How to Resist Amazon and Why, By Danny Caine, 126 pgs.

May 25, 2021

(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)

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Dead Extra By Sean Carswell, 253 pgs.

August 5, 2019
For most of my life, I didn’t realize I enjoyed detective novels. It should’ve made sense that I would enjoy them: noir is my favorite film genre. In reviewing Nelson George’s To Funk and Die in LA last year for Razorcake, I came to realize how much I enjoy the genre. I especially like books set in the 1940s, which is the beginning of the noir genre in film. Those set around L.A. are even better. Thus, I found Razorcake co-founder and columnist Sean Carswell’s latest novel to be a perfect fit, as it checked all the boxes. A detective story, set in the 1940s in and around Los Angeles? I couldn’t have been happier. The chapters go back and forth between the male lead, Jack Chesley, and his wife, Wilma. Jack comes back from World War II in 1946 after being in a POW camp in Germany to find that Wilma died a few years earlier. Wilma’s chapters take place in 1943 and expose the reader to the reasons for her demise. This back and forth not only gives one a path to follow along with the story, but also gives agency to a female character and allows her to explain her life instead of having it done through a male character’s lens. I appreciated that point of view because it gives the reader an opportunity to see things from a perspective that is atypical for detective books, which is normally male character dominated. Detective stories are a new genre for Carswell, but one that he pulls off well. His prose is tight, as is the dialogue. While some of the typical language of many detective films and books from the ’40s was used (“dame,” “lugs” as another name for hired muscle, “kitten” as a name for a cute woman), it wasn’t heavy-handed. Carswell’s talent for this genre is surprising and impressive. His ability to create an environment that is authentic immersed me in the tale. I had an understanding of the locations and a feel for what was surrounding the characters. The pace is quick and this is literally one of those times I can genuinely say I didn’t want to put a book down. Great stuff and highly recommended. –Kurt Morris (Prospect Park Books, 2359 Lincoln Ave., Altadena, CA 91001)
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