Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some lines stick with you...

Scott Simon called this line out when interviewing Joe Queenan about his new book Closing Time. The person that overthinks every sentence isn't altogether sure about it...but my gut likes the sentiment.

"To the affluent, books are ornaments. To the poor, seige weapons."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pride & Prejudice & Amazonbie.com

I just read a story about someone who had their account suspended by Amazonbie.com because he had returned too much merchandise.

This I can understand. Or, more accurately, I can understand the idea of temporarily suspending someone's account while an investigation is conducted to determine if the returns were justified or if some kind of scam was taking place.

I'm kind of nutty about the whole innocent until proven guilty thing. If we do it for accused murderers and the like, I think that we can hold judgment on someone who returned a copy of A Tale of Two Cities (1).

If, like me, you are someone who has decided to get the Amazonbie.com monkey off your back this might not seem like such a bad thing. Why continue to patronize a company that has treated you poorly as a customer (2)?

But the individual whose account was suspended? He owns a Kindle. Which now does not work because his Amazonbie.com account was suspended. Which means that he now has a very well designed and aesthetically pleasing doorstop. An expensive one at that.

I've made no secret about my dislike of the whole e-book phenomenon but this story reminded me of the Mike Daisey quote from a few posts back. This is one of the risks if we start trusting an entire system to one provider. Stories like this and incidents like the "glitch" reveal the weak links. Are we letting another industry be built that is "too big to fail (3)."

This is the upside of hardcovers and pages that turn. I might be trying to figure out where to store my new stack of titles...but no one in a remote customer service center can turn them off.

1. This example is just being used for illustrative purposes...I have no idea what was actually returned.
2. Huh. I think that today's blogging has an unplanned theme occuring.
3. Not likely I know. As we're learning from the newspaper industry, words and information aren't high on the national preservation list.

You talkin' to me?

A not-very-interesting/downright rude incident has gotten me thinking.

This morning I was craving a chai and decided to risk turning the world on its head by breaking away from my normally very regimented Starbucks schedule (1).

As I believe in sharing the wealth I went to the second of the four Starbucks that occupy the area near my office. This, I knew full well, is the dicey Starbucks.

This is the Starbucks that I believe stays in business only because it sits on a corner where the suburban transit buses pick folks up. But, as I've said, I was living dangerously already.

So, I go to the counter and, as is often the case, I'm ignored by the three people behind the counter of this almost completely empty shop. This is not surprising. This is how these folks roll.

They ignore you. Then one of them looks up, turns slowly to the register and then stares at you. This is the place where you're supposed to state your order and the person at the register will react with all the personality and enthusiasm as the clown head that used to sit on the old McDonald's drive-thru speaker.

But today the difference was that there was no pause. Instead the three folks behind the counter were engaged in a discussion in a language that was not in a language I could identify that they continued even while I was being waited on. No pause. No acknowledgement. Just a head tip from the guy at the register that I took to be my cue.

I don't know why this has stuck with me as, in this town, rude service is unfortunately more the rule than the exception. But it was something about the fact that a conversation was being had in front of me that was structured to block most other people out.

It's not that I think they were talking about me (2), it's that it seemed so deliberate and dismissive.

But here's the thing...if you already know that you'll be taking rude behavior for granted, why should it matter if that rude behavior occurs in a language you don't understand?

And, with three other Starbucks to chose from, why can't I get this situation out of my head?

1. I am a New Englander, a region of the country with the unofficial motto: "Change is bad. Nothing good can come from change. Don't touch that." It sounds better in Latin.
2. Until just now when I wrote that sentence.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

If I only had a brain...

Since mentioning his work the other day I bought Mike Daisey's Great Men of Genius for my iPod and have been listening to him on my subway ride to and from work.

The only real problem with this situation is the fact that Mike Daisey makes me laugh. Out loud. Which causes those around me to occassionally move to another seat when the opportunity presents (1).

The reason for these slightly embarrassing outbursts is twofold.

First, Mike Daisey has a sense of timing that I would kill for. He appreciates the affect a well placed moment of silence can have.

Second, his work has this rhythm to it that is smart and utterly baffling. It's the audio equivalent of the page of a Chris Ware graphic novel. The pieces tie together, the plot moves forward, but not necessarily in the way that you think it would. The connections are just a bit off...like a jigsaw puzzle piece that's been cut down to fit where it doesn't belong.

And it works because, again, the guy's incredibly smart (2).

I mean, how many people sit down and say, "You know what would be really funny? A monologue about Nikola Tesla (3)."

1. Which is cool.
2. As is Chris Ware.
3. No. I'm not telling.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nerd.

Washington & Lee University finally got a stolen book returned to its library stacks...about 145 years after a Union soldier swiped it.
That's kind of amusing. The kind of news brief that makes you chuckle and say, "Hey, I wonder what Bo the dog was up to today (1)?"

But here's the thing. The book that soldier stole? It was, and hang on for this one, W.F.P. Napier's four-volume History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France From the Year 1807 to the Year 1814.

Really? That's the book you decided to take?

Because...the war you were fighting wasn't sufficiently exciting for you so you thought you'd spice things up with a little light reading about the Spanish war against France?

To make matters worse it turns out that the soldier, C.S. Gates, didn't even know who he was stealing the book from. He thought he was at the Virginia Military Institute.

In the front of the book he wrote, "This book was taken from the Military Institute at Lexington Virginia in June 1864 when General Hunter was on his Lynchburg raid. The Institution was burned by the order of Gen. Hunter. The remains of Gen. Stonewall Jackson rest in the cemetery at this place."

Can't you just picture him showing off the book and the inscription to his buddies back at the campfire? Trying to be one of the gang? "Dudes, look what I took! I even wrote in it!"

Only to have one of the cool Union soldiers take one look at it and respond, "Nerd."

1. I have a Bo the dog conspiracy theory that I've been working on. That's kind of sad, right?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Posting Daisies.

Mike Daisey is an author and monologuist whose work I really admire.

Because of his book, 21 Dog Years: doing time @ amazon.com he was hit up by the news media for word on what he was hearing from inside Amazonbie.com.

He posted some of the answers he gave on his blog, but this was the one I keep thinking about (and yeah, again, emphasis mine):

"Amazon is no longer the company it once was: it's just an online Wal-Mart. Like any behemoth, there's little accountability inside the bubble.

More interesting is that everyone in publishing entrusts their rankings and status to a single provider. That's the story no one likes thinking about in publishing."

Takin' the Show on the Road

I do not go to our local farmer's market with the frequency that I should. And our local market is truly outstanding.

But maybe, if someone would take a cue or two from the folks at the iconic Powell's Books in Portland I'd be more motivated.

Because I could buy books.

Powell's is going to be setting up six carts holding some 1,000 books at the Portland Farmers' Market once a month from April to October. The focus is going to be on gardening and cookbooks.

According to an article in Publisher's Weekly this is something of a mini-trend (1) and is happening in a few locations around the country.

With the recent "ham-fisted" stupidity over at Amazonbie.com I love when I see folks taking their books and literature back from the e-world (2).

Another great example...Michael McAllister (3) is starting a reading series in San Francisco that will take place at his partner's retro-cool barbershop. The Barbershop: A Reading Series will be held the first Saturday of every month. A much more skilled blogger writes about it here.

Me, I'm just going to sit here on the east coast and think how fantastic it is. It's like the people who are setting up speakeasy style bars (4) and serving pre-Prohibition drinks. And folks who are still starting up theater companies and gonzo galleries and looking at being laid off as an opportunity to do the things they've always wanted to do. Even when those things are kind of old school in their cool.

I'm not going to say it's turning lemons into lemonade. That's kind of weak and uninspired.

So it's like...um...uh...hmmmmmmm....uh...uh...ummmmm...

Fine...lemons...lemonade (5).

Dang.

1. I'm always wary of things positioned by the media to be trends. It always makes me think of the time NPR did the story about this new thing called bubble tea...when even I knew about bubble tea. And I'm practically Amish.
2. Yes, I know how self-righteous that sounds coming from someone that reads way too many blogs (as you're about to see) and ordered books online just last week. But I'm trying.
3. Whose blog Dogpoet I read...online...like some 21st century kind of person...like the English.
4. Like the bar I just learned about that you access by going through a phone booth in a hot dog shop. Can you freaking stand it?
5. I know...it's totally not but I got stuck.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not So Dense

Lambda Literary Foundation Board President Christopher Rice (1) has a statement on the Lambda Literary Foundation Web site about the Amazonbie.com issue. My emphasis on the part that I find incredibly scary given this situation:

"In response to the recent uproar over Amazon's deranking of 'adult' titles and its effect on LGBT books, Board President Christopher Rice has released this statement:

'Lambda Literary Foundation applauds the diligent work of writers, bloggers and activists in calling attention to this deeply distressing turn of events. I have seen my first novel stripped of its sale ranking by this apparent computer glitch so I join other writers who are baffled to the point of anger.

I take great solace in the quick mobilization of our community in response to this apparent marginalization of LGBT books; the grassroots power of the Internet has been placed on glorious display for all to see. Over the next few days, we at Lambda Literary will be monitoring the situation very closely.

Amazon is one our nation's largest general book retailers. In their commitment to creating and sustaining technological advances in the publishing industry, they have laid claim to the future of book distribution. As such, they have a pressing responsibility to create an unfettered exchange of stories and ideas. If a quick and decisive response to this problem is not forthcoming within the next few days, we at Lambda Literary look forward to leading a sustained and impassioned dialogue on this issue, which will seek to harness the energies that have been released by our community's admirable response.'"

1. Yes. His mother...but not really the point here.

No Room for Giovanni

Odds are good that you've already heard about the e-blowup that's occured around Amazon.com's decision to remove LGBT titles from their rankings and searches because they are considered "adult" content.

This is the part where I would pause for laughter but it's not really that funny.

More not funny? The fact that Amazon.com is trying to play this as a technology "glitch" even though some customer service responses seem to indicate that the ghosts in the machine are being asked to catch the blame for a less-than-bright policy idea that went horribly, horribly wrong.

More more not funny? When I went to the Amazon.com site I was greeted not by a giant apology/really weak explanation about homophobic gremlins but, instead, a big old ad for the Kindle 2.

So, I cancelled my Amazon account.

Will they notice this?

Probably not.

But it did feel pretty darn good.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stop me if you've head this one...

OK...I've mentioned this book before but it's the perfect place to end my series on "offbeat books about the Bible written by funny Jewish writers."

Which is not to say that my love affair with this niche that lacks proper Dewey Decimal love, but to every thing there is a season and this particular season is done.

A.J. Jacobs has already read the Encyclopedia Britannica in the name of a good book so what better place to continue the "God bless your immensely patient wife" fun than to read the Bible and attempt to follow all of the rules included within.

Remember when I said that thing about people claiming to follow the Bible's literal teachings being liars? Jacobs' book shows just how huge a bunch of liars they actually are (1).

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible is the kind of stunt memoir that would make you want to tip your hat if you're the kind of person to wear a hat. If not it just makes you think, "Wow, God bless A.J. Jacob's immensely patient wife."

Living by the rules or not, the woman has earned a very special place in heaven.

I'm thinking it will be right next to Moses' wife...because it's a conversation you can almost picture. It starts with, "Oh honey, I know..."

1. No. This is not A.J. Jacobs point. This is the mean spirited, unchristian message I took away. It is the same message that made me giggle to myself this morning when I saw that, yet again, the folks proofreading the bulletin of the Episcopal church I attend failed to defeat spell check's insistence that Catholic and catholic are the same thing. They are not. One is a very ecumenical term. One is a very Inquisition approach to things.