First, one of the other bookstores in town closed down. Mr. Babbage'sBooks with a Difference (Engine) stocked books that dealt particularly with my old hobby – the steam-driven monstrosity I had built in the stables, and with which I had tinkered on the weekends for years. I bumped into him on the street and he complained that the kids these days bought all their books at Amazon's shop. It's a shame – Mr. Babbage had recommended several good books to me when I visited his shop and also given me several tips at times when I got stuck in the construction of my difference engine. I felt that the world of books was a little poorer for his loss.
He would recite the comments of others but I increasingly felt that he did so with little conviction. He did not know who these others were or why they wrote what they wrote. One day I asked him what he knew ofThe Secret History by Donna Tartt and he just told me that someone called A Customer had said that "The Secret History has been one of my favorite leisure-reading selections for several years".
"But what doyou think, Amazon, what do you think?" I pestered. All he could come up with was that "329 of 539 customers gave this book five stars" "So what?" I demanded, and actually stamped out of the shop in a huff.
I decided it was time to resolve some of my contradictory impressions about Mr. Amazon's Bookshop. Its virtue is clear – if you know a book he will find it for you. Its limitations are also clear – it is not a real bookshop, for all his postmodernist posturing, and one cannot browse the shelves. For special orders of books Mr. Amazon is impressive, but if I don't go there with a book in mind then all I have to go on are his recommendations. And these, despite the enthusiasm of the young, seemed limited to me.
My brow was sorely furrowed all the way home. I fed raw rice to the ducks in the park, but could not even raise a chuckle at the thought of their discomfort as it swelled inside them. But as I approached Whimsley Hall and walked past the stables a thought struck me. Just before going out of business Mr. Babbage had told me that Mr. Amazon had a new trick – instead of going to Mr. Amazon's Bookshop, one could use a difference engine to ask him as many questions as you like. Perhaps, I thought, I could tune my difference engine to ask him for all kinds of recommendations, and then I could get a deeper sense of what his shop augured for the world of books. I was so excited I almost started on this project right away, but my stressful excursion had quite worn me out and I retreated instead to my bedroom and a spoonful of laudanum. Next day, I told myself, I would start up my difference engine and ask a few more questions of Mr. Amazon.