New essay…

… which basically recapitulates Monday’s post, but I’m still proud of it because it does that thing Hugh Kenner, Gore Vidal, and a few of my other favorite essayists do, and which I’ve been trying to do for several months with no success: It more or less saves topic sentences and thesis statements for the end, and lets storytelling carry the argument.

In just over 350 words, it does a fair amount of work, perhaps at the cost of clarity. We’ll see. The Banner is publishing it in April with some changes (all the cyborg stuff is gone), so here’s the original:

Farewell, Amazon

I first heard of Amazon.com from a crush object, library-science student and sometime correspondent in 1997. At the bottom of her emails ran an automatic signature: “AMAZON.COM: World’s Largest Bookstore.” This was, I soon learned, a bit of cheekiness, as Amazon wasn’t a “bookstore” at all, in the received sense of the word. Rather—and rather revolutionarily—it was a cyber-hub from which books could be ordered anywhere, sent anywhere.

Like every book lover I know, I came for the convenience—and stayed for the prices, the customer reviews, the “So You’d Like To …” guides. Amazon combined the coolness of a great bookstore with the ghost-convenience of Internet shopping. One knew (quaint fact!) that they were headquartered in Seattle, but they seemed to represent an era whose buzzwords were “multinational,” “network,” “globalize.” And if this new era had its dangers—maquiladoras in Juarez, plant closings in the Midwest—hadn’t it also given activists the tools to plan, against those very evils, uprisings like 1999’s in (of all places) Seattle? Cyborgs were a trendy metaphor back then—Marxist academics used them to show how the word “natural” underwrites oppressive gender and class roles, and futurists used them to talk about the “enhancements” that will soon allow us to sidestep bodily limitation entirely—and Amazon was a big, smiley-faced cyborg company.

Time passed.The world, Amazon, and I all grew more complicated. There were whispers of monopoly, of George Orwell e-books deleted from the Kindles of people who’d paid for them. Then in January, as part of a spat over e-book pricing, Amazon stopped offering new copies of all Macmillan titles. If you want to buy Marilynne Robinson’s next novel, you’ll have to do it from a brick-and-mortar store—if you can find one—or buy a used copy, to neither publisher’s nor author’s profit, from, yes, Amazon.

In a “networked” era, boycotts seem naïve. But those fears about monopoly no longer do. So I’m saying farewell to Amazon. The world’s largest bookstore will do fine without me, and for the sake of my blood pressure, I will learn to do fine without them.

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