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Can't find Mark Twain? Kindle's got him.

November 24, 2010 |  6:30 am

Marktwain_autobio The 736-page "Autobiography of Mark Twain," published a full 100 years after its author's death, was a surprise bestseller when it came out earlier this month.

That's terrific news for the University of California Press, the book's publisher, which says "Autobiography of Mark Twain" is the biggest seller it's ever had.

Original plans called for a printing of 7,500, which was upped to 50,000 by the time the book actually went to press. It's since gone back again and again, bringing the total number of printed copies to 275,000. But still, it is hard to find -- as the N.Y. Times reported Friday, the book is selling so fast that it's selling out.

On Tuesday night, major L.A. independent bookstores Skylight and Book Soup were sold out of Twain's memoir. Vroman's had a few left in stock, but they warned that they wouldn't last. "We've sold out twice already," said bookseller John Oschrin. "It's incredible."

The book's surprise popularity points to one of the awkward parts of the publishing industry: The printing and shipping of them takes time. A weighty tome like Twain's will sag the shoulders of delivery people at every juncture as new copies slowly make their way from distribution centers to bookstores.

And yet the book is hot right now. And people who want Twain's autobiography can get it lickety-split if they've got a Kindle, or use the Kindle app on another device. All it takes is the time to download.

Immediate access is one advantage, but not the only one. The Kindle edition is selling for $9.79, while the hardcover retails for $34.95. The Kindle edition will add no weight to a Kindle; the hardcover weighs four pounds, about the same as an average chihuahua.

The Kindle version is certainly popular. It's resting comfortably among contemporary bestsellers in Amazon's Kindle store, a few spots ahead of Nora Roberts and Fanny Flagg, lagging behind George W. Bush and an electronic version of sudoku. It's at No. 25 in the Sony Reader ebook store and is not available as an ebook in Apple's iBook store.

On Amazon, the hardcover "Autobiography of Mark Twain" is at No. 2 in its bestsellers overall, while it's only at No. 12 in the Kindle store. What's more, in the Kindle store the book is falling, rather than rising.

So if it's hard to get a hardcover and easy to get the ebook, why isn't it topping the ebook charts? Could it be that when it comes to a tome, its massive bookishness is part of its appeal?

Twain's autobiography -- which has, incidentally, two later installments still to come -- is now in its third week on the L.A. Times bestseller list.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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