Amazon's A9

Personal Jesus

by Nikki Tranter

7 July 2007


I’d just finished at the Amazon checkout counter when I stopped to marvel at the A9-Clickriver search and sell tools the website employs. It’s A9’s job to make sure my Amazon Books homepage fits my specific tastes, or at least what it believes my specific tastes to be based on my previous searches and purchases.

This past Thursday, I opened Amazon Books to be greeted with two stunning and provocative covers—the first was Lesley Arfin’s Dear Diary, the second Chris Nieratko’s Skinema. The women on these covers appear raw and vulnerable, and something about their specific shapes and positions clicked in me a desire to get closer to them.

Dear Diary by Lesley ArfinVice BooksJune 2007, 231 pages, $20.00

Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin
Vice Books
June 2007, 231 pages, $20.00

I’m since not so sure Nieratko’s book is going to prove my thing, but Arfin’s has me intrigued. Nieratko’s appears, based on the Amazon blurb, like a Please Don’t Kill the Freshman for the adult market by a guy who thinks his debauchery makes him cool and edgy and enviable. There might be an element of that in Arfin’s book, but hers appears to go the extra, exploratory mile. Arfin opines and sasses, but she also digs beneath her surface persona to find out if the woman she became after high school is a product of her high school days, or simply what she believes her high school days to have been. Her digging consists of interviews with former best friends, boyfriends, and high school enemies. Can you even imagine? What becomes of the Arfin of today if those same school friends who gave the woman hell turn out to have been just as fucked up and confused and hurt back in the day as she? That’s the question I’m looking forward to answering.

Score two for A9; one for me.

Skinema by Chris NieratkoPowerHouse BooksMay 2007, 288 pages, $15.00

Skinema by Chris Nieratko
PowerHouse Books
May 2007, 288 pages, $15.00

I clicked around Amazon a bit that day and concluded that book-buyers are watched far more closely than any other Amazon visitor. When I head to Amazon Music, for instance, I’m greeted with Wilco CDs, Paul McCartney albums, and the big, white, smiling face of somebody called Miley Cyrus. This doesn’t match at all my recent fox-hunt on the site for a best of Cinderella. Fantastic Four greets me over at the DVD section, but I hated that movie, and my last DVD purchase was the new Chocolate War special edition.

Back over at books, they’re trying to sell me the new Harry Potter, which I don’t want, but they also want me to buy Soon I Will Be Invincible which I already have, and a book called My Dreams Out in the Street by Kim Addonizio that contains yet another provocative, striking cover.

My Dreams Out in the Street by Kim AddonizioSimon and SchusterJuly 2007, 272 pages, $23.00

My Dreams Out in the Street by Kim Addonizio
Simon and Schuster
July 2007, 272 pages, $23.00

The Addonizio recommendation alone had me adding new books to my shopping cart. Just check out the art on her other books, In the Box Called Pleasure, What is This Thing Called Love, and Little Beauties—how could I resist? I wondered as my credit card approved if I’d just discovered another Amy Bloom, based solely on cover photos and titles. And I thought about how Amazon was the first place I read about The Virgin Suicides, and where I first heard Chris Smither sing. And how indispensable the “So You’d Like to..” lists over there have been, introducing me to countless authors and bands. I wondered if Amazon doesn’t recommend me DVDs and music the same way it does books because it knows my books mean more to me. I think about that, and I kinda fall in love with A9, even though I know it’s all so Big-Brother-y and wrong.

Amazon can’t see me, it doesn’t speak to me, and it doesn’t want to hear my recommendations, but, like an actual big brother, it knows me better than I know myself. It’s ready and willing to instruct me on new authors, poets, and essayists it thinks I’d love. It flashes artwork at me it knows will catch my eye, and it does, and it works, and shameful as it is to let this no-name, mechanical entity rule over me so, I’m actually better for it. And you probably are, too.

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