We watched an interview with James Patterson, the best selling mystery writer. (This guy’s office would make a neat freak weep with joy.) He said he insisted his eight-year old son read a book a week all summer. It stuck. Years later he got a perfect score on the verbal part of the SAT exam.

So did Bob. This runs counter to the current millennials and even some earlier gens, who don’t read much at all. What’s a mother, or father, to do? Recent numbers from the Pew Research Center say a quarter of Americans don’t even read a book a year. This is not a reflection on their intelligence; one of the smartest guys Bob ever knew is an Irish guy who only owned two books, both Reader’s Digest condensed versions. That could have been because he couldn’t afford more, but he was loaded, so that wasn’t it.

But it does bring up the issue that books can get expensive. So how do you get cheap or free books if you’re not close to a library, or it doesn’t have many ebooks for download? If you type “ Free Kindle Books” into, you get a list of hundreds. If you go to, they have links to 68,682 free or cheap children’s books. That should keep the little ones busy at bed time. To put the rest of us to sleep, they have 81,000 titles for adults. Some are free, some 99 cents, on up to $3. has 54,000 books you can download for free. has fewer, but still close to a thousand at least.

On, check off favorite categories for devices like Kindle, Nook, Google Play, etc. You’ll see links to free or cheap books and get more suggestions in a daily email if you wish. By the way: You don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle book, just add the Kindle app to your phone, tablet or computer; it’s free.

We checked off literary fiction, current events, science fiction and a few other categories. In came several freebies: “My Favorite Husband,” a screwball comedy by Pam McCutcheon,  as well as many best-sellers for $2, such as “The Informant,” by Kurt Eichenwald, a political thriller. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” about food choices, normally $14, was $2.

Handy Windows Shortcuts

Joy often finds some reason to use Bob’s computer, but he says it never works right afterwards. So recently, she signed on as a guest user. You can do this in Windows 10 by holding down the Alt key and tapping the F4 key; you’ll get a menu which includes “switch user.”  In Windows 7 and 8, hold down the “Ctrl,” and “Alt” keys and tap the “Delete” key. Then click “switch user.”

This led us to think about some other handy shortcuts, which are common but we’ve found not everybody knows them.

Win X:  Hold down the Windows key (looks like a flag) and tap the “X” key. This brings up Control Panel, Task Manager, System, Search and many other common functions. (Does not work with Windows XP.)

Ctrl C: Highlight some passage you want to copy by running over it with the mouse cursor, then hold down the “Ctrl” key and tap the “C” key.

Ctrl V: Hold down the “Ctrl” key and tap the “V” key to paste what you copied somewhere else.

Win Prt Scn: Hold down the Windows key and tap the Print Screen key to take a picture of anything on your screen. Use “Ctrl V” to paste it somewhere, like in an email, or Microsoft Word. (In Windows 7 and up, use the Windows snipping tool when you want to capture part of the screen.) Bring it into the free Windows “Paint” program to add comments, underlines, and so on.

Alt Tab: Hold down the “Alt” key and tap the Tab key to switch between an app, such as Microsoft Word, and a website, or between the thing you were working on before and what you’re working on now. This is handy to have a “notes” screen separate from your current screen.

Google Home Calling

At last we can make phone calls with “Google Home,” their new digital assistant device.

Joy said, “Hey Google, call Bob.” And sure enough, his cell phone started flashing, even  though the ringer was off. From across the room, Joy talked to the Google Home speaker and Bob answered.  The call quality sounded a like a really cheap speaker phone, but it could be  handy in an emergency. It’s also convenient. You might be sitting nowhere near your phone, and you can say, “Hey Google, call the nearest Chinese restaurant.” When you’re through,  say “Hey Google, hang up.”

These devices are fun. We often ask things like: “Is the hardware store still open?”  They can also tell you a joke or play quiz games. Recently, Joy had six ladies over for lunch and played a “name that tune” game, by asking Google Home to play music from the 50s, then the 60s, then the 70s. If someone didn’t know the answer, she could ask: “Hey Google, what’s playing?” Amazon’s Echo does this too, but the Google device seems to have better selections.

If you’re lured by one of the 5,000 apps available through Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, be aware that the small Echo Dot has its own tiny speaker but doesn’t sound as well as the more expensive Echo version. However, you can plug in your own speakers. As usual, prices are coming down: $45 for the Echo Dot, $109 for Google Home. There’s also the “Echo Show,” if you want a screen to see the answers to your questions, and a smart webcam to judge your fashion sense.


  • Christiane Vulpius and Goethe has free college courses from leading universities. We’re trying a world literature class from Harvard, which started by taking us to Goethe’s home in Weimar, Germany and giving us a charming account of his life there. Each video is about three minutes long.

  • has easy experiments and projects for kids. We like the “Make Your Own Lava Lamp” (without electricity).
  • has guides for getting rid of bed bugs, mosquitoes, mice, stink bugs, cockroaches, flies and other pests.



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