Saturday, March 5, 2022


 The New Republic notes with justifiable glee that is closing all 68 of its brick and mortar bookstores. Goodbye and good riddance , they say. The idea was horrible, the stores were disasters and the whole operation was designed not to improve the experience of discovering new authors but to mine data ie, personal information from customers for the cynical and profit-seeking purpose of selling them more goods. Bookstores,in fact, are better for the death of Amazon's grotesque enterprise. Who says irony is dead? Read the piece here.

I was laid off for a period from my UCSD job, one which I was eventually rehired. Meanwhile, I interviewed for a bookseller position with Amazon books for their University Towne Center location: I had to sign a Do Not Disclose agreement before they gave me preparation materials for the interview, a lengthy pamphlet on how the stores operated, job requirements, all that kind of stuff. 

The actual interview was at a hotel near UTC, located in a series of sixth floor conference rooms. There was a table with a tray of pastries and water pitchers and plastic cups, on chair where I sat on one side of the table, and three chairs on the other. I was to be interviewed four groups of two-three interlocutors representing different management aspects for the Amazon stores implementation. One team would interview for ten minutes or less, they would thank me and instruct me to wait for the next pair to arrive, until all the teams had a chance to check my suitability. The way it worked was the those who'd just queried me about various Amazon-centric matters would smile, nice, tight grins on tight, white faces, shake my hand, and tell me to remain seated and another pair or trio from another company concern would be in just a few minutes to question me about their specific concerns. Remarking that this situation was Kafkaesque is cliché and is expected, but the comparison is unavoidable as it is irresistible. Anyone who's read Don DeLillo's Kennedy assassination novel LIBRA would see this description as similar to a chapter in the book where various CIA analysts come in and out of a room where the secret files about the assassination are inspected. At varying intervals, paired members of the team would arise and leave the room, leaving the documents behind, and then another pair would join the ensemble of analysts. As it worked out, only one pair of inspectors were at the table all the while. 

It was my soul-saving good fortune that the Amazon folks didn't call me for another interview. Note that few of the questions had anything to do with books or customer service. Months later I went to the Amazon Bookstore I interviewed for to see what it was like, and it was despairing, antiseptic. I've seen many airport and bus station kiosks that had wider and more impressive selections of books. So goodbye and good riddance.

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