor gizmo posthaste. I’m placing my order tonight, and I’ll dish up pick-nits and plaudits aplenty soon. Stay tuned.

Until then, consider these Kindle Fire pros and cons posted by O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert (@jwikert).

Kindle Fire Pros

  • Form factor “It’s nice being able to wrap your hand around the entire device and the lighter weight is a big plus for the Fire.”
  • Meets the needs of typical consumer “Consumers who want a cheap tablet are OK without all the bells and whistles of the iPad…”
  • Connection to Amazon content “Connectivity to Amazon’s ebooks, video and audio content is second to none with the Fire.”

Kindle Fire Cons

  • Connection to Amazon content “As easy as it is for Fire users to access Amazon content it’s just that difficult to access anyone else’s… my next tablet will not be locked in to one provider’s content.”
  • Awful for the early adopter/tinkerer “.if you’re buying it to root and open it up you’ll be disappointed… [For example] some of the apps in the Android Market simply won’t run on it…”
  • Auto-updates “How in the world can Amazon think that forcing OS updates on every Fire owner is the right thing to do? … Really stupid.”
  • “Silk” browser “It turns out the browser isn’t that fast… in my totally unscientific side-by-side testing, the Fire almost always loaded pages slower than both my iPad and my RIM Playbook.”
  • Missing a “killer” app “Amazon should have invested some money with the developers of apps like Zite and Flipboard to make sure they were available when the Fire launched.”

(Kindle Fire pros and cons list via Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog.)

Everything Wikert has listed makes sense to me, but the most likely complaint likely to endure is the Amazon-centric content bias. I imagine the browser will get supercharged, and app developers are already following the consumer flood. But Amazon intends to exploit and nurture the content bias. No surprise there. And with millions of satisfied, well-trained consumers eager to gobble up Amazon distributed content, it’s no surprise that Bezos & Company aren’t eager to give away their monopoly.

Are you pleased or disappointed with your Kindle Fire? Share your experience in the comments below or Twitter, Facebook, Google+. And as soon as I’ve gotten my greedy paws (and eyes) on a Kindle Fire I’ll dish up my own Kindle Fire Pros & Cons. Now, let’s see how lickety-split Amazon Prime can hook me up…

Print Books: Purge or Hoard?

Although I love my print books, e-readers, in one form or another, have become my primary reading device over the last few years. I barely touch my print books, although they are still beautiful and important to me. But they sit on my bookshelf as a decorative and intellectual art form… When I voiced my reluctance to ship my books, one of my editors, horror-stricken, said: “You have to take your books with you! I mean, they are books. They are so important!” The book lover in me didn’t disagree, but the practical side of me did… In the end, I decided to leave 80 percent of the books behind, donating them to bookstores and even throwing some old, tattered volumes in the garbage. Readers, what would you have done? (


Image by henry… via Flickr

Old news. Familiar question. Sort of…

I just returned from the Writer’s Digest Conference where the question of jettisoning or clinging to print collections came up several times. No consensus, but an interesting question.

This winter/spring is “out with the old, in with the new” time for me, so I’m lightening my load in as many ways as I can. My 2012 word-of-the-year? Agile. I’ll revisit this in the months ahead. Am I throwing too much too fast for you to follow my line of reasoning? Yes, I am. Concept still jelling. Actually the concept and the conviction have jelled, but I’m still sorting through how to explain my mission. Dump nonessential baggage and travel light. Simplify. Cut the crap. Chase the dream… As you can see, I’m still in beta on this!

Nick Bilton‘s July 27 post, “Print Books: Should They Stay or Should They Go?” cuts right to the chase, and I suspect that his decision to pare print down to 20% of his collection will be an increasingly common phenomenon.

I’m not there. I like digital, but I’m a sucker for ink and paper and bindings. I’m passionate about marginalia-filled white space and flattened relics which tumble out of books instantly transporting us back to an orange poppy in Big Sur or a teenage romance. I’m not ready to swap my bookshelves and floor/windowsill/desk stacks for a slim digital facsimile. Not yet. Purge I will, but not the books. Not now.

What about you? Do you feel the urge to purge?

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Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon lending up to 300k e-books per month (image via VatorNews)

Image via VatorNews

When Amazon launched Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, their free e-book lending library back in November it was a concept, a gamble, a challenge.

Amazon unveiled a long-rumored “Netflix-for-books” digital lending library Wednesday. Via yet another enhancement for Amazon Prime, subscribers who also own Kindles can borrow one (and only one) book per month from about 5,000 available titles. (

Less than three months later it’s taken off, and its potential is just beginning to take shape.

According to the company, customers borrowed nearly 300,000 (295,000 to be exact) KDP Select titles in December alone, and KDP Select has helped grow the total library selection. With the $500,000 December fund, KDP authors have earned $1.70 per borrow. In response to strong customer adoption of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Amazon says it has added a $200,000 bonus to the January KDP Select fund, raising the total pool from $500,000 to $700,000 for authors. (TechCrunch)

Who knew libraries would profit indie authors in the digital age? Another encouraging indicator for storytelling buskers… Sure Amazon’s free e-books (like their free videos) are incentives to sell Kindles and Amazon Prime, but the numbers are encouraging at a time when writers are gushing content virtually uncompensated.

Am I gushing? Yes. Am I habitually, unabashedly pollyanna-ish? Yes! But I can’t help getting excited (and optimistic) about what this means for indie authors. I understand that Amazon’s motives are market dominance and an eventual payday, but there’s a fascinating shift afoot, and from the vantage of a latter day storyteller, it opens up exciting new opportunities fellow narrative crafters. KDP Select is starting to look a lot more inviting, right?

Amazon this morning announced that it has set up a $6 million annual fund dedicated to independent authors and publishers. Dubbed KDP Select, the fund aims to let indie authors and publishers “make money in a whole new way”… [When] a KDP author or publisher chooses to make any of their books exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, those books are eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and can earn a share of the KDP Select fund. (TechCrunch)

Of course, not everyone’s happy, and I suspect that it may be a couple of years before we can accurately evaluate the impact this will have on traditional publishers and authors. Plenty of cynics and skeptics are offering doomsday prophecies, but this warning in particular gives me pause, reminding me not to leap before I know how high the tide.

The Author’s Guild attacked Amazon after the Kindle Lending Library was announced, claiming that the program (in which Amazon actually purchases a copy of the book at cost to itself) “appears to be boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers. This is an exercise of brute economic power.” (HotHardware)

Brute economic power for sure, and risks abound, but at this early way station it looks like at least some authors are profiting.

Rachel Yu, a 16 year-old high school student, earned $6,200 in December from e-books she wrote and published via a related Amazon initiative called KDP Select… her children’s books, including titles such as “The Magical Dragon’s Three Gifts,” were among the most borrowed through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. (MediaFile)

Although this prodigy is still too young to enroll directly in the program, her parents fronted her success, suggesting that the KDP Select must be family-friendly and tolerant of round pegs in square holes. Not necessarily a common description for traditional publishing

Carolyn McCray, a writer of paranormal romance novels, historical thrillers and mysteries, earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December. “KDP Select truly is a career altering program,” said McCray. “I couldn’t be happier with the tools, support and exposure it has given me. To say the trade-off of exclusivity on Amazon for the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has been a profitable one would be a gross understatement. Participating in KDP Select has quadrupled my royalties.” (TechJournal South)

Amber Scott is a romance writer and earned $7,650 from the KDP Select fund in December. “Enrolling in KDP Select utterly transformed my career,” said Scott. “I’ve experienced not only a surge in royalties but a surge in readership thanks to the increased exposure. I love the chance to earn new readers through the innovation of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. What an exciting time to be an author.” (TechJournal South)

Three inspiring stories don’t define a rule, but the picture is promising. Where from here? I suspect the numbers from January will be exciting too, especially considering how many Kindles allegedly sold in the holiday fervor. Vice President of Kindle Content, Russ Grandinetti, touched on the proven marketing potential of offering free e-books through the Kindle library.

“We knew customers would love having KDP Select titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. But we’ve been surprised by how much paid sales of those same titles increased, even relative to the rest of KDP.” (eBookNewser)

Perhaps the digital age will see a return to busking and libraries. I hope so. And our first glimpse of Kindle Owners’ Lending Library invites optimism.

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