Amazon Books – and what makes a great bookish space?

Last week Amazon caused a bit of a kerfuffle by opening a bookshop. It caused a bit of a anger, a bit of worry, a bit of soul-searching and a lot of confusion. To many the very notion of an Amazon bookstore, a physical building stocked with physical books appeared to be a non-sequitur – in fact an “Amazon bookstore” sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, the Amazon bookstore is upon us, snug and safe on the streets of Seattle.

Now, Amazon has caused its fair share of controversies in the past – news about the cut-throat nature of the corporation, the dismal conditions of warehouse workers and shoddy payment to publishers and writers are nothing new. Amazon has been dealing with these issues for years, but this latest move to open a bookshop is rather (dare we say it?) unprecedented. It is a development made all the more strange by the fact that Amazon’s entire brand seemed to pride itself on eradicating, first, the independent bookshops, and then, the highstreet chainstores. So the question is … why?

Dennis Johnson did a brilliant job answering this question on the Melville House blog, and we highly recommend reading the piece (it’s fairly short and far more factual that this one!). There seems to be no logical reason as to why Amazon have opened a bookstore, so Johnson simply has to as “why are Amazon so nasty” ? (And, yes, we are slightly paraphrasing).

Essentially, Johnson concludes and we agree, Amazon want to be the only game in town – that is ultimately their goal. To be fair, Amazon is not unique in this regard, market domination is basically the end goal for many big businesses. But this means you have to ask the question – do you love books? And if you do love books, you’ve got to ask whether Amazon can nurture that love and instil it in others. And honestly, we don’t think Amazon can do that – which is mainly down to the fact that they don’t want to and don’t care to.

Amazon is here to stay, that much is undeniable. But it is now up to the community of booklovers, and that is a world-wide community, to prove that there is a public appetite for more than just low prices. There’s a demand for more than “I want my book here, and I want it now!” – rather, there’s a demand events, author-signings, live story-readings, book clubs and all sorts of bookish-related pastimes. These things exist, and they’re fantastic – it would be a shame to lose them just because we wanted to pay a little less and found it inconvenient to take a trip to our local bookshops. Because a book is more than the sum of its parts, as any bookworm knows – a good book contains more than paper and ink, within those pages exists entire worlds. So let’s try to preserve those worlds, by building a community which maintains the magic of literature. This can be done online, as seen by the success of projects such as Goodreads and Booktube (a whole branch of YouTube dedicated to reading, reviewing and sharing books), but it’s also important to keep this bookish spirit alive by supporting those bookshops that really just love books.

The bookworld is changing, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Rather, let’s embrace it and help mould it, because bookish spaces can basically offer something that Amazon cannot – they can offer passion, authenticity and heart. Sure, Amazon is cheap – but really, where’s the fun in that?

More on this topic:

Denis Johnson’s post for Melville House (in case you missed it!)

The Guardian article on the Amazon bookstore from last week

Some theories by Rob Salkowitz at Forbes 

Read Sarah Kliff’s experience at the Amazon store from Vox

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Feature: What Haunts Us This Halloween?

Halloween is a time for spooks and scares, and often the scariest things come from inexplicable sources. Spectres of the supernatural have haunted the human mind for generations; but in an era of technology and scientific rationality, can something as simple as a spirit from beyond the grave still give us the shivers?

Recently, The Guardian published this piece on the re-emergence of tales of ghostly hauntings, stating “the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang”. The article speculates that a key reasons the ghost story has grown in popularity is because the reading public have become more receptive to genre fiction. Is genre snobbery finally at an end? (Well, not quite, but we’re getting there).

Ghoulish figures never left our literature or media – the vampire obviously garnered a lot of attention post-Twilight, though the new sexy model lacked the creepy leer of Dracula. Zombies, too, enjoyed a spell in the spotlight – they were embraced in various media forms, in films like 28 Days Later, in graphic novel and tv series The Walking Dead and even ushered in (yet another) take on Pride and Prejudice. The intent of these ghouls isn’t always to frighten the reader or viewer, but our culture’s fascination with such creatures is clearly still strong. These fiends aren’t always there to scare!

However, the supernatural continues to unnerve. Despite the fact that we know more about the workings of the world, the universe and outer space than ever before, we can still be spooked by stories about ghosts. In fact, the more we discover about the universe, the more we realise how little we actually know. In this grey space is where the philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft reigns – we, as humans, are limited in what we can understand about the cosmos, and what is most scary is that we are aware of our limitations.

Everything from cosmic horror to the ghost story is frightening because at the heart of those stories is the unexplained. Worse still, something as seemingly simple as a ghostly spectre is not only inexplicable, but has the potential to be utterly incomprehensible. But let’s not get too upset by the fundamental shortcomings of the human mind – it’s Halloween, let’s just have some fun and scare ourselves silly!

So, our advice is curl up with a classic ghost story from M.R. James or get a thrill from David Mitchell’s new novel Slade House; generally just have a good time! And rest assured, we’ll still be grappling with all those unfathomable forces after Halloween’s over – there is still much to be uncovered in the dark and bewildering universe (or, is that multiverse?).