Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers

Photo of a Kindle by Charlie Sorrel

E-books have hit the mainstream, and for the first time are consistently outselling their pulp-and-ink brethren, according to Amazon.com.

Amazon hit a symbolic milestone last holiday season, when for one day its sales of e-books exceeded the number of dead-tree books it had sold.

Now the company has hit a more significant milestone, selling 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books sold over the course of the second quarter. The rate is accelerating: For the past month, Amazon sold 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers, and it sold three times as many e-books in the first six months of this year as it did in the first half of 2009.

Amazon’s Kindle bookstore now offers more than 630,000 books, Amazon says, plus 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright titles.

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Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers

How I Used Twitter to Live-Blog the Opera

SAN FRANCISCO — Opera and Twitter: Could any two vehicles for human expression be more diametrically opposed?

And yet they kind of go together, as I found out this week while live-tweeting the San Francisco Opera’s performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre, a four-and-half-hour epic noted for its ambitious staging, bravura solos, massively overwhelming orchestration and ladies with pointy Viking hats.

Yes, I was the annoying guy sitting amid a sea of evening wear in a T-shirt and sneakers, holding an iPhone as low as I could and trying to not to get kicked out by the ushers for violating the house “no electronic devices” policy.

You might think that Twitter and opera (not the browser) don’t work together. On the one hand, you’ve got epically long, rich visual and auditory feasts for the senses that require significant education to appreciate. On the other, you’ve got a text-only medium that restricts you to 140 characters, is free to use, and currently reaches more than 30 million people, who use it to broadcast such prosaic items as what they’re wearing, whether its raining or if Ronaldhino has just scored a goal.

On top of that, opera is, well, old. I think the medium was last popular in about 1895, whereas Twitter is very much a child of the 21st century’s always-on, internet-saturated lifestyle.

But if you treat opera as an event, it sort of makes sense to integrate it with Twitter. After all, people have live-tweeted Steve Jobs keynotes, ballgames, breaking news events and even births. Twitter is very well-suited to giving people a glimpse of something as it happens, adding a communal (and even global) dimension to real-time events. So why not opera?

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How I Used Twitter to Live-Blog the Opera

Review: Hydration-Bottle Packs

Ah, summer: The time when runners don their skimpiest spandex and hit the trails in search of sunshine, fresh air and dehydration and, uh heat exhaustion.

Seriously, staying hydrated is important. It’s even more critical if your run stretches to an hour or more and the weather is hot. Unless you’re on a well-stocked marathon course with water and first aid stations every few miles, you’ve got to carry your own refreshments. That means some kind of pack.

We tested four waist packs, a popular choice for runners. (Water-filled backpacks are too hot and heavy for most runners, and most people don’t like handheld bottles.) We subjected each pack to at least 10 miles of city and trail running.

What we found didn’t exactly impress us: The bottles bounce, their straps chafe and you’ll spend way too much time cinching and un-cinching them in search of the perfect fit. Our advice: Go to a store where they’ll let you try them on before you buy, because the ideal fit is going to come down to the shape of your body.

On the plus side, carrying water could mean the difference between finishing that 8-mile run with a smile on your face and collapsing halfway through in a puddle of sweat and muscle spasms. As a bonus, most of these packs will also hold your phone, iPod, high-tech energy gels and any other gadgets you consider essential for running.

Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity

Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity

A horizontally mounted, contoured bottle helps this pack snug up against your lumbar area, a bit higher than most water-bottle packs. Because of its shape, it bounces less too. However, the location also makes it more difficult to get at anything you’ve stashed in the nylon pocket.

WIRED Snuggest fit of the packs tested here.

TIRED Horizontal bottle, with a nylon hold-down loop, is a little hard to remove and reinsert. Exterior stretchy pouch accommodates a phone, but feels a little delicate.

$32, amphipod.com

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Review: Hydration-Bottle Packs

On haiku and micropoetry.

This essay is forthcoming as a broadsheet from Cross+Roads Press, and is based on an interview published on Basho’s Road in December, 2009.

For me, poetry is language under compression. And there’s no more compressed form than the very short poem. Skillfully done, a tiny poem can speak volumes — it can pack a massive emotional and sensory load.

To avoid melodrama and sentimentalism, it’s important for the emotional impact to be indirectly expressed, through metaphor and suggestion. There are exceptions, of course. But I’m most attracted to poems that are referential, concrete, objective and sensory — though with an underlying layer of larger intellectual, emotional, or metaphorical significance. Haiku, with so many rules to choose from, is really well suited to making all that happen in a small space.

You can see what I’m talking about in the work of Basho, Buson and Issa as well as modernists like Pound and Williams. A. R. Ammons explored the very short poem to great effect, and Richard Wright’s haiku show a deep understanding of formal haiku. More recently, poets like Joseph Massey have really pushed the boundaries of how much freight a few words can be made to carry.

There are lots of great examples in the archive of haiku published by tinywords from 2000 to 2008 and in tinywords’ newer archive of haiku and micropoems published since 2009.

* * *

I’ve never been that interested in the debates about what qualifies as haiku; I’m looking for good, striking poetry, whatever it’s called.

There is lots of interesting work in this vein going on through other forms than haiku, such as one-line poems (monostiches), tanka, micropoems, flash poetry, etc. Twitter has been a big part of this efflorescence, because it’s a built-in platform for publishing and sharing very, very small snippets of text.

Also, I want to sidestep all the debates and questions about what is really a haiku and what’s not. I find haiku’s long and rich history, and its many rules, are a great source of inspiration, and all that is very helpful in crafting good poems. But arguments about what constitutes a haiku are not especially interesting. The form is a means to the end, which is creating great poetry.

* * *

Basho’s great contribution was the attempt to make haiku a direct expression of a particular moment, of the thing in itself. The manifestation of a phenomenon should appear as vividly in the haiku as it does in real life. At least, it should seem to do so, without the overt imposition of the author’s ego or perspective.

Basho’s style evolved out of his close contact with Zen Buddhism. Granted, unless you’ve been sitting meditation for years, a poem is not likely to be the key to enlightenment! But I’m unapologetic about the poem’s attempt to convey reality. It’s not a very fashionable position for contemporary poetry, but I stand by it.

Like Jack Spicer, if I could put a real lemon into a poem, I would. “Words are what sticks to the real. We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem,” Spicer said. I think Basho would have agreed with that.

* * *

The idea for tinywords came to me in mid-2000, shortly after I got a cellphone that was capable of receiving text messages. I didn’t know many people who were into texting so I started looking around to see what I could do with the service. It turned out I could get weather updates, sports scores, news headlines — none of which seemed particularly interesting to me.

Then I thought: what about poetry? Haiku are short enough that they ought to be able to fit into the 160-character limit of an SMS message, and wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a haiku on your phone every day? Of course no one was doing this, so I decided to start.

It just seemed like a good way to humanize technology, and to send people a little moment of poetry at a random point in the day — something that would remind them, gently, to wake up and pay attention. Or maybe just bring a smile or a thoughtful, puzzled frown to their faces!

Since then, I’ve been amazed by the diversity and sheer number of people who read and subscribe to tinywords: People on every continent and in all walks of life. While most of the readers are based in the U.S., there are strong contingents of readers and contributors in England, Poland, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

* * *

The readers have taught me how valuable and accessible poetry can be, even when it’s difficult or adventurous. People respond so enthusiastically to tinywords — they tell me that they love receiving the poems, and that they missed them when we weren’t publishing them, that they’re a bright spot in their days. People share them with their friends. One group of students even read each day’s poem aloud in their school cafeteria.

That’s the other genius of the very short poem: Because it is so small, is it unintimidating. It is not hard to learn how to read or write haiku. Writing very good haiku is an achievable goal for many people. And they’re easy and fun to share with others.

And then there is the simple fact that short poems don’t take a lot of time. Even in the busy-ness and swirl of modern life, reading or writing very short poems can be part of a daily practice. And that, I think, is the key to enjoying any art, and much more so to mastering it.

As Waverley Root said of wine, “Drink it every day, at lunch and at dinner, and the rest will take care of itself.” You could say the same about reading and writing poetry.

On haiku and micropoetry.