Day One, Kindle First and Things We Set on Fire

Books, Reading

One of my reading goals for this year was to diversify my reading choices. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been fairly successful in terms of genre, having read several books that normally would not have been on my radar. This effort still needs work in that I noticed that I definitely still skew white American male but that’s something I intend to keep in mind with my future decisions.

Recently, Amazon initiated a couple of programs that have helped diversify my reading. Although I often have mixed feelings about Amazon, I have so far enjoyed the options these programs have provided.

The first is Day One, which is a weekly literary journal, delivered to a Kindle or Kindle app, that features one short story, one poem, an illustrated cover and a discussion between the writers. I subscribed when this program went live a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed the issues so far. Having a new issue appear on my Kindle every week is a great way to read new works. I also like that they have been long short stories, ranging from about 25-40 pages. As someone who prefers print books, I find this length to be ideal for reading on a device. It’s one of the reasons that I decided to publish King’s Long Search, approximately 49 pages, as an ebook. As I am much more interested in fiction these days, I was particularly fond of the short stories in Day One:

The second is the Kindle First program, which is a benefit of being a Prime member. Each month, Amazon will offer one free pre-publication books from a choice of four. Non-Prime members can order one title for $1.99. Again, this is a convenient way to read a new book that might not otherwise be on my radar.

The first book I read via Kindle First was Deborah Reed’s Things We Set on Fire. This was probably the first time in my life I ever read a book without any idea what it was about or even what genre it was other than “general fiction.” One of the things I enjoy about going to film festivals is that there are usually a handful of movies I see without any prior knowledge, so it was exciting to be able to do such with a book. And, as it turned out, I really like Things We Set on Fire.

Reed’s novel is an emotionally engaging story focusing on one family as they navigate tragedies old and new. Vivvie Fenton lives alone in Florida, her husband having died many years earlier and both daughters keeping their distance, one, Elin, having moved to Oregon, and the other, Kate, remaining local but not telling her mother where she lives. One day, Vivvie gets word that Kate is in the hospital and needs to pick up her granddaughters who she hadn’t seen in years. Elin, in an effort to escape her troubled marriage, drives to Florida to be with her family, although old tensions undermine this reunion.

The tale is prime material for sappy melodrama but, much to Reed’s credit, she skillfully navigates the situations and keeps the novel from slipping into cheap sentimentality. All the characters are flawed, often difficult to like, yet are completely sympathetic. The relationships among the main characters ring true. Reed generates a great deal of tension as events from the past constantly threaten to undo any emotional progress made by the three generations of Fenton women. The ending, while not necessarily surprising, avoids easy solutions and provides a complex and satisfying resolution.

There’s a deceptive simplicity to the novel. It features very few characters or locations and, with the exception of a handful of flashbacks, is told in a very straightforward fashion. These traits give the work an intensity that makes Things We Set on Fire a page turner.

My first experience with Kindle First was a definite success and I look forward to my December options. Perhaps I will be even more daring with my selection.