R. Sebastian Bennett ~ I Bought a Book

I bought a book. Books are good. Amazon sent it to my house. That was nice. I read my book. I liked it. I want­ed to tell the world about my read­ing expe­ri­ence. Amazon let me review my book. That was nice. I typed my review, and Amazon flashed me a mes­sage that my review was sub­mit­ted. That was nice.

I kept check­ing to see my review online. I wait­ed three days to see my review. It nev­er showed up. I typed the review again and sub­mit­ted it. Amazon thanked me for sub­mit­ting.  After two days, the new review hadn’t appeared. I typed and sub­mit­ted it again. But that didn’t work.

I thought about the pos­si­ble rea­son why Amazon did not want my review. Perhaps it might have some­thing to do with the Germanic name that I had used as a pseu­do­nym to sub­mit the review. I use a pseu­do­nym because I don’t want a sell­er to get angry and track me if I write some­thing bad.  I use a German pseu­do­nym, “Hartmut.”  (I like to pro­nounce the vow­els in Germanic names.)

I sus­pect­ed that Amazon might not like my Germanic name since it did not match the name on my cred­it card. So I changed my Amazon name to a clos­er ver­sion of my actu­al name, even though the syl­la­bles are not as fun to pro­nounce. I sub­mit­ted the review again. Amazon thanked me. I wait­ed two days. The review did not appear.

I began to research pos­si­ble rea­sons why my review was not post­ed online. I read reports on sell­er sites and Reddit. Apparently, Amazon is get­ting very sus­pi­cious about whether or not a review­er is a friend of the author. There is spec­u­la­tion that Amazon is sniff­ing IP address­es and social media sites to try and deter­mine if a review­er is a friend of the author, and reject­ing reviews on that basis. I am a friend of the author of my book.

My name is Hartmut.  I am a friend of the author of my book.

I emailed the author and told him that our friend­ship might be a rea­son my review was not being post­ed on Amazon. The author dis­agreed. The author felt that the rea­son Amazon did not like my review was that I used a fake German name to post the review, and this con­cerned Amazon. I explained that I had tem­porar­i­ly tried to switch to a ver­sion of my real name to sub­mit the review, but that didn’t work either… The author sug­gest­ed that I sub­mit a review about a dif­fer­ent prod­uct, so that we could diag­nose the extent of the review post­ing prob­lems. I did not want to do that because I had a headache.

I lay down and decid­ed to con­tact cus­tomer ser­vice at Amazon about the issue of the review. Amazon let me into a chat with cus­tomer ser­vice.  That was nice. I typed that I was con­cerned that my book review had not been post­ed.  I was told that that sell­ers change.  Then I was told that a review could be sub­mit­ted from the prod­uct page. Then I was told to click the review but­ton on the bot­tom left of the prod­uct page.  Then I was asked the rea­son for my chat. I real­ized that I was like­ly talk­ing to a bot, and so I asked, “Are you a human being?”  I was told that cus­tomers may write reviews.  I typed, “Are you a human being or a bot?”  I was asked for my item num­ber.  I said, “I believe you are a bot, because the answers you are pro­vid­ing are absurd.” I accused it of being a bot three times.

A human imme­di­ate­ly took over the chat. The human want­ed me to take a screen­shot of my review. I told the human I did not know how to do that on my iPad. The human gave me instruc­tions about hold­ing down two dif­fer­ent but­tons simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.  I tried to fol­low these instruc­tions, but the iPad began to shut down, so I let go of the but­tons and offered to copy and paste an exact copy of the review text and the con­fir­ma­tion mes­sage instead. The human agreed to this.  So I copied and pasted.

Suddenly a new human took over the chat for some rea­son. I explained the sit­u­a­tion to the new human. The new human’s name was Mragank.  I had trou­ble typ­ing this name.  I acci­den­tal­ly typed it Mrogank, and then Mrogamk.  I apol­o­gized for mis­spelling the new human’s name.  I explained that I had dif­fi­cul­ty typ­ing that name, since my eyes are bad, and I apol­o­gized again. The human named Mragank did not appear to accept my apol­o­gy.  He or she said that he or she would look into the sit­u­a­tion. Three lit­tle cir­cles at the bot­tom of the screen began to flash in sequence.

Mragank said I would be con­tact­ed in 48 to 72 hours by anoth­er team.  I asked if the team would be com­prised of humans.  Mrogank said yes.  I asked if that team would have access to the chat record. Mrogank said yes.

I wait­ed 96 hours to the sec­ond. The team of humans did not con­tact me. I did not know what to do. I decid­ed  that maybe the author was cor­rect, and Amazon did not like my Germanic pseu­do­nym. I decid­ed to use a more sen­su­al name to entice Amazon to post my review. I decid­ed to use the name “Tasha.”  I am famil­iar with that name, because in col­lege, five of the women in my dorm want­ed to change their names to “Tasha.” At the time, I didn’t under­stand that, so I asked my sis­ter. She said it was because “Tasha” was a sen­su­al name.   I didn’t under­stand that either, because the name “Vanessa” seemed  more sen­su­al than “Tasha.”

I changed my Amazon pseu­do­nym to “Tasha-Vanessa.” I  typed the book review again and clicked “Submit.” Amazon thanked me. That was nice.  For some rea­son, I was in the mood to talk again to an Amazon bot. I clicked back to Amazon cus­tomer ser­vice and began a chat. I decid­ed to inves­ti­gate the bot’s lan­guage abil­i­ty. The bot asked how it could help me. I wrote “Voulez vous couch­er avec moi?”  The bot asked me to be more spe­cif­ic. It then instruct­ed me to list my order num­ber. I told it, “Furu ike ya kawazu tobiko­mu mizu no oto.”  The bot did not respond.  Then it asked, “What is the nature of your ques­tion?” I asked the bot to pro­vide infor­ma­tion about the pre­cise type of bot it was, and the name of its gov­ern­ing software.

The bot did not respond. I asked the bot to con­firm that it was in fact a bot. I told it that I sus­pect­ed it was a bot. I accused it of being a bot three times.

A human entered the chat. I told the human that I was sad that Amazon would not post my book  review, and request­ed the rea­son for this rejec­tion. The human told me told me that his or her name was Damian. Damian told me that he or she would assist me. But Damian did not type any­thing more for sev­en min­utes.  I asked Damian if he/she was still there.  Damian said yes.  I asked Damian if he or she was hap­py. Damian told me to have a nice evening, and stay safe, and wash my hands.

The author tele­phoned me and asked if I had test­ed the Amazon review process by review­ing a dif­fer­ent prod­uct. I said I was just about to try, and typed anoth­er review, using the name “Tasha-Vanessa,” about the organ­ic monk fruit I had pur­chased.  I typed a very neg­a­tive, one-star review.   It was a neg­a­tive review, not because of the prod­uct itself, but because Amazon had told me that I had exceed­ed my allow­able pur­chase lim­it of organ­ic monk fruit, and thus would only be sent one bot­tle.  I clicked Submit. Amazon thank me for my sub­mis­sion. After three days, my review did not show up.

I was sad. I decid­ed to chat with a librar­i­an. I went to the pub­lic library site and clicked “Chat now with a librar­i­an.” I said I want­ed to chat about monk fruit. The librar­i­an asked me what I want­ed to know. I said I want­ed to know all about it. The librar­i­an asked if I want­ed to know if it was safe and nat­ur­al.  For some rea­son, I found this arous­ing.  I asked her if she thought it was nat­ur­al.  The librar­i­an told me that we could not dis­cuss reli­gious issues. I asked the librar­i­an her name.  She said her name was Sasha. I asked her if she would mar­ry me. She said that’s sweet, but let’s just be friends. I asked her if peo­ple who were just friends could get mar­ried. The librar­i­an told me the chat would end now. I was sad.

I decid­ed to chat with Amazon cus­tomer ser­vice again, even though I knew I would be speak­ing to a bot.  I clicked on “Contact.” I was told I was now being con­nect­ed, and giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to type in a new box. I  began, “Dear Bot, may you please let me know your name?”  The bot would not tell me. I wrote, “Dear Bot, I think Amazon does not like me.  It will not let me post reviews.”   The bot asked me for my order num­ber. The bot told me I could write a review on the prod­uct page.  I asked the bot if it ever had the desire to chat with a librar­i­an. The bot would not tell me. The bot said the chat would soon end.  I accused the bot of being a bot three times.

A human entered the chat. I told the human that we need­ed to dis­cuss the issues of the lack of post­ing of my reviews and the lim­i­ta­tion of my Monk fruit pur­chas­es. The human asked which MoniQue album I was refer­ring to, and then asked me to pro­vide the order num­ber for the MoniQue music item I had pur­chased. I asked the human if it was actu­al­ly an advanced bot. The human did not respond. I told the human that I sus­pect­ed it was an advanced bot. I accused it of being an advanced bot three times.

Five humans simul­ta­ne­ous­ly entered the chat. They called me “Hartmut,” and I became fright­ened. I decid­ed to turn off my com­put­er and reboot my modem again. I unplugged the modem and count­ed slow­ly to twen­ty.  Then I plugged it back in.  I turned on my com­put­er and  changed my Amazon name to “Pumpernickel.” And then I decid­ed “Lancer” was bet­ter. I bought anoth­er book.  Amazon will send it to my house. That is nice.


R. Sebastian Bennett was the found­ing edi­tor of The Southern Anthology. He taught Fiction Writing at U.C.L.A., the University of Louisiana, and Muskingum University, where he direct­ed the Creative Writing Program. His writ­ing has been wide­ly pub­lished in U.S. and inter­na­tion­al venues, includ­ing American Book Review, Arkansas Review, Brooklyn Review, Columbia Journal, Fiction International, George Washington Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Indiana Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Manhattanville Review, Mississippi Review, New Orleans Review, NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH, New World Writing, Oxford Magazine, The Southwestern Review, Texas Review, Tulane Review, The Worcester Review, The William and Mary Review, Wisconsin Review, Alécart (ROMANIA), Modern Literature (INDIA), the Galway Review (Ireland), The Nippon View (JAPAN), and Paris Transcontinental - Sorbonne (FRANCE).