Upcoming changes in the Books section, radio drama in Austin, and Clay Smith's revelation about Amazon.com that everyone else knew about already.
New Page of Reviews
This week we start printing a new page of book reviews (see p. 46). Called "Readings," they are reviews of books that will follow the main story in the Books section every week (except next week, which is devoted to our lists of the best books of 2000). At the same time, we say goodbye to "Off the Bookshelf," which was a forum for short book reviews. We'll continue printing lists of bestselling titles from local stores, but now you can find them on the Readings page.
"Writing on the Air," the Austin Writers' League's radio show, will air its first radio play on Dec. 30 with Hangover, an adaptation of a short story by Austin writer Joe O'Connell. "Writing on the Air," which airs in Austin and San Antonio, in the past has centered solely on writers discussing their careers. The show airs at 4pm on KOOP 91.7 FM. Hangover is the story of a college student on New Year's Day dealing with the impending death of his estranged father.
Me, the Troglodyte
I need to say right up-front that I know how late I am to this trend that I'm about to talk about, but my oblivousness on computer matters stopped surprising me a long time ago. I was on Amazon.com the other day to order a Christmas gift for someone, a copy of Julia Sweeney's God Said Ha!, which I think is endlessly funny. (If I were Pat Holt, the former book editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has a column about the book industry at www.holtuncencored.com, this would be the part where I talk about how proud I am that I've never ordered anything from Amazon.com because I'm such a blameless supporter of independent bookstores, but only one of us gets to be perfect.) Later, several days after I made the order, I pulled up Amazon, and "the lead page," as I like to call it, had an image and brief description of Woody Allen's Standup Comic and of course a convenient link for purchasing that classic of comedy. I thought that was kind of cute in a coincidental way, since I've always wanted to buy Standup Comic. It took me longer than it should have to realize that the placement of that particular item wasn't exactly coincidental. (In fact, I realized that the little people who live inside my computer and make everything work in it had done a very fine job indeed of intuiting my innermost wishes.) I've always prided myself on avoiding the "customers who bought this book also bought" category that accompanies the items sold on Amazon because it's so obvious. It's kind of like being beaten over the head. But the Standup Comic recommendation was on the lead page of the site, so I thought they were displaying that item to one and all. Eventually I realized how simple it must be for Amazon to suggest potential buys to customers based on their past purchases and to tailor the site to a frustratingly singular and personal degree. I clicked on Standup Comic and of course found a link to something else I've always meant to own a copy of, An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May. All this distressed me unduly because it hit me what a successful job Amazon has done of replicating the very thing that has traditionally been the trump card for independent bookstores, book-smart employees who can make connections with customers and suggest potential purchases. But I didn't mean to get on my high horse about how Amazon says they're not out to conquer the universe. (Did I really see a chorus of Amazon.com workers on national television recently singing Christmas songs? Make it go away!)