After the Gold Rush: Losing Faith in Amazon

S2010-lgIn 1850, after every inch of California had been picked over, after every pebble resembling a nugget had been bitten between the back molars of some wild-eyed prospector, the newly arrived came, at last, to the bitter realization that the gold rush—at least the Get Rich Quick phase of it—was over. Only a handful of the earliest miners had become rich overnight, but sensationalized accounts of their success touched off an avalanche of more than 300,000 immigrants to the state. In the end, the surest profit was made selling picks and shovels to forty-niners smitten with gold fever. (Incidentally, the San Francisco newspaper man who broke the story got into the hardware business in a hurry.)

The book world’s gold rush began in 2007 when Amazon introduced Kindle Direct Publishing. The revolutionized business of self-published ebooks offered a generous 70/30 split in the author’s favor, making traditional publishers (granting, on average, a paltry 15% to authors) look like misers, side-stepping the need for literary agents, and sounding a siren call to the dissidents and outcasts of the industry. “Bring me your rejected, your returned, your unpublished,” Amazon beckoned. It was heralded as the resurgence of the midlist, an unprecedented opportunity for talented but unknown authors to move forward in careers stymied by the blockbuster prejudice of New York City publishers.

Boy, were we wrong.

prospector-web

Authorship: some days you’re the prospector; some days you’re the jackass.

I admit, I was one of those oft-rejected authors who embraced Amazon KDP. In 2012, I self-published a novel and a novella, and made—for the first time in five years of writing—real money from fiction. My sales numbers were modest, to be sure, but since I was keeping 70% of my royalties, that first year I made a profit comparable to the average advance of a new author with a traditional publishing contract. I’m sure I speak for many KDP authors when I say that it was a tremendous, empowering experience. I was receiving enthusiastic reviews from readers and connecting to a nationwide fan base already urging me to publish a sequel. Let me tell you, until you’ve received a hundred or more literary rejections in a row you won’t appreciate the euphoria of getting even a single piece of genuine fan mail.

I wrote the sequel over the course of the next year, hoping the second book’s release would be much the same, if not better than, the first’s. But something at Amazon had changed. The countenance of our benevolent partner, as it were, had darkened toward self-publishers. And not without reason. Every day since I published my first novel, untold numbers (literally, Amazon has not told us how many) of new books were being uploaded to KDP. These were not simply honest, hard-working prospectors hoping to strike it rich online. They were, in all too many cases, shysters and opportunistic charlatans, propping up hastily formatted shills of books with hundreds of fake reviews generated from fake user profiles. The authenticity of Amazon’s hallowed product review system was being corrupted. Something had to be done.

Amazon-Seattle-headquarters

Amazon’s humble future headquarters

In what seems like a paranoid twist from a dystopian novel, Amazon’s bots began detecting and incriminating authors by their associations with reviewers. Rumors were that Amazon could, by matching user data, determine whether any author and reviewer had ever shared a common IP address. It would be assumed that such similarities meant the author was creating fake profiles from the same computer or cajoling his friends to write fake reviews. For independent authors, this meant that if we’d ever met our writing peers at Starbucks, for instance, and happened to look up a title on our handy Amazon app, we were assumed to be guilty of dishonest collaboration. What it meant for me, attempting to rally my little band of advance readers, was that my initial reviews began disappearing faster than extras in a Jaws movie. These were, in some cases, reviews by members of my writer’s group in other states, people with whom I had not shared an IP address in years—if ever. How did Amazon know? Were they simply deleting reviews for being too positive, too glowing? My new book was left adrift with a scant two or three reviews—in an environment where a single malicious reviewer could, at any moment, and with no more than a single snarky comment, all but sink interest in my book. To add insult to injury, an ominous and curtly-worded email from Amazon appeared in my inbox notifying me, in a Big-Brother-is-watching-you kind of way, that my friends and family were not eligible reviewers and would be sent to a gulag in Siberia if I ever tried it again. I can only speculate that it was because of the dearth of those precious initial reviews that Amazon’s bots never got excited about promoting my sequel and sales floundered.

Needless to say, my feelings of empowerment were gone. Looking back, I probably should have pulled my ebooks from KDP out of sheer principle. But I needed that worldwide distribution network, you see. I was in an odd, drag-me-by-my-hair-back-into-the-trailer-park sort of co-dependent relationship with a hulking, monolithic dragon of a website (a dragon that was busy scorching the independent book world to cinders, but more on that later) and without it I would be nothing more than another peon writer with a worn and rejected manuscript, plaintively knocking at the doors of imperiously disinterested publishing houses. I had no choice but to leave my books on Amazon KDP so that, one day (for reasons, apparently, of pure dumb luck) my sales could “take off.”

hummer-super-stretch-limo.detailsWhat I should have known then (and only reluctantly admit now) is that the old adage that the “cream rises to the top” simply does not—cannot—apply to a market so incomprehensibly stuffed with merchandise. The idea of our books “taking off” on their own in the Amazon marketplace has turned out to be every bit the lottery dream of “being discovered” by a New York City agent and propelled overnight to limo rides and multi-city book tours on nothing more than the good old-fashioned merits of our work.

Tolstoy Leo

Another Tolstoy selfie? What a poser.

More sober contemplation, now that the gold rush is over, leads us to ask what good Amazon’s worldwide distribution network is if our product has zero visibility. Even the greatest book ever written won’t sell if no one knows it exists. Admittedly, I could have done more to promote my work. I could have spent more time than I did atop the digital soapbox, tweeting, blogging, friending, and following, as did every other independent author striving for success, until it struck them one day, as it did me, that a startling majority of our so-called followers and friends were independent authors themselves, gasping for the same precious air of online visibility. One blogger I read suggested that serious entrepreneurial authors should prepare to spend at least 25% of their career (i.e., life) promoting their books on social media and elsewhere. Self-promotion has become a shouting contest. Where will it end? What major works would be missing from the western canon if this had been true for self-publishing authors of bygone eras? Would we have Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but not War and Peace, simply because Tolstoy burned that time trolling Goodreads for unsuspecting readers, instagramming selfies, tweeting out hashtagged links to his ebook, and sprinkling blog posts with popular tags certain to boost his ranking in search engine results? By the twisted logic of Amazon’s brave new world, the more time an author spends neglecting his craft in favor of online promotion, the less likely it becomes that he will actually write anything at all worth reading.

And now I’d like to turn your attention to something I tried very hard to suppress in my own conscience while I imagined I was partnering with Amazon to sell a quadzillion digital copies of my books: the death of independent bookstores. Now, wait a minute, you say, those little mom and pop bookstores had it coming. They were charging full retail for books. Full retail. That should be a capital offense, right? How many times did you and I enjoy perusing the aisles of brick-and-mortar bookstores, surreptitiously photographing the covers of interesting books so we could later order them from Amazon for 30-40% below retail? I did. And now, not coincidentally, many of those brick and mortar bookstores are gone or subsisting on sales of kitsch, comics, and coffee-spiked slurpees.

booktower,books,messy-30a461c9bfd6d497f885964091fc3bd1_h-1

Symbol of disposability? One of Alicia Martin’s many enormous discarded book sculptures

Worse still, and perhaps the single greatest unintended consequence of Amazon’s ascendancy, has been the devaluation of all books. The same lack of substance that made ebooks so darn convenient, has, in turn, made real books seem significantly less valuable. Why blow $26 on a hardcover when you can wirelessly zap the same text to yourself for $4.95? The prices of “real” books—prices readers happily paid for trade paperbacks and hardcovers in decades past—began to seem downright outrageous. The predictable enthusiasm of readers to purchase the most book for their buck would, ironically, gut the companies that produced those cherished books. And while ebook aficionados concern themselves over which device has the most print-like screen quality and the fastest page-turning speeds, profit margins in the book business are quickly disappearing—margins that once sustained an entire industry built around real books and real people, from brick and mortar bookstores to printing presses to editors and proofreaders, literary agents, publicists, and yes, even the royalties of authors like myself who write the stories in the first place.

Quite apart from the ongoing debate of ebooks versus real books, we should, perhaps, be more concerned—much more concerned—about the looming monopoly of book distribution by Amazon, to say nothing of the gradual starvation of traditional book production, in light of Amazon’s recent forays into that role itself. How long will remaining publishers last if Amazon—a distribution monolith largely comprised of HTML code, bots, and low wage warehouse workers—takes an ever-expanding bite of the profits of publishing houses dependent on book lovers, interns, and quirky authors? New Yorker columnist George Packer is, I think, rightly concerned that “the prospect of a single owner of both the means of production and the modes of distribution is especially worrisome: it would give Amazon more control over the exchange of ideas than any company in U.S. history.”

Twenty years ago there were more than 4,000 independent bookstores in the United States. That number has already been cut in half.  What does the future of books look like, in a market dominated by Amazon? If my own adventure in self-publishing is any indication, we can assume Amazon’s business plan will be to 1.) destroy the industry’s traditional gatekeepers, 2.) flood the market with a vast array of inexpensive products, (after all, it matters much less to Amazon what consumers are reading than what device they are reading it on) and 3.) let the bots sort out the most popular by means of consumer choice—hardly a significant democratization when one considers that the books readers see first on the site are those that publishers have essentially bribed Amazon to display most prominently.

samuel_brannan

Samuel Brannan, Top Shovel Salesman of 1849

By the way, Samuel Brannan was the name of the San Francisco newspaper publisher that announced the discovery of gold in 1848. His hardware store was fully stocked with picks, shovels, and supplies when he walked down the center of the street holding aloft a vial of gold dust, shouting, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” In much the same way, we now realize that Jeff Bezos’ call for “Reading! Ebooks! Incredible opportunities for authors!” had less to do with reading itself and much more to do with the Kindles waiting in the store behind him.

Certainly the book world has been forever changed by Amazon’s innovation and ambition, but Silicone Valley technology nerds are forever overestimating their own significance. They are not the unstoppable horsemen of an inevitable ebook apocalypse, and the future of reading is not wrapped up in an electronic device. The future of reading is reading, no matter what nifty devices may, for the sake of enormous profit, be thrust between the reader and the page in an attempt to host and monopolize that experience. After all, a book is not dependent on the survival of any one brand or corporation. A book is an idea, a now-ancient innovation for delivering the reading experience that has served the human race well. Anyone, anywhere with enough raw materials and gumption may, even if their labor resembles the efforts of a 14th century monk, manufacture their own book. The problem at hand, for us moderns, is that if we do not wish to find ourselves in such a Dark Ages of book production, we need to understand that market dynamics are not simply a matter of loosely held values that no longer hold sway over our choices. We may imagine that just because we value having both real books and ebooks at our fingertips, those options will always remain—that our favorite books will always be offered to us, as they are now, in 17 different formats on Amazon. I like options, too. I like the feel of a real book in my hands, but I also enjoy being able to download an ebook instantly when I’m stuck in traffic or stranded on a rooftop (don’t ask) or simply don’t have the patience to wait for the print book to arrive. You know what else I like? Video rental stores. Been to one of those lately? I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel the same way, but our choices have led us to the place where there is no longer the array of options we once enjoyed. Loss-averse industries can’t survive for long, hemorrhaging money, while their once-loyal customers decide to dabble in multiple formats. This is the world of our making. Whether it’s such seemingly benign choices as buying berries from a local farmer’s market instead of having them imported from Chile, or purchasing a book at an indie bookstore rather than ordering it online from Amazon, we need to realize that the ways we choose to spend our money have world-changing ramifications.

fire_breathing_dragon_by_sandara-d56vmyu

Jeff Bezos was not available for comment.

In my own judgment, Amazon’s offering of cheap books for readers and high royalties for self-publishing authors has proven to be something of a Faustian bargain. But, seriously, what kind of treatment could we reasonably expect from a corporation that Bezos nearly named “Relentless.com” and refers, in company memos, to writing as “verbage”? And, yes, we have already entered a dark age of reading, in which hardback books are either exorbitantly expensive or nothing more than a paperback slapped with cardboard covers; an era in which a kind of small, portable television is being heralded as the ultimate book. But even if readers, for a time, surrender the rich sensory experience of printed books for the sterility of ebooks and the ersatz white screens of Kindles, so long as reading remains a uniquely human experience, and so long as real books are remembered to be the aesthetically superior means of providing that experience, books—real books with real ink and printed pages with texture you can feel between your fingers, and the scent of an old library rising from deep in the binding—will continue to be discovered and loved, and a Renaissance will eventually come, because, just as Montag says, wondering aloud over the volumes he has smuggled home in the dystopian future of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine…”

Against Ebooks: Five Good Reasons

800px-Old_book_bindings_2

I realize this may seem an unusual premise, coming from an author whose website is festooned with links to ebooks on Amazon, and who has, in the past, even used this blog to herald the new era of digital reading as a glistening opportunity for independent authors. But lately my research has led to some very different conclusions. I think it’s important to attempt, at least, to understand the historical tides in which we are caught up; not merely to be borne along, but to navigate those waters by exercising discernment and choosing deliberately whether or not we will participate in the novelties our culture celebrates. What follows are, in my opinion, five good reasons why ebooks will forever be inferior to “real” ink and paper books.

1. The Beauty of Accidental Discovery

Personally, I wouldn’t have become an ardent reader and lover of books—much less a writer and maker of books—if I hadn’t grown up wandering a house well-stocked with wooden bookshelves and ink and paper books: mysterious volumes with colorful spines and unpronounceable titles that held real, tactile fascination for me as a child. The presence of books gave me a sense of the depth and breadth of human knowledge as yet unknown to me, and it was, in part, that sense of the world beyond that drew me, irresistibly, into reading and learning.

How could a digital library—even the floating, finger-flickable book covers of a high-definition reader—compete with such an experience? They simply can not. They present no texture, no leather embossments to curious fingers or aromas of parchment to the inquisitive mind. No doubt generations of existing readers will go on reading, adopting ebooks here and there as a convenient alternative to print books, but what of the generations to come? What of the toddler sitting in the floor entranced with his parent’s iPad? It is, of course, the colorful animated apps and games, the movement and sound of video that captures his senses. What is a digital book to him but a flat and inscrutable image? To a child, as Jean-Louis Costanza’s viral You-Tube video demonstrates, “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work.”

For that matter, how are adults actually using their tablet PCs? Are we really more likely to read books on a device capable of streaming live video and displaying large images in high-definition? The greater likelihood seems to be the course of least resistance, that just as the omnipresence of television has supplanted much of our culture’s reading of periodicals and books, so, too, will a device that is essentially a portable television wind up—big surprise—being used as one. If you serve a child ice cream and asparagus on the same plate, which is more likely to be consumed? Let’s be real.IMG_0513

2. Engaging the Senses

I wish I could become a sommelier of books, whiffing the aroma of leather spines and real clothcovers and cotton and ink pages until I could, by scent alone, tell you the region and vintage of a fine edition. (Sidenote: find out what causes that “old book smell” here.) Real books are a bouquet for all but one of the senses: taste, which we relate to books only as a matter of literary judgment. (Although an exception must be made for a certain Labrador I will mention later.) We are admonished by the old maxim not to judge a book by its cover precisely because their physical properties and appearance offer us so many clues to interpret their meaning. Here is a volume that rests mightily in the hand. Is it a ponderous work and exhaustive? There is a slender volume of poetry, embossed with gilded scrollwork. Might it be a work of exquisite literary elegance? While none of these suggestions may prove true, they nonetheless add significant detail to the human experience of a book.

Interestingly, we humans seem to perform better with more, not less stimulation of the senses, particularly with regard to the retention necessary for learning. Studies already suggest that we learn more readily from real books than their digital kin, that without the tactile qualities of the printed page and a physical sense of location within the book—near the front or the back? On the right page or the left?—our minds have less places to “hang” memories. We are more likely to remember what we learned if we remember where we learned it, an association that a digital book—with perhaps one hundred thousand screens and no more than a slider bar to indicate our position—is far less likely to provide.

3. Durability versus Vulnerability

IMG_0026

Resting beside me is the book I’m currently reading: a hardback edition of Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand. This particular copy is unique because an enthusiastic Labrador named Mossberg made an honest attempt to eat it. The corner of the frontispiece has been gnawed away, the remaining cover is pocked with the indentations of powerful incisors, and even the uppermost part of the spine has been eaten, where the binding must have added a delectable note of savory glue. And yet the book still functions flawlessly. I defy you to show me an electronic reader or a tablet PC that could go toe to toe with a slavering Labrador and still serve its purpose.

More seriously, our culture’s fascination with all things digital is not just a tendency to celebrate aesthetically poor substitutes for real books, but a dangerous trend that favors centralization and totalitarianism. Think I’m being paranoid? Consider this: In 2009, Amazon’s team of lawyers realized the company didn’t quite have the legal rights to sell electronic copies of George Orwell’s book, 1984. (Ironic, right?) So one night they simply remotely deleted it from everyone’s Kindles and refunded the cost of their purchase. Just a click and it was gone. Quite apart from the violated licensing agreement between buyer and seller in such a scenario is the more interesting vulnerability of ebooks to these kinds of centralized decisions. Who’s to say that the government of the future (already beginning to issue restrictions and exercise control over much of the internet) won’t decide to censor, ban, or remotely delete ebooks it deems offensive or declares illegal? What about the growing threat of cyberattacks that deliver hard drive-wiping digital amnesia to whole networks of computers? Or the disastrous potential of an electromagnetic pulse or solar flare, or energy crises and disruptions in electric power? Is the future going to be safe enough to depend entirely upon electronic books? Maybe I’m just a stuffy old curmudgeon that has read too many dystopian novels, but I have my doubts.

While we’re on the topic of permanence, what happens to ebooks once they are read? They are, of course, stored or in some “cloud,” or on the device’s hard drive, out of sight for the most part until they are deleted to free available memory or discarded along with outdated hardware. But consider the rich afterlives of real books: passed down as heirlooms or discovered again in used bookshops, continents removed from their origin. Think of the accumulated humanity of notes handwritten in the margins, their significance become historical, or the cursive inscriptions on the frontispiece of a gift book, mysterious now as words on an unknown tombstone, but the volume alive still, ready to speak to us despite the decades it has lain waiting. But an ebook? An ebook is a digital file that knows nothing of aging, of yellowing pages and spines lovingly taped back together, of autumn leaves pressed between chapters and oils of human hands wicked into the page. An ebook is only a flash in the slipstream of the digital world, alive only so long as it occupies the screen before our eyes, a chimera on the continual life support of batteries and fragile electronic chips and incompatible power cords—mishandled, crashed, gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA4. Ebooks have Devalued Books

Digital books have made an almost schizophrenic appeal to consumers, boasting, on the one hand, to deliver the exact same information as physical books, but doing so in such an easy and intangible manner that consumers are outraged and even shocked when they find ebooks priced as much or more than trade paperbacks. Publishers, for a time, attempted to keep ebook prices prohibitively high so as to continue to sell print books; this was, after all, their specialty and the source of their most significant profit. But Amazon touched off a series of price wars when they unveiled the Kindle in 2006, initially offering all ebooks for $9.99, and the onslaught of self-publishing authors competing, as though in a blood sport, for readers inadvertently dragged the perceived value of ebooks even lower by offering books at $2.99, $0.99, and often giving away their titles absolutely free in order to gain a following.

To compensate for the low prices and slim profits, prolific self-publishers like Joe Konrath advised quickly churning out title after title to increase an author’s visibility on the digital bookshelf, and thus the overall number of books one would likely sell. Genre fiction writers with dozens of hastily-written, unpublished manuscripts benefited the most, and the disposability of ebooks seemed to perfect what the paperback had once accomplished: delivering stories to readers as cost-effectively as possible, with no necessity of lasting beyond one reading, the spine creased in white lines and the thin pages wrinkled, afterwards exiled to bedside tables in guest bedrooms or given away. Ebooks appear and vanish even more readily.

In terms of basic economics, the abundance of supply, without a significant increase in demand, had driven the price of books very low. The publishing industry had, at this point, fallen very far from the $26 hard cover editions that were once its mainstay. The market share of print books, will, if current trends continue, go the way of vinyl records, shrinking at the same rate that new technology advances, until it becomes a niche market of high-priced collectables and print-on-demand titles, never produced at any risk to the publisher, and never returned, unsold, from a bookstore.

5. The Demise of Human Industry

What appeared, on its face, to be a boon to consumers has had far-reaching implications for the perceived value—not just of ink and paper books as an outmoded technology—but of literature in the broader sense of worthwhile human creation. What should the value of a book be—a manuscript over which an author has toiled, perhaps for years, writing draft after draft, and which an agent has struggled to sell, contacting dozens of publishing houses, at which editors and proofreaders have labored to perfect, after which layout artists and jacket designers have worked to make pleasing to the eye, the finished product of which publicists have celebrated and bookstores have shelved by hand and proudly recommended? The unfortunate consequence of the low aesthetic quality of ebooks has been to debase all books, in the eyes of consumers, to the level of mass entertainment.

Disappearing along with the profit margins of the traditional publishing industry are the viable roles of human beings as booksellers. Not coincidentally, when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos set up a laboratory for the creation of the ultimate e-reader in 2004, he told the tech wizards that would invent the Kindle to “Proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.” Ten years later, it appears they may have succeeded, as more than half the independent bookstores in the United States have already closed, dropping from 4,000 to less than 2,000, and even major bookstore chains such as Borders, Books-A-Million, and Barnes and Noble are succumbing to extinction one by one.

Is the future an irresistibly electronic one, manned by bots and algorithms instead of literary agents and human booksellers? Is Amazon, as it claims, only delivering what is, inescapably, the future and fate of books? Or is it bullying the publishing industry into submission for the sake of staggering profits? An honest look at the history of Amazon’s business practices seems to suggest the latter.

The true meaning of ebooks for our culture depends upon our philosophy of technological advancement. Are we at the mercy of our own imaginations? Is everything that is possible, in fact, what ought to be done? Americans have, as a people, typically advanced so quickly and adapted so readily to new technology that we seldom pause to consider whether our advancements are really improvements, and what might be lost in the exchange of an old method for a newer, more convenient one. Only later, after negative ramifications of new technology become impossible to ignore, do we regret our impertinence and take half-hearted measures to reverse it. (Think pollution, cancer, e coli, dependence on foreign oil, genetically modified organisms, eugenics, abortive contraception, and internet pornography, to name a few.)

Sadly, without a well-considered allegiance to what is good, true, and beautiful in our culture, we will, as a race, only continue to be sucked along the way of alleged Progress, the shiny new machinery of which is, in never-ending versions and updates, dangled before our awestruck faces by hucksters and profiteers intent on milking every last drop of disposable income from an increasingly bovine herd of thoughtless consumers. Caveat emptor, indeed, for it has proven true in our age that the products buyers purchase do not so much define the buyers themselves as they do the world in which they live.

jpg

My Dog’s Past Life

ginger cropped

Fast asleep at my feet is the long-legged brindle greyhound my wife and I adopted two months ago, an ex-racer with green numbers tattooed in her ears and old scars on her body and a career—really an entire life—I know nothing about, a culture completely foreign to me: racing programs with inscrutable strings of numbers, statistical charts that look like puzzles for savants, post positions and kennel standings, blood quotas and double ancestors, wagers and payouts and odds, gates and tracks and lures, sires and dams, dogs with names that conjure thoroughbred racehorses: “Waverly Supreme” and “Fireball Sandy.” Fatless, sixty pound ghosts of dogs considered slow if they close a 5/16th mile racetrack in thirty three seconds—still more than twice the speed of the world fastest man.

We call her Ginger now, but her name in that world was “RLM’s Madera.” Her last race was September 10, 2011, in Birmingham, Alabama, a 3/8 mile heat in which she placed 6th, lagging a full second behind a dog named Crazy Little Thing. I know few details of Ginger’s career, no more about each race than the meager three-word descriptions that nonetheless offer up entire stories by implication, phrases like “gave ground late,” “bumped 1st turn,” or “outphotoed for 4th.” The fastest time in her records is 30:97, but Ginger ran in 70 races, more than 150 heats, often two in the same day, and every single time within a scant two seconds. She won five times, and I read, with a strange sort of pride, that she “overcame trouble” and was “determined to win.”

I can only imagine her in a racing silk and muzzle, under the lights at Birmingham, the blue glass of the skybox looming over the course, and the track lined in gleaming white railings, 10,000 spectators in the stands and 1,000 other dogs waiting in the kennels to race, my own brindle greyhound out on that track, running so fast, stretched out like a cheetah in full stride—flying, really—her feet only coming down to propel her aloft, the spray of dirt, all that tremulous muscle in her hocks and shoulders that she still retains, the shocking little bursts she takes sometimes in a playful mood, instantly at the end of the leash, or bounding down the hall after a toy, her front legs rampant like a prancing horse, the same way she must have thrown her paws out in front of her on the racetrack, perhaps the first part of her to trip the cameras at the finish line those five precious wins.

The way I think of them now, Ginger’s races were only the distance she had to run to get here, the odyssey of a dog to get home, to a dream on a folded quilt, her tiger-stripe rib cage rising and falling, ears piqued and nose twitching in some vision of her secret past: her legs in a blur, her feet moving faster than the eye can see.

Page 1 of 812345...Last »