Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Blame Canada!

Is it possible for Dave Eggers to suck any harder? Q.v.:

Have you heard the news of how a glitch on Amazon.ca (Amazon for Canucks) accidentally revealed the identities of anonymous reviewers on the site? Whoops! This wouldn't be real news except for the fact that some of the folks posting as "a reader from Poughkeepsie" were actually leading literary lights (that includes Mr. Eggers) going incognito to either trump up the ratings of their own books or bash books by people who dissed them....Yes, it's as sad and petty as it sounds: Tom Wolfe and John Updike made literary bloodsport of The New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen took on no less of a Hegemon than Oprah (in no smaller an arena than The New York Times), and Nabokov's bitter feud with Edmund Wilson was turned into a winning play by Terry Quinn. Meanwhile, the Great Write Hopes of my generation are duking it out anonymously for the fame and fortune that comes from an extra half-star on a website whose biggest success is the South Beach Diet. Classy!

OK, maybe Amazon.ca does have some influence—at least in alt.rock circles. One of the most hyped (and most deservedly so) bands of 2003 was Canuck collective Broken Social Scene, the folks behind the dream-pop-rock-banjo-Vocoder confection You Forgot It In People [hear clips on their site]. Despite being released in 2002, the album suddenly caught on with critics here in the US in 2003, inspiring much best-of-the-year talk and copious wetting of frilly critic panties. At that time, however, HMV.ca (owned by Amazon.ca) was the only place Americans people in the US could get the disc. And get it they did: all the positive Stateside buzz about the album rocketed it to the overall #1 spot on Amazon's bestseller list. It was complete indie anarchy: a marginalized alt.rock album put out by a now-defunct label and featuring jarring lo-fi production, out-of-tune singing, and some choice lyrics about drinking piss had bested everything on the Billboard Hot 100, beating out even Canada's own Great White Hope, Céline Dion.

[The band talks about their sudden success and humorous Amazon.ca experience in this great Pitchfork Media interview. Like the Pitchfork interviewer, I downloaded their album first, and ended up so enamored of it that I went out and bought it for myself—and it was worth every cent of my $8.99. As far as I know, they're the first band to actively acknowledge that illegal downloading has helped their career (check the interview). If you want to join me in further supporting our neighbo(u)rs to the north, make like George W. Bush and ransack The Middle East on March 27th to see them live with me.]

So maybe Canada's not so bad after all. But as Madonna can tell you, anyone looking for bona fide hipster cache turns not to Canada but to the UK—and Amazon's Jeff Bezos is no different. As mentioned in a brief October Entertainment Weekly blurb [subscription only; try reviewsew], Amazon.co.uk is a great place to get books and music ahead of their US release. I can't tell you how many homos I know who rush to the UK site to order every stupid import-only Kylie Minogue DJ SevereKweer 2004 Remix maxi-single, and of course there are those fanatics who head there annually for the British editions of Harry Potter, complete with coarse limey slang and those hideous, hideous covers. (Seriously, if you've ever doubted that America is the GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, just compare Mary GrandPre's graceful US edition illustrations with the hack sci-fi pulp covers the Brits have to endure—and why do they need separate covers for adults and children?) Personally I couldn't care less about Kylie or Harry, but I wouldn't mind a copy of the latest No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book, which doesn't hit the Colonies until April, a full year after its original UK release.

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