just visited Amazon.com only to find that my newly
posted review there of Ed Moloneys A Secret
History of the IRA had been censored, I mused
again about (speaking of superlatives) David and Goliath,
or The Blanket vs. the Corporate Giant. And
my love/hate relationship with what Amazon.com allows
us little people to accomplish as we enter
into the marketplace of ideas. Francis Bacon (not
the artist but the one way back when) at capitalisms
dawn would have approved; here all works have a chance
to catch your virtual and real eye-not as seen but
as searched. I only wish that Amazon.com would have
been magnanimous enough to leave in my submitted suggestion,
in my original reaction to Moloneys work, to
visit The Blankets cache of reviews on
his book, often by real-live Irish and English readers
who knew firsthand what Moloneys book conveyed.
course, Amazon.coms fine print tells any submitter
that your blurb, once sent, lies beyond your powers
of ownership or control. Still, after a few years
of neglecting the behemoth, I decided to feed it a
bit again; why not, my wife suggested, tell people
if you liked a book or record which otherwise might
receive little attention? Fair enough. Especially
for deserving books and records which otherwise might
not be noticed. When I had posted about Terry Golways
biography of John Devoy, Irish Rebel, Mr Golway
had kindly sent me a personal reply. Like many of
you perhaps, I rely on Amazons posted reactions
to guide my own purchases of music and print. (I usually
wont buy them there, but from a used and/or
small-store seller or, if Im lucky, I may find
the desired book at the library.) I admire the remnants
of West Coast meets Silicon Valley idealism allowing
average critics to list their takes on
whats out there to consume. I also trust more
the responses of consumers: that is, purchasers of
items, not professional journalists or clueless flacks
getting copies for free. Uneasily perched as so many
ordinary readers and listeners are atop
the webs #1 success story, we admit by our unremunerated
cheers and jeers that without Amazon.com., many of
us would never hear much about many of the words and
sounds dearest to us - and most likely not to be found
at the local chainstore or mall.
latest example? I had come across a mention of the
late John McGuffins last book (with Joseph Mulheron),
Charles Nomad McGuinness: Being a true
account of the amazing adventures of a Derryman.
(ISBN 0-9539482-1-8; £9.99/€15.50/$US20;
© 2002. Available from Irish Resistance Books,
4, Craft Village, Derry, BT48 6AR; www.irishresistancebooks.com).
Now, why did I have to insert all of this data? Why
couldnt I have just told you to log on to amazon.com?
This encapsulates our struggle. McGuffins IRB
(note the acronym) tells us on the last page of this
book about its wish to publish what the big boys dont
when it comes to republican, socialist, Irish alternative
histories, progressive, non-commercial viewpoints
-- and, encouragingly to some of us, rants.
Thats why I thought the IRBs worth a blurb.
I checked the British Amazon tributary and found both
McGuffins latest book as well as the IRBs
Last Orders, Please (surely an odd text tailor-made
for publishing via your own imprint) and In Praise
of Poteen - one of those Appleton Press thin books
often nestled near the register of a souvenir shop.
Amazon listed no posted reviews for any of the McGuffins.
On the American Amazon branch, no listings for McGuffins
appear at all.
why am I telling you here about them? Shouldnt
I log on again to amazon.com? After all, wouldnt
the IRB benefit from this theoretically wider exposure?
Well, I may do that, or you may, having read my own
promptings. On the other hand, many most likely to
read McGuffinss work know about it already if
they scour such Irish-oriented sites as The Blanket.
Or even the blurbs collected and distributed by ReadIreland.com.
Yet we all wish that more readers could find such
attention to republicanism and other Irish content
beyond the limited shelfspace of our local seller
or library. The tension between the Davids guerrilla
stance propounded by the likes of the small-scale
pundits like the Derry press and this Belfast project
and Goliaths swagger where nearly all of us
on-line sally up to when searching for our media -
to encounter beasts like Amazon - reveals the familiar
battleground. We scatter out of our tiny barricades
to face what we hold out against: the global arena
in which we peep out to shoot our slingshots of hope
against the monstrous creatures of hype. And we cant
opt out on pacifist grounds.
not for the publicity given - beyond my own stifled
cheer on amazon.com - to Ed Moloneys IRA publication,
many would never have heard of it, if limited in its
reviews to the pages of The Blanket - where
other, more academically or arcane works on republicanism
might have languished. Texts that the IRB might publish
but not Penguin or W.W. Norton. Texts unstocked by
Waterstones or Borders or your airport newsstand.
Moloney, by contrast, aroused the attention of the
giant publishing conglomerates and the major papers.
Adams cowered against the Fourth Estate. AP/RN
and the Irish Voice sputtered. The first
printing sold out in the U.S. immediately. No copies
to be found at the mall. Back to the McGuffin lack
of exposure? No, just the contrary: its opposite.
to amazon.com and you can read a variety of thoughtful
reactions to Moloney, and link via similar items
to other books on related topics. This use of shopping
robots and cookies, the benign face of Big Brother
we all greet in exchange for benefiting from the acquired
wisdom and folly of Amazons idealised marketplace,
presents again this intricate strategy of fighting
the big boys with their own tools. Its the constant
warfare: is the WWW to turn out our liberator by our
freely-exchanged ideas (that cyber-libertarian hippie
ethos, those amateur reviews, this on-line journal)
or our jailor (claiming universal access only by charging
us all to gain access to its wares, thus limiting
the marketplace to the totality of what we find on-line)?
Where else might a proud anarchist like McGuffin writing
about a blarney-driven 1920s/30s Indiana Jones-ish/globetrotter/gun-runner
like McGuinness co-exist with the likes of Moloneys
big press, big title on the IRA? Ironically, while
Penguin published McGuffins Internment
and The Guinea Pigs in the early 70s, now the
Troubles and their antecedent troublers like McGuinness
are presumably another case of who wants yesterdays
papers? Moloney or McGuffin, you or I can comment
on either one, as long as we play by amazon.coms
legal game. Which happens wherever we submit our writings
to a third party - even The Blanket - before
they emerge again in print or on-line. And we usually
must pay somebody even to gain access on-line.
at The Blanket, the legalese may be minimised,
but so is our impact. I can direct you to Amazon.
But they do not need your business. The local IRB
does. So thats where I sent my cheque. Still,
the tautology persists. If we only look at what amazon.com
provides without buying, their global store wont
long survive - or at least it wouldnt let us
only browse without some up-front admission fee. For
amazon.coms if you like this, try that
suggestions substitute for the pal many of us lonely
dissatisfied consumers never knew growing up - or
afterwards. That all-too-often only imaginary friend
who knows exactly what we like to read or hear. Whose
tastes mirror, flirt with, and shock our own. Without
such a guide, wed be loafing at the mall at
its miniscule bookseller, wishing for more in stock
than the latest Tom Clancy thriller or tell-all celebrity
intellectual courtship continues: log on, check out
whats new for sale, go to a store to skim it,
pick up another title there, go home, log on to read
what others have said about it, on and on. Looking
for Mr Moloney, we bump into Mr McGuffin, nudge McGuinness.
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