Thanks For Making the Choice Clear, Amazon

Though I’ve resisted for a while, I’ve been thinking of getting an e-reader. Finally realized that it won’t be in PLACE of actual books, but in addition too. I still love having actual books, but there are certain scenarios where and e-reader makes more sense. Like being able to bring a bunch of books on vacation without hauling…a bunch of books. Or being able to read and knit at the same time cause I don’t have to hold a book open.

I was leaning toward a Kindle Fire (inexpensive tablet AND e-reader), when the latest Amazon story broke about their price check app, where they offer discounts and coupons for customers reporting on competitors’ in-store prices.

Really Amazon?

Despite some past missteps of theirs, I’ve been a fan. I don’t buy myself books there as I try to support local indy bookshops, but I definitely buy a bunch of other stuff through Amazon because of the ease. No longer.

They can claim all they want that they’re not trying to go after small businesses but rather big retail chains, but that won’t stop them from getting data on and increasing their advantage over small business while using their customers to do so. And really, the whole idea of it just feels….sleazy.

So between my already well-entrenched loyalty to my local bookstore and this latest sign of corporate greed, I’m done with Amazon. I will not get a Kindle. I will be closing out my Amazon Visa. I will not buy anything else from them. And I will, in general, be spreading the word to others that it’s worth considering doing the same.

So what’s my e-book solution? Looks like I’m going with a Nook. Might seem a bit counter-intuitive to go from one big corporation to another, but there’s a Barnes and Noble just up the street from my office and, as the receipts from my local indy bookshop note:

How much money stays in your community when you spend $100?
At a locally owned business: $68
At a local chain: $43
At Amazon: $0 *

So bound books from the independent bookstores. E-book reader from a local chain. And since Amazon gives $0 for my community, from now on I will give $0 to them.


*I have no idea how accurate these numbers are**, but the logic and point behind it is sound. With a locally owned business, the taxes, staff wages, and profits stay in the community. With a chain, the taxes and staff wages stay in the community. With Amazon….yep, that’s a big fat zero.

**Edited to Add (12/19/11): I checked with the bookstore and apparently they were using a Civic Economics study for these numbers. It’s from 2004 and focused on Chicago, but my guess is that, while the exact numbers might not hold true, the theory behind them is still pretty solid.

Finding the Good

A sculputre of the Concorde in Gander, Newfoundland via of the things I immediately implemented upon reading Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way was getting info from the Good News Network. As he pointed out, “Yes, it’s important to be informed about the world, but it’s ALSO important to keep in mind that it’s not all horrifying.”

A good chunk of the stories on the Good News Network center around “good Samaritans.” While it’s good to see the effect one individual’s actions can have, it also makes it overwhelming to think of the individual actions needed to face up to the overwhelming bad news in our headlines: climate change, political corruption, militarization of the police, war, economic collapse, etc.

That’s why I was so touched this week to be reminded of the power of groups. The reminder started with an individual, and the story is bookended by tragedies, one large and global, the other small and personal. And yet, it’s still a story of good news.

A few years ago, I read The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander Newfoundland. Basically, when the U.S. airspace was closed on 9/11, more than 30 jets, carrying more than 6,000 passengers, were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland–a town with a population of about 10,000. The book examines the few days around 9/11, following residents and stranded travelers and the intersecting stories that this crisis created in this small corner of the world.

It really is a fabulous read. It inspires trite phrases like “the power of the human spirit,” which can never encompass what they’re trying to convey. At its basic level, it’s a heart-warming read, and an interesting frame through which to look at this part of our recent history. Here was a group, banding together in a time of great national and global tragedy and making something good out of it.

But that’s not the end of this story. That’s the start, with the large global tragedy. Last month, the pilot of the second to last plane to land in Gander passed away. It’s a footnote to the grander story, and one I probably wouldn’t have ever heard about if he hadn’t been from my hometown (and if I hadn’t made my mom read the book). But what makes this small moment of loss for a family something bigger is tucked away in his obituary:

In lieu of flowers, please send donations written to the Canadian Red Cross, for the benefit of Gander Newfoundland, Canada.

Once again, it’s a simple individual action…this one taken in the spirit of and in return for a larger group action. But it was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

When my mom told me the news, I went back to look at the book and the epilogue is full of the stories of how the people both the Gander natives and their temporary guests responded after everybody went home…the pages are full of acts like this. And in their simplicity, they remind me, once again, that there is good to be found. Even in tragedy.

Where’s Sam Vimes When You Need Him: Pratchett and the Occupy Protests

Police at Occupy Oakland via asked to describe Terry Pratchett’s work, I often say that he’s to fantasy what Douglas Adams is to science fiction…by way of Jonathan Swift. What’s always drawn me in is his ability to use humor and fantasy to create startling clear social commentary.

And he always seems to do it best in “The Watch” books* and I would say it’s mainly because of the main character, Sam Vimes. I’ll fully admit that he is my favorite character in Discworld (and probably in my top ten characters in all of fiction). I was quite happy to see my affection was shared by Pratchett who, in a talk I attended, said that Vimes was among his own favorites as well.

Pratchett has said of Vimes that he “is fundamentally a person. He fears he may be a bad person because he knows what he thinks rather than just what he says and does. He chokes off those little reactions and impulses, but he knows what they are. So he tries to act like a good person, often in situations where the map is unclear.”

Pratchett’s use of Vimes as tool for political commentary is so clear to me that, when we launched the most recent Iraq War, one of my first impulses was to re-read Jingo, which looks at nationalism, racism, and war…through the Pratchett lens of humor and fantasy.

So what’s that have to do with the Occupy protests?

Vimes is a watchman…a policeman. And right now, policemen aren’t getting the best of press. And with incidents like this, is it any wonder?

So as I was reading the new Discworld novel, Snuff, the following really struck a nerve:

It always embarrassed Samuel Vimes when civilians tried to speak to him in what they thought was “policeman.” If it came to that, he hated thinking of them as civilians, What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be was soldiers.

There’s been a lot of political analysis about the militarization of police and how it led to the horrors we’ve been seeing at the Occupy protests. And tucked away in a fantasy novel, written months before the protests began and published only a few weeks in is a not-so simple policeman, with a not-so simple thought…

I can only wonder what the headlines would have been if there were only more Sam Vimeses on the police forces of our country.


*Terry Pratchett’s longest and most well-known series of books is Discworld. But the 30+ book series has several sub-series, including (but not limited to) the Wizards, Witches, Watch, and Death. It makes figuring out where to start and what order to read them in a complex decision.