I’m in a rather Biblical state of mind. Not usual for me—but then having grown up in the fly-over, I suppose it was inescapable that now and again my point of reference should be Old Testament. Signs and wonders and all that, signs and wonders. The difficulty is avoiding the prophetic voice. In the first place, I haven’t any gift for it. In the second, let’s just say it isn’t representative of my world view. Given the recent acquisition of Goodreads, however, I must say the temptation is strong.
The urge to sackcloth and imprecation, while not necessarily a bad thing, would not be useful here, I think, where one does try to keep the mood a little lighter. I’ve expressed my personal sense of betrayal as a regular user and contributor to the site by deleting my membership the day of. Beyond that, I’ve railed away for days now in social media, though that’s proved yet again to be something of myself and a few bookseller friends “in the waste howling wilderness.” People will not willingly give up something they enjoy just because some old grizzle-beard is shouting it down on Facebook.
And honestly, who am I to tell them they must? Everything I most admired about Goodreads; the brilliant formatting and accessible design, the range of readership and opinion, even the lists and quotations and games and the never-ending quiz—the owners insist that none of this will change. (I am assured the site looks just the same—other than the few furious comment threads which will doubtless fade away with those of us who do leave.) What Goodreads was, for any who might have read this far (thank you) without a clue as to what I’m on about, was the best of the readers’ community sites. There have been others, Library Thing, Shelfari, etc., all or nearly all now likewise owned, in whole or in part by the same buyer. None was better. I will miss it.
But neither do I take up my pencil today to mark the loss of either community or amusement, but rather to note, in a hopefully temperate if testy way, the hubris of one who would eat the whole world. As a man whose appetites are reflected in both an ever expanding waistline and what strangers invariably describe as a ridiculously optimistic and increasingly inaccessible personal library, I can identify with the compulsion to acquire, with the impulse always for more. Mine however is a surprisingly conservative argument. How much, do you think, will be too much? When if ever will this relentless, predatory behemoth be satisfied?
I don’t question the utility of this latest acquisition, or the acumen of the purchaser. I am not among his admirers, true, but have no more intention of prognosticating his fall than of analyzing either his personality or his motives. I don’t believe in devils any more than I do angels.
What brings me back then to Blake and his Biblical visions of the Book of Job is simply the aptness—and wit—of his monster; huge and hugely staring around, looking, presumably for even more to eat. That, for me at least, is what this latest loss looks like. Beastly.
My caricature this time is perhaps a little coarse, but then, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Even as the algorithm is refined, the culture grows more boorish, and commerce—a lovely old word, suggestive of conversation on market day—narrows to mere transactions. Readers can be “data-mined” and “reviewers” may be bought in bunches and not just books—ah, books!—but literature itself become, nearly, a wholly own subsidiary of the great Bezoshemoth. In other words, the world just got a little flatter.
Brad Craft buys used books at University Book Store (Seattle), blogs at usedbuyer2.0, where you’ll find more of his doodles, and is the author of A Is for Auden: an Alphabet Book of Poets. He’s smarter than Jeff Bezos, and has chosen to use his gifts for good.