Levi Asher, the writer behind the long-running Literary Kicks site, has decided to move into the world of Kindle ebook publishing. He’s starting the series off with a philosophical essay on the Objectivism of Ayn Rand. Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters) expands upon several posts Asher has made recently in his ongoing Philosophy Weekend discussions. The focus on philosophy and its requirements for logical thinking and argument is especially needed right now in a political and ideological world of harsh opinion and attack masquerading as argument. I often do this kind of attack-dog arguing myself. It’s fun and it clears the sinuses effectively. But it does not really serve much purpose. Rational philosophical debate does serve a purpose and tends to foster respect between opposing parties.
Ayn Rand, for me, is simply the author of a very readable but rather simplistic novel, The Fountainhead. I tried to read Atlas Shrugged, but gave up after two hundred pages, finding it so belabored and filled with lunkheaded ideas that I simply couldn’t put up with another speech from one of its cutout characters. However, Rand also has a body of philosophical writing that seems to have been very influential and is having some kind of a resurgence lately among mostly conservative-minded people.
I have always thought that Rand was basically reacting violently to the mass-mindedness she saw everywhere in the first half of the twentieth century. That mass-mind quality led millions to death via the trenches of World War I or the concentrations camps and genocide of Hitler and Stalin. In the face of such horror, I think I too would have found solace in elevating the individual above all else.
I have purchased my copy of the Kindle book but I have not read it yet. When I do finish the book and if I feel competent to do so I will try to write a little review. But since I know Levi Asher’s writing very well from his fascinating blog I can certainly recommend that you head over to Amazon and buy a copy of a book that is for thinking.
Get Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters) on Amazon
Creating some good healthy competition for the likes of Amazon and iBookstore, Google has opened its online ebook store. Ebooks are available for Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod and Web reading. You can keep your ebooks in your Google library for access from different devices and readers, always maintaining sync with where you left off. Downloads are offered in Adobe PDF or EPUB formats. Google keeps insisting that its books are not compatible with the Kindle, even though they offer PDFs which are easily supported by later model Kindles. I’m not sure what this double-speak is about. You can also convert Google’s EPUB format to Kindle-friendly MOBI format by going over to download a free copy of the Calibre ebook management software that enables simple conversion and transfer. I downloaded a free Google ebook of Sherlock Holmes stories and converted it for my Kindle in seconds. The result looks just like a book purchased from Amazon for my Kindle. In fact, some of the books I’ve purchased directly from Amazon have shown such grotesque typos and formatting errors that I wonder if anyone is doing any proofreading at all anymore. That’s mainly the fault of the ebook publishers, but Amazon could certainly crack down on what amounts to seriously broken merchandise. Competition from the Google juggernaut is a welcome bit of relief.
Google is capitalizing on their enormous library of scanned books for some of their offerings, especially in the free download area. Most importantly however, Google is allowing independent bookstores to sell Google ebooks through their own retail sites. The revenue from such sales is shared with the bookstore owners. I also understand that the revenue split with publishers is very fair, with the publishers getting 70% and 30% going to Google.
Open Letters Monthly has an article called In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider in which he argues that books on shelves perform the function of reflecting memories back at us. They are a constant reminder of the various events, stages, and emotional states of our lives. We look at our shelves and can instantly catapult ourselves back in time to events surrounding our reading of various volumes.
Schneider mentions a 16th-century memory theater that used images and symbols of the cosmos to inspire observers and enhance their intellectual powers. Books, for Schneider, do something similar when they are visible on our shelves. I agree up to a point. I am often taken back in time by my own books upon their shelves. But so am I transported by nearly every object in my home. Objects all have this power. Books are not exceptional in this regard.
I don’t understand much about the book business. But I do know what makes a person want to go and be somewhere. I read a good blog post at The Devil’s Accountant about the troubles small bookstores have with the existing book business and the emerging business of ebook publishing. Small bookstores have to purchase books at wholesale for too much money and can’t make enough profit when they sell at retail. That’s true. But most movie theaters can’t make much money selling tickets either. They sell candy and sodas at big markups to make good money. In fact, there’s no such thing as the ‘movie business.’ There’s only a candy selling business that uses movies to bring you up to the candy counter.
An important point I’d also like to make about independent and small bookstores is that most of them really suck. Seriously. Most small bookstores are just a modest room full of books on poorly built shelves. Dead boring. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a crappy independent bookstore. Good riddance to them. Most independent bookstores can’t hold a candle to any Barnes & Noble or a Borders. Don’t open a bookstore if all you want to do is sell books. You’re an idiot if you do. And I won’t give you my money. I’ll give it to Amazon. They are not boring. They are smart and interesting. I enjoy watching them slaughter dull little bookshop owners every single day. It’s a fascinating and wonderful bloodbath. These booksellers are being eaten by lions and their screams are rare amusement.
After two years of reading reviews, watching products come out and compete, listening to people gripe about DRM and ebook pricing, I jumped directly into the fray and opted for the Kindle from Amazon. I am completely and utterly smitten with the thing. It feels like a magic book. No – more like a printing press. It’s got ink inside and the computer arranges the ink on the screen and it feels a little bit like you’re printing each page as you look at it. It’s wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever read so much in a two-day stretch before. I’ve subscribed to the New York Times and Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I’ve purchased a single Amazon ebook for $9.99 and I’ve downloaded some free books from Project Gutenberg. It all works beautifully and makes for the single best addition to my library since I acquired a two-hundred-year-old copy of Don Quixote.
There’s been a huge battle of the ebooks going on between Amazon.com and publisher Macmillan. Last week, Macmillan, in response to rotten Apple’s announcement of $14 and $15 ebooks on its new iPad, insisted that Amazon give Macmillan the right to choose its own higher ebook pricing for the Kindle ereader device. Amazon got peevish about the deal and simply de-listed all of Macmillan’s books. I thought that was a nice nasty smack in the kisser for a doomed publisher at the time. I was feeling so good about Amazon and its Kindle and so snitty about Apple’s iPad that I was within 60 minutes of plunking my digital money down on a brand new shiny Kindle. But wait! Amazon caved! They rolled over and gave Macmillan what it wanted.
So now, dear reader, your Kindle ebooks from Macmillan will cost more. Frankly, I was always kind of miffed by the whole $9.99 price tag on Kindle ebooks. Too high. Ebooks are invisible. You can’t stack them and put boards across to make a coffee table. Ebooks don’t have nice covers or fancy paper that you can bend and spill coffee on. I don’t know about anyone else reading this blog out there, but when I walk into a book store I’m just a customer. I don’t frankly give a damn about how the publisher is doing or how Amazon is getting along, or care a whit for Steve Jobs’ health, or the status of your average mid-list author and how he or she’s going to pay their mortgage. I don’t give one syllable of a damn. Continue reading