Ideal for all your vaseline/uranium/rose/butter needs sells everything from Tuscan milk to Hello Kitty vibrators. And they were one of the first companies to incorporate customer reviews into their pages. But a few years back, some customers started posting reviews that were, um, not quite Roger Ebert-esque. I’m not talking about bad reviews. I’m talking about impish ones.

One of the first products to get the treatment was Tuscan Milk, 1 gallon, 128 fl. oz. For example:

I toyed with the idea of second business day delivery but Amazon in its infinite wisdom limited me to “Expedited.”

Order Summary
Items: $3.99
Shipping & Handling: $26.25

Total Before Tax: $30.24
Estimated Tax:* $0.00

Order Total: $30.24

Why go to my local store and pay $2.99 for a gallon of milk when I can have it overnight delivered for 10 times that price? I think I’ll get three gallons next time. As a current Pentagon employee, this makes perfect sense to me.

Others were pithier:

“Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal? A-W-E-S-O-M-E!”

Eventually, the New York Times got a taste, and ran a story about the milk reviews. Since then, reviews have rolled in that include the milk’s chemical composition, a wistful short story, and even a small epic poem.

But it wasn’t just milk. The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee got the treatment:

This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!).

So did Chemical Shifts and Coupling Constants for Silicon-29, a book selling for the l0w-low price of “$7,679.00 & this item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping.”

I’m a big fan of the NMR genre, but this book was really just phoned in. … It appeals to the lowest common denominator for cheap thrills when it should be striving to elevate the level of discourse. I mean, did we really need to slog through an entire chapter where Dr. Gupta describes, in agonizing detail, the time he took the spectra of two samples at the same time? He’s probably the kind of guy who’ll put his sample into a dirty NMR tube his friend just used, too. I actually went to the bathroom and washed my hands after putting this book down; I probably have hepatitis now.

If that’s too rich for your blood, try some uranium ore. Just be warned, “I purchased this product 4.47 Billion Years ago and when I opened it today, it was half empty.” However, someone else was “glad I don’t have to buy this from Libyans in parking lots at the mall anymore.”

Or you could just go with Wedding Chapel – 10 x 18 With Wood Roof for $21,420.47. (Did I mention they sell everything? Do you believe me now?)

Or the Grim Reaper on Skeleton Horseback Life-Size Prop for $3,699.43.

my kids just LOVE Mr. Scary Bones (as they affectionately call him). As soon as I pull him out of the closet they simply can’t wait to jump into bed and pull the covers up over their head. And they’ve certainly never slept more soundly. I don’t hear a peep out of them all night long. Thank you Mr. Scary Bones!

And if that’s too macabre, there’s a Guardian Angel for $149, and Vaseline Uranium Opalescent Glass Rose Butter Dish for $28.50.

Last week the butter was lost in the fridge, the uranium in a glowing cardboard box under the stairs and my bed was awash with rose petals and half-empty tubs of Vaseline – the usual scene of domestic bliss.

Now they are all handily together in one, urine-coloured glass jar beside my bed. Okay, so I have made the odd error in the middle of the night but, as my wife laughingly pointed out, the butter was a marginally better mistake than giving myself radioactive genitals.

Or Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! (Paperback), for the low-as-hell price of only $135. Sadly, the book’s Sales Rank is 8,755,333. (It’s not selling better than Dan Brown? I’ll be damned.)

I suppose I could get all philosophic about memes and a new kind of art form evolving to a new medium, and it being a pungently satirical comment on the internet as a vast commercial wasteland, but whatever. It’s more fun just to read the reviews.

The Semi-Semi-Finals

genlit.jpgI’ve spent the weekend spamming my friends and relatives, telling them that my novel, Between Clubs, is a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. (Like the lovely cover?)

In my original post about it, I missed one fact. According to the Penguin Blog (Penguin Books … not flightless birds), the current batch of 836 semi-finalists

will be narrowed down to 100 semi-finalists on February 19th , and Penguin editors will then select the top 10 contestants who will enter the final round, their decisions informed by the ratings and reviews conducted by Publishers Weekly and critics.

Two observations: First, the Penguin Blog is actually a Penguin Press Release Archive. That’s not social media, that’s PR! But hey, any promo is good promo.

Second, the Amazon contest home page makes no mention of the Feb 19th date:

From now until March 2, we’re inviting customers to download, read, and review excerpts from our semifinalists and help decide who will make it to the Top Ten. Penguin will select manuscripts to read from the semifinal round based on customers’ feedback and Publishers Weekly reviews.

But it sounds like if you’re going to write a review (maybe … for Between Clubs?), it would be most effective if you did it before Feb. 19th.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Though I haven’t mentioned this previously on my blog, it’s time to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. I’ve written a novel and I’m shopping it around with agents. I also entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. The contest took nearly 5,000 novels in the first round, and from that initial pool, cut the field to 836 semifinalists. Last night I got the good news that my novel, Between Clubs, is a semi-finalist!

Pretty exciting, eh? Book authors spend countless hours alone in a room, slaving away over their work. (The novelist Jerzy Kosiński used to call telephone operators and solicit the reactions to passages from his book.) Thus and so, getting recognized once in a while is a nice thing.

From now until March 2, customers can download, read, and review novel excerpts to help decide who will make it to the finals (a.k.a. the Top Ten). Here’s the link to the excerpt of Between Clubs.

Penguin—the publisher sponsoring the contest—will select manuscripts from the semifinal round based on customers’ feedback and Publishers Weekly reviews. The 10 finalists selected from the semifinals will be announced on March 3. Customers will then vote to select the winner, to be announced April 7, 2008.

If you’re so inclined, please read my excerpt and write a review! Not only does it help me (hint hint), but Amazon’s giving away prizes to top reviewers (see the contest page for more info, and tips on writing a good review.)