A big part of the appeal for me was the customer reviews. In 2013, you never know if it's a "real" review or one that someone has been paid to write, but for a long time after Amazon started, there was a real community of opinionated booklovers who passed reviews and recommendations back and forth at a furious rate.
And surprisingly, Amazon allowed negative reviews. I'm pretty sure they were the first major retailer to do that--now it's common enough, but back in the day, it was a courageous statement of commitment to their customers' experience. Here they are trying to sell stuff, and yet they let users write terrible reviews of their products and they leave them up where anyone can read them. I loved it.
I wrote quite a few reviews early on, but once I started a blog I stopped-- now I post my reviews here. I've deleted most of the ones I had on Amazon. But occasionally, when I feel that I have something to add that I wish someone had told me before I bought a book, I'll still post something.
About a year and a half ago, I posted a review of a cookbook called The Breakfast Book. It had nearly all glowing five-star reviews. But I thought it was about the most boring cookbook I'd ever seen--it had recipes for biscuits from scratch and scones from scratch and several different ways to cook eggs, but it was all basic stuff that I already had in my big fat Fannie Farmer cookbook. What I wanted was inspiration, some new ideas for things we could eat for breakfast on a typical chaotic day; what this cookbook gave me was just a bunch of basic recipes that would only have worked for us on a leisurely Saturday morning (if we ever had a leisurely Saturday morning), not a busy weekday.
So I posted a review to prevent another cook like me from making the same $16 mistake, giving it three stars out of five (you can skip down to the next paragraph if you're pressed for time, this is just here for the sake of completeness):
I ordered this purely based on the glowing reviews it receives here. Once I received it, it took me awhile to figure out why everyone loves it so much, because it didn't seem that great to me. I think to appreciate this cookbook, you have to love to cook. I don't hate cooking, but I don't love it the way some do-- I would never, for example, choose to make my own cheese when you can get perfectly good cheese at the grocery and even better at the gourmet foods store. But [the author] provides a recipe for cheese, because "this is exactly the cheese I've always wanted to make at home." If you read that and think, "Great! I've always wanted to try making cheese!" then this is the cookbook for you-- there are some great recipes here (and not just for cheese, of course, there are all kinds of buns and muffins and egg dishes, etc.). But if you're like me and see that recipe and think, "Why the heck would anyone want to bother making their own cheese?" then you probably want to look for another cookbook. I just wanted more ideas for quick breakfasts for my morning-challenged family, and although there are a few of those here, not enough to make it worth the purchase price.I hadn't thought about that review in months, but a couple of days ago I got an e-mail that another user had left a comment on it. I didn't ask her for permission to post the comment here, but it would be really complicated to tell you how to get to it at Amazon, and she did post it in a very public place, so I'm reproducing it here anyway:
That's the problem with people today, most people just want to go to the grocery store and buy things that they need as opposed to spending some time learning how to make healthy foods. Of course you can simply go to the grocery store and buy some random pack of cheese, but do you have any idea of what you're actually paying for? I am one of those people who have read labels, done research, and have learned what is really in store-bought foods and I love the idea of making my own foods at home. Homemade trumps store-bought any day and I don't understand why you would write such a negative review about the recipe for homemade cheese. Our society is full of lazy people who would rather make a food company rich as opposed to learning new skills regarding making homemade food.Whoa!! Really? I don't think I've ever been grouped in with the people who are "the problem today." The more I thought about this, the more dumbfounded I was. The number of conclusions she jumped to just because I don't want to make all of my own food from scratch astounded me. I'm lazy because I don't love to cook! (what if I just have other things I'd rather do?) Since I'm willing to buy cheese at the grocery store, I never read labels and have no idea what's in the foods I buy! (I'm actually a pretty dedicated reader of labels, and I do my best to buy food with a minimum of additives.) Any food made at home is better than any food that you can buy! (seriously? anything a mediocre cook (me) makes at home is necessarily going to be better than a food made by someone who knows what they're doing?) (not all foods that you buy at a store are made by huge corporations, by the way.)
So I replied and told her that. But I'm still a bit offended and a lot amused at her strident tone.
So, that's all. I just thought you might be interested in the exciting life I lead.