Before your eyes

I'll bet you're wondering why I haven't smacked Amazon around lately. I'll bet you think I'm getting slack. I'll bet you're asking yourself how I could overlook the latest outrages.

What outrages, you ask? Let's see—there's farming customer-service jobs away to India, a location presumably even less prone to hire outspoken employees than North Dakota and West Virginia. There's the new privacy policy that reserves the right to sell off your information in case the company falls apart like a cheap suit (and which you accept, cookies and all, merely by going to the site and reading the policy), the one that caused EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center) and Junkbusters to pull out of their "associate" bookseller relationships with the unbookstore. There's the frankly hinky DVD pricing "test" in which the same DVD was offered for different prices depending on whether or not the "test" software thought you'd pay more. And there's the car dealership. Heaven help us, there is the car dealership.

But I'm not here to talk about those things. In fact, I am here to suggest that you go right over to Amazon and BUY something. I would of course rather you go to Elliott Bay or Third Place or M. Coy or really just about any other indie bookseller, but that's just the kind of person I am, and if you, dear reader, are an Amazon addict, you go right ahead and follow your bliss.

Now let's talk about what you're buying.

September 23-30 is Banned Books Week, in which we celebrate . . . no, that's not quite it; it's hard to say we celebrate the history of narrow-minded people trying to control the thoughts of others. What we celebrate is the courage of writers and readers and booksellers who fight to keep books, all kinds of books, on the shelves. We celebrate the right of ideas to be uncovered and examined in the clear light of day. We celebrate the fact that no one has the right to tell you what to think.

This being America, we hear that a book is banned and tend to think it must have content that is seditious or sexual or just plain saucy. However, I know you're familiar with the phrase "any excuse will serve a tyrant" (well, you are now), and you may be sure that the kind of people who like to ban books are not the kind of people prone to limit themselves in doing so. Books get banned because they put a stiff breeze up the skirts of people who think themselves too powerful to be questioned. Books get banned because adults prefer their kids to be as ignorant and backwater as they are.

I'm bringing this up in the tech section because a surprising number of banned books over the years have been techish in nature, or at least of the genres that techies tend to enjoy. For instance, Harry Potter gets attacked for being about wizards and magic. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time gets attacked for "inappropriate" age content. Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and Copernicus' On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres got banned because they annoyed the Pope, whose direct line to God turned out not to involve access to His astrophysics library.

So here's the deal: I'd like you to buy a book this week. All the books I've listed are excellent choices (even though I know you already have the Harry Potter), or if you like you can check out the excellent list at for more recommendations. Your local bookstores—not Amazon, the real ones—often have displays of other likely titles for your reading enjoyment. Buy a comic book if you don't like regular books; the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is fighting in the same anticensorship trenches.

Keep in mind that you're doing this not just for books but for the Net, where this year we've seen judges close their eyes to the First Amendment and crack down on publishers daring to provide information to their readers on things that the powerful motion-picture and music industry lobbies would rather keep secret. Do your duty— if not for me, for the continued freedom of a writer you admire; if not for a writer, for your fellow tech-heads; if not for your fellow tech-heads, for your own free-ranging brain.

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