(This reviewer’s relationship with Amazon: I buy seasons of TV, rent old movies, and buy items I can’t find anywhere else, most recently a pumice toilet scrubber with a handle. Between Danny Caine’s book How to Resist Amazon and Why and as-I-write-this news reports of unionization attempts at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., I should reconsider even those choices. But, for example, here in L.A., Hulu is advertising its show Mayans with wall-sized murals in painted in the style of the long local Latinx/Chicano tradition of murals, under the rubric of “Los Angeles Mural Project,” which doesn’t seem to exist online, if at all. And YouTube is owned by Google. So…)
Danny Caine owns a bookstore in Lawrence, Kan. He published a popular sixteen-page zine called How to Resist Amazon and Why, and has expanded it into a book—or old-school political pamphlet, really—which, even if you’re already resisting, is still a valuable work of non-fiction about the most powerful company in America, maybe on the planet, with more than 1,000,000 employees worldwide.
The book’s big picture isn’t too surprising. But the details. That Amazon’s pricing hurts competition is obvious. But when Caine writes about Amazon’s selling a bestseller for less than the price that Caine’s store pays the publisher for it, that detail yanks your awareness of Amazon’s almost-monopoly up to the front rank again. Details like that are all over How to Resist Amazon and Why.
Chapter topics include employment at Amazon, politics and government, and privacy and surveillance. (If you live in a city with those blue-gray Amazon vans, you’ll be much more conscious of their omnipresence after reading the book, and the sight of them will seem more ominous.) The book is also a celebration of community, and of the contributions that an independent bookstore can make to a community.
When I saw that Microcosm Publishing had published a book about resisting Amazon, my first thought was, Who in Microcosm’s constituency needs this book? Then I remembered this comedy writer on Twitter who, in order to encourage progressives to vote for Biden, tweeted, “I won’t speak for other progressives, but I compromise my values a zillion times a year when I need something from Amazon …” (which tweet likely inspired the Onion headline “Amazon Offers New Blank Box Upcharge for Progressive Members to Discreetly Receive Prime Orders”). And I recently heard a progressive podcast host—who lives in Los Angeles, home to quite a few independent bookstores— blithely talking about her Amazon book wishlist. So if How to Resist Amazon and Why only reaches progressives, it will still have made a notable contribution.
(I’m also compelled to add this excerpt from a tweet by writer Keith Rosson: “Books are luxury goods. As a writer and reader, I totally get that. I could not afford to buy books—certainly not new books—for the vast majority of my adult life.” Nothing’s easy.) –Jim Woster (Microcosm Publishing, microcosmpublishing.com)