October 16, 2011
by Dennis Johnson
Well, now that Jeff Bezos is pretty much done destroying American book culture he’s decided to spend some of his ill-gotten gains on … looking like a champion of writers. Or maybe he just needed to buy some friends. (He can certainly afford it now: According to a Forbes story last week — he’s the 13th richest person in America, worth $19.1 billion.) In any event, it was the fun/sickening story of the MobyLives hiatus: The Amazon oligarch flew in Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Alice Walker, Neil Gaiman, and Khaled Hosseini, among others, to a think tanky event he called the “Amazon Campfire” (and what is it with this guy who deals in books naming everything he does after fire?).
It hasn’t been that long since Bezos attended the most recent gathering of the notorious Bilderberg Group, as this Swiss report notes, so God knows what he expected of Campfire participants. But according to a Publishers Lunch report (subscribers only) by Sarah Weinman, who cites no source but hints she’s seen an invite, the event was an “informal three-day idea-fest” featuring invited guests and Amazon execs holding discussions on the “theme” of “storytelling.”
Of course, this being Bezos, the event was deliberately timed in competition — like an infant’s cry for attention when Mom pays too much attention to, oh, anything else — with something else that was, uh, pretty important. In this instance it was the event that is for most in the book world the most important of the year: the Frankfurt Book Fest, which many of these authors were no doubt expected to attend by their publishers and fans.
To make it more enticing, Weinman reports Bezos paid for all accommodations, and no doubt a sizeable honorarium, and flew in some rock and Hollywood stars to boot, including Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Jason Reitman and Werner Herzog. (Interesting side note: No one else seems to have reported this. Go ahead, Google it. Nada.)
But the fall hasn’t been without a least a modicum of retribution from the Lord: According to another Forbes report, his secret rocketship blew up while we were on hiatus, too, in an explosion “resembling the notorious 1986 Challenger disaster.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.