By Anna Meurer
Let me just say it: I love my Kindle. It’s probably up there with the color green and sleeping. (Who cares about sliced bread?) Of course, if you’ve been to Amazon’s Kindle store, you have no doubt seen the “Free Books” section.Quite frankly, I love this section. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to go download 10 free books before a trip. Why? 1) I definitely judge books by their covers, and I’m open to reading almost anything, 2) I am always looking for new books, 3) I’m too lazy to do any sort of extensive research and 4) I’m cheap.
Now, I’m not saying that the free book section is an undiscovered Atlantis and we should never pay for a book again. Truth is, free books don’t always get chalked up as a victory, though the same can be said for majorly published books as well. The best analogy is one of gold mining—looking through muddy water, sifting through earth until you find something. Sometimes it’s gold…and sometimes it’s just dirt. The same is true of free books. I generally sort them into one of three categories:
1. Hindenburg: Mostly self-published, these books go in the same category as TV series that are cancelled after one episode and the “American Idol” contestants that are stopped after singing one line. These are usually characterized by typos on the first page (particularly your/you’re), ridiculous dialogue and overly dramatic titles. In addition, an inordinate number seem to be written in first person—the authors possibly trying to share their soul with us. More often than not, these are less about actual writing and more about recounting some clichéd fantasy daydream. Diagnosis: avoid. Avoid at all costs —I’m talking delete from device, Cloud, account history, everything. Note: I am not against self-publishing or trying to become an author, just the idea that writing is simply putting words on a page. An idea does not make good literature.
2. Ghost: Survivable, perhaps even mildly enjoyable. Would I pay money to read them? Probably not. Will I recommend them? Also probably not. But they were enough to win the debate of reading vs. idle chatter with a neighbor on an 8-hour flight. These books are usually characterized by a decent idea and good moments but not enough attention to characters and a slight tendency to leave odd plot holes. Essentially, these books are better than the painful descriptions of the previous category (show, don’t tell, people) but often forget that the reader isn’t telepathic. In some ways, these books are the most disappointing because they hold up for most of the time and then crash, almost always at the climax or conclusion. Diagnosis: desperate times call for desperate measures…do what you gotta do.
3. Napoleon (Dynamite): Publishable and recommendable. Perhaps not “Harry Potter” big, but still decent enough quality that I’d read another one. In fact, I might even pay for it (if it’s cheap). Fun characters, interesting plots and, most importantly, good grammar! Sadly, these are relatively rare, but so rewarding when found, not in the least because they were free. On a more serious note, these demonstrate one of the good things about the digital age—the potential for decent writers who aren’t quite good enough to play in the big leagues to shine. Diagnosis: read and be merry.
So there you have it. Go forth and read—for free.