more #Amazonfail + InsideStorytime BRAINWAVES

Some more takes on #Amazonfail -- Mary Hodder makes the case that, even if what happened last weekend was an accident, it still shows Amazon's book classification system is homophobic. Here's her conclusion -- "I would suggest that the company, because of its position in the market and power over both authors and publishers, as well as users and the intellectual marketplace of idea, ought to be doing a complete and public review of their classification and algorithm assumptions. Publishers and authors should push for it, and so should users."

I agree with this. Emphasis on "public." Not holding my breath.

The attitude that pro-gay books are "adult," wheras anti-gay books are "family values," is not specific to Amazon - it pervades the wider culture. Publishing categories enable consumers to dismiss a lot of books out of hand. I was talking to a friend about this the other night, with respect to the categories printed on the cover of Justin Chin's Gutted -- something like "Asian studies," "LGBT," and "poetry." Such categories seem to me to target an unncessarily narrow audience for the book. I'm more interested in knowing that Gutted is funny and clever and touching. One could argue that to classify is already to censor.

Clay Shirky reflects that he of all people should have recognized #Amazonfail as a technological problem. His current position -- "If we wanted to deny Amazon all benefit of the doubt, and to construct the maximum case against them, it would go something like this: it was stupid to have a categorization system that would allow LGBT-themed books to be de-ranked en masse; it was stupid to have a technological system that would allow that to happen easily and globally; it was stupid to remove sales rank from sexually explicit works, rather than adding 'Safe Search' options; it was stupid to speak in PR-ese to the public about something that really matters; it was stupid to take as long as they did to dribble an explanation out."


And now for something completely different, a quick plug for tonight's (April 16th) InsideStorytime event at San Francisco's Cafe Royale, from 6.30pm to 8.30 pm. On the bill we have --

  • Robert Burton, not the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, but rather the author-neurologist who wrote On Being Certain, a book about why we tend to imagine we know what we're doing, as well as several novels. He also writes the “Mind Reader” column for

  • Sybil Lockhart, author of the memoir Mother in the Middle and the founder of Literary Mama magazine

  • Holger Berndt, hedge fund manager and author of the novel Hedge Fund

  • Pireeni Sundaralingam, poet, violinist, and cognitive scientist

  • author Michael Boehm, who still owes me a bio

Tell me your heard about the event through this blog and I'll waive the customary $3-$5 cover charge. Since Pireeeni Sundaralingam just contacted me to say she may not be able to make it, we might need a stand-in -- so if you'd like to read for ten minutes, bring your material along and introduce yourself to me. We're a cosy reading event where you can meet some authors and have a few drinks, while reflecting on what an amazing number of writers there are in San Francisco.

4 thoughts on “more #Amazonfail + InsideStorytime BRAINWAVES”

  1. Best shameless plug I ever saw…

    Just to highlight the importance of labels and categories, I think we said that had we not known Chin, and had we not seen him read his work (at InsideStorytime), then we probably would not have bought the book based on what we could tell about it on its cover: LGBT/Asian Studies, etc. etc. That’s sad. I wonder how many other brilliant writers/poets fall so much below my radar due to incomplete or erroneous labels and my presumptions regarding them.

  2. Inside Story Time is the greatest event in the history of, umm, events. And US Air gave me the headache that kept me away and I hate them for it. It’s the airline’s anti-literature campaign.

  3. Thanks to James for inviting me to read at Inside Story Time. He put together a very entertaining lineup of authors in a comfortable venue. A good time was had by all. Already looking forward to returning in the future to sample more local talent.

  4. Allow me to second Holger’s comment. I was honored to be invited to read at last night’s Inside StoryTime. Thanks to the organizers.

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