Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 28, 2017

Atlantic Monthly Press: Those Opulent Days: A Mystery by Jacquie Pham

Feiwel & Friends: The Flicker by HE Edgmon

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Pumpkin Princess and the Forever Night by Steven Banbury

St. Martin's Griffin: Murdle: The School of Mystery: 50 Seriously Sinister Logic Puzzles by GT Karber

Carolrhoda Lab (R): Here Goes Nothing by Emma K Ohland

Allida: Safiyyah's War by Hiba Noor Khan

Ace Books: Servant of Earth (The Shards of Magic) by Sarah Hawley

Quotation of the Day

Changing Hands: 'Transgender Customers Welcome'

"A quick note to our transgender customers. You are welcome at Changing Hands. You are welcome, valued, respected--as friends, as community members, as fellow book lovers, as fellow human beings. You are not a 'burden' or 'disruption.' You're an integral part of our vibrant and diverse community of readers, booksellers, authors, and publishers. We stand with you against President Trump's military ban, and above all--most importantly of all--against the ignorance that underlies it. We'll stand with you in the future as well, no matter what this administration throws your way. Please know that. And please take care on this difficult day."

--Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., on Facebook on Wednesday

PM Press: P Is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi, Illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi


Amazon 2nd Quarter: Sales Jump, Income Falls 77%

In the second quarter ended June 30, net sales at Amazon rose 24.8%, to $38 billion, while net income fell 77%, to $179 million.

Business analysts noted that while sales growth was impressive, net income was below expectations. As the Wall Street Journal put it, "Amazon's ever-increasing clout is accompanied by a new phase of heightened investment, after several quarters of spending discipline. The retailer is plowing profits back into product development, warehouse building and delivery infrastructure, as well as overseas expansion and video content. Amazon, which keeps promising ever shorter delivery times, is under pressure to contain shipping costs, which rose 36% to $4.57 billion in the second quarter from a year earlier."

The disappointing results led to a drop in Amazon stock in after-hours trading, which had an unusual effect on founder Jeff Bezos. When the company's stock hit a record high in the morning, before quarterly results were announced, Bezos's net worth reached $90.6 billion, pushing him ahead of Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world's richest person. But with the drop in share price after the earnings announcement, Bezos became the second least-poor person in the world again.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Intermezzo by Sally Rooney

Bookseller Becky Anderson Running for Congress

Becky Anderson

It's not unusual for booksellers to become mayors or council members of their towns, but now Becky Anderson, co-owner and manager of Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Aurora, Downers Grove and La Grange, Ill., is setting the bar higher: she's running for Congress in Illinois's 6th Congressional District.

Anderson is running as a Democrat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 7% last year and that is currently represented by Republican Peter Roskam. She's running as Becky Anderson Wilkins--as she notes in campaign material, she has been married for 34 years to Chuck Wilkins and has three children. She is currently a Naperville City Councilor, founded IndieBound Naperville and is best known in the bookselling world as a former president of the American Booksellers Association.

"As a small business owner, my philosophy has always been that you treat your customers like you treat your family," Anderson said. "If they're upset, you listen and work toward a solution. If there's something they need, you try to find it. And if you're honest and treat them with respect, the relationships you build will last a lifetime. Now, that may sound simple, but for some reason it's a philosophy that's too complicated for Congress. That must change. We need someone representing us who will work as hard for the people of the Sixth District as they would for their own family. That's the approach I'll bring to the office."

She added: "For too long, Peter Roskam and [Illinois Governor] Bruce Rauner have failed the Sixth District, using our community as pawns in ideological battles. In Congress, I will lead on the issues that impact this district every day. I will continue my advocacy on behalf of high-quality childhood education and literacy. I will fight for women's reproductive rights and a fully-funded Planned Parenthood. And I will put the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs above an obsession with granting tax breaks to big corporations."

The campaign has already released its first video, called "Heavy Lifting," which can be seen here.

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, who nearly won a Congressional race many years ago, has given Anderson one of her first endorsements: "Speaking personally (as ABA cannot be engaged in electoral politics), I could not be more thrilled! Becky is a proven leader. As a successful entrepreneur and businessperson, she has been a national leader in the influential localism movement, and her work ethic, her empathy, and her business acumen would make her an absolutely superb Member of Congress. Becky and I have spoken about this race, and, I know from personal experience that a Congressional race is a significant undertaking, but I'm confident she's got what it takes to be successful. Go Becky!"

Linda Cannon Wins NAIBA's Kristin Keith Rep of the Year Award

Linda Cannon

Congratulations to Linda Cannon, co-owner of rep group Parson Weems, who has won the inaugural Kristin Keith Sales Rep of the Year award, sponsored by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. (Founded in 1987, the award used to be known as the William Helmuth Sales Rep of the Year award, but was renamed earlier this year to honor the beloved Norton rep who died on January 4 and who won the Helmuth award in 2013.)

"I was stunned, thrilled, honored and humbled when I got the call from Todd Dickson telling me I was to be given this award," Cannon said. "My second thought was I wish Kristen was still with us. She was an amazing rep and friend, receiving this in her honor is high praise indeed."

Cannon became a partner of Parson Weems in 2005 and a co-owner in 2014. Earlier she had been a bookseller, commission rep and house rep for 18 years, before taking a break from publishing to be a marketing manager for a software company and operations manager of an Internet startup.

"Working with NAIBA and the amazing and passionate booksellers in the mid-Atlantic has been as fun and rewarding as anything I have done in my decades as a bookseller," she added. "Through the good times and bad, we persist. Thank you to one and all for your hard work and support and, for this fabulous award. I'm feeling fine on Cloud 9."

She will officially receive the award at the NAIBA Awards Banquet on Saturday, October 7, in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Kakutani Stepping Down as NYT's Chief Book Critic


Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani is stepping down from her position as chief book critic at the New York Times after a 38-year career during which she established herself as one of the most influential reviewers in the business.

In a note announcing the change, editor Pamela Paul and editorial director Radhika Jones said: "The changing of the guard among critics at the New York Times is always a momentous occasion, but in the world of letters, it is hard to imagine a more seismic change than this one... It is with profound gratitude for her tremendous service to readers of the Times and readers of books everywhere that we take a moment to recognize her remarkable contributions over the past four decades.... Her tenure at the Times has been among the most storied and influential in our history, and we are deeply grateful for the course she has charted, book by book, week by week, through the vast frontier of contemporary literature."

Kakutani began her career at the New York Times in 1979 as a reporter covering cultural news, and became a book critic in 1983. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 "for her passionate, intelligent writing on books and contemporary literature."

Parul Sehgal

In additional news, Parul Sehgal will join the newspaper's team of book critics. A senior editor and columnist at the New York Times Book Review, she joined the Times in 2012. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, and in 2010 she was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

"We are thrilled to welcome Parul as a new voice on fiction and nonfiction in our daily report, joining our superb team of critics--Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior, with regular contributions from Janet Maslin--as the Books desk at the Times ​expands its coverage, reaching out to new audiences while continuing to provide the high standard of authoritative literary criticism our readers have depended on for decades," Paul and Jones noted.  

Berrett-Koehler Buys Management Concepts Press

Berrett-Koehler Publishers has purchased Management Concepts Press, Vienna, Va., a training and consulting provider that has a catalogue of more than 125 titles on federal acquisition and contracting, federal financial management, leadership, project management and public administration.

"This purchase is a natural fit with our existing catalogue and our company's mission, while helping us to expand our publishing program in several major areas," said Berrett-Koehler founder and president Steven Piersanti. "Our books enable positive change for individuals, organizations, and communities."

Berrett-Koehler Publishers specializes in progressive books on current affairs, personal growth and business and management

Obituary Note: Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming, "a prolific historian with a zealous interest in America's founding fathers and a historical novelist whose plots included a British conspiracy to kidnap George Washington," died July 23, the New York Times reported. He was 90. In addition to biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Fleming "chronicled the battles of Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord and a lesser-known one in Springfield, N.J., in 1780. He wrote about the seminal year 1776. And he looked back at the duel in 1804 between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton."

Although he occasionally departed from the Revolutionary era, Fleming would return to the period that most fascinated him, as he did in The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson That Defined a Nation (2015) and The Strategy of Victory: How General George Washington Won the American Revolution, which will be published in October by Da Capo Press.

Historian David McCullough called Fleming a gifted storyteller: "He was a man of natural ease with people and with stories. He had that good Irish ability to express in person and on paper.... He worked all the time, and he wasn't just knocking the books out. He was writing quality books."


Cape Cod's Indie Bookstores 'Know What You Want'

There are "a dozen or more independent bookstores on Cape Cod, and a visit to any one of them this summer--to pick up a good beach read, scope out local history, or settle in for story time--will quickly dispel any notion that books or bookstores have gone out of style," the Boston Globe reported.

The success of Titcomb's Bookshop in East Sandwich is based on a simple formula: "Carefully paying attention to what our customers are looking for," said Nancy Titcomb, while daughter Vicky Titcomb added: "We know our customers, we know the type of books they like, and we watch out for them."

The Brewster Book Store "is a bright, colorful warren of small rooms that draw a visitor from the entrance all the way to a cozy space at the back," the Globe noted. When John and Nancy Landon opened the store in 1982, children's books were Nancy's passion, according to Val Arroyo, who visited the store as a child and now works there. Nancy died in 2011, but the store continues to take special pride in its kids' book collection.  

At Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore & Children's Annex in Chatham, Joanne Doggart and Caitlin Doggart-Bernal "have crafted a big, bright airy space designed for book lovers of every age." Manager Joanie Goodrow said, "We try to keep it real, and we try to keep it friendly."

Eight Cousins in Falmouth "began as a children's bookstore but today is about 50-50 children's and adult offerings. Co-owner Sara Hines, who handles children's book buying and marketing, described the titles on a display promoting "beach reads" as "books that are not too heavy but not too light.... It's like a New England beach--it requires a little bit of effort."

Personnel Changes at Ingram Content Group

At Ingram Content Group:

Tricia Racke Bengel has joined the company as a library sales and services manager for Ingram Library Services. She most recently served as assistant director at Nashville Public Library.

Anne Ugarte has joined Perseus Distribution and Ingram Academic Services as client relations manager.

Catherine Robinson has joined the Ingram marketing team as product marketing manager. She will manage the Ingram Wire and Ingram's editorial newsletters, including Little Infinite. She joined Ingram in 2012 and was most recently a client relations manager for Ingram Publisher Services.

Andrew McGarrity has been named director of digital solutions for Tennessee Book Company, as part of Tennessee Book Company's acquisition of Thrivist, a teaching and learning platform. He is the founder of Thrivist.

Derrick Greer has joined Ingram as a senior manager of customer success, as part of the Tennessee Book Company's acquisition of Thrivist.

Perseus Distribution to Sell and Distribute F+W Media

Effective January 2018, IPS's Perseus Distribution will handle sales and distribution for F+W Media print books in the U.S. and Canada and for the company's digital titles worldwide.

F+W Media publishes some 100 books a year and has a backlist of more than 1,000 titles in art instruction, crafts, woodworking, writing, genealogy, antiques and collectibles, and the outdoors. It also publishes Writer's Digest, which for more than 90 years has offered books, magazines, competitions, conferences and online education materials for writers to hone their craft.

"F&W is a category leader in so many areas. It is an honor to be selling their list," said Heidi Sachner, v-p, Ingram Publisher Services-Perseus Distribution. "We are thrilled to be working with Allison Devlin, with whom we have previously worked, and with Tom Beusse, the new CEO of F&W Media. They bring a new entrepreneurial sensibility and excitement to F+W's well-established businesses."

Book Trailer of the Day: A Good Story

A Good Story by Zack Rock (Creative Editions), in which an "everyman" pig discovers "a magical, mystical place that presents new and tantalizing horizons: a bookstore."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jeannette Walls on CBS Sunday Morning

Fresh Air repeat: Dave Frishberg, author of My Dear Departed Past (Backbeat Books, $27.99, 9781495071300).

NPR's Weekend Edition: Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel (Scribner, $26, 9781501144028).

CBS Sunday Morning: Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Scribner, $17, 9780743247542).

NPR's Weekend Edition: Carolyn Murnick, author of The Hot One: A Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451625813).

TV: Fahrenheit 451

HBO Films has shared the first official photo from Fahrenheit 451, based on Ray Bradbury's novel, and it is, "appropriately, an action shot of firefighter Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) letting the flames fly on some contraband reading, while his superior Beatty (Michael Shannon) looks on approvingly," reported.

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, the film also stars Laura Harrier, Sophia Boutella and Lilly Singh. It is currently in production, with no word yet on release date. "Seeing as the photo comes from HBO Films, it's safe to assume that this adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, as with the others, will be a movie instead of a television series. It makes sense, as the original book makes for a pretty slim volume, but in an era of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale expanding its source material, you never know," wrote.

Books & Authors

Awards: Arthur C. Clarke; World Fantasy; CWA Daggers

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead has won the £2017 ($2,640) 2017 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction.

Chair of Judges Andrew M. Butler called the book "intensely moving... It's a gripping account both of humanity's inhumanity and the potential for resistance, underpinned by science fiction's ability to make metaphor literal."

In his acceptance speech, Whitehead said, "Way back when I was 10 years old, it was science fiction and fantasy that made me want to be a writer. If you were a writer, you could work from home, you didn't have to talk to anybody, and you could just make up stuff all day. Stuff about robots and maybe zombies and maybe even miraculous railway lines. Fantasy, like realism, is a tool for describing the world, and I'm grateful that a book like The Underground Railroad, which could not exist without the toolkit of fantastic literature, is being recognized with the Arthur C. Clarke award."


Nominations for the 2017 World Fantasy Awards can be seen here. The awards will be presented at the World Fantasy Convention Banquet, in San Antonio, Tex., on November 5.


The Crime Writers' Association has announced the shortlists for this year's Dagger Awards, which are presented annually in 10 categories. Ann Cleeves was previously named recipient of the 2017 Diamond Dagger for a career's outstanding contribution to crime fiction; and Mari Hannah will receive the Dagger in the Library winner for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire. The remaining Dagger winners will be announced October 26 in London. Complete Dagger shortlists are available here.

Reading with... James Kelman

photo: Angus Bremner

James Kelman was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989 for his novel A Disaffection, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. He went on to win the Booker Prize five years later with How Late It Was, How Late, before being shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and 2011. He has taught at the University of Texas, Austin, and at San José State University in California. Kelman was born in Glasgow, Scotland, where he lives. His novel Dirt Road is published by Catapult (July 11, 2017).

On your nightstand now:

Collected Stories by Isaac Babel; Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays by June Jordan; Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980 by Samuel Beckett; Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magon Reader, edited by Chaz Bufe and Mitchell Cowen Verter; Hystopia by David Means; and Kingdom's End and Other Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I'll name two by R.M. Ballantyne: Martin Rattler and The Coral Island. The heroes in these books were upper-class English boys, a world away from my life in Scotland. Nevertheless it was quite special to open the pages and enter into those wild adventures in South America, hunting to survive and diving in deep-sea lagoons. I later discovered R.L.S. Stevenson, and later still Mark Twain. But Ballantyne was a great writer for young folk. He joined the Hudson's Bay Company at the age of 16 and worked with them a few years. (I applied for a job there myself at the age of 17 but I didn't get it.)

Your top five authors:

More like top five hundred. I shall stick to the USA and short-story writers: K.A. Porter, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Kate Chopin, Flannery O'Connor, Gertrude Stein, Meridel le Sueur, Mary Gray Hughes, Tillie Olsen. The short-story writing tradition is so very strong in the USA and women are to the fore. I find outsiders of more interest from a writer's perspective. The stronger the writer the greater the challenge, and subversion, of dominant linguistic authority which is male: the heterosexual W.A.S.P. variety. Here we have the so-called "God-voice." This purports to be an objective, unbiased third-party narrative but is instead saturated with value. "The graceful young Princess smiled wanly when the handsome young Lord appeared; lurking in the shadows the dull servant girl sniggered...."

Book you've faked reading:

Eh... I'd rather not say.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I'll add a few males to those mentioned above and stick to the USA; the short stories of Ralph Ellison, Erskine Caldwell, John Edgar Wideman, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Fielding Dawson, Hubert Selby, Nelson Algren, William Saroyan and Donald Barthelme, among others.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Marquise of O by Heinrich von Kleist. Actually I did not buy this one. I borrowed a hardback copy of the book from a friend around 40 years ago. The cover split off and I kept the front, glued it to cardboard and tacked it on the wall. There is no graphic other than the title in a large Gothic typeface, with the author's name below in smaller type, on a dark red and black background. It is beautiful.

Book you hid from your parents:

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. I bought it back in 1960 to see what all the fuss was about. I was 14 years old at the time. I found the sex quite exciting in a way, interesting but kind of daft. The way in which Lawrence rendered the speech of the servants, the working class, I found dafter, and irritating. My mother discovered the book and burned it. I was angry. I had bought the book with my own money, earned from my own job as a paperboy.

Book that changed your life:

I doubt that any book has changed my life. But without books I wouldn't have a life.

Favorite line from a book:

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K...." The opening line in Willa Muir's translation of The Trial by Franz Kafka.

Five books you'll never part with:

10,000 r.p.m. and diggin it, yeah! by William Wantling (inscribed, Second Aeon Publications, 1973). Wantling was a great poet who created great art out of the most difficult circumstances.

Jack Ruby and the Origins of the Avant-Garde in Dallas by Robert Trammell (Barnburner Press, 1987). Bob was the guardian of literary art in Texas; he annoyed the literati there by insisting that the best Texan writers were songwriters. There was nothing they could do about it. He hailed from an old-style Texan family, asked for nothing and gave everything.

Eloquent Dissent: The Writings of James Sledd, edited by Richard D. Freed (Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1996). James Sledd from Georgia, who might have been found in that old hardline right-wing tradition. Not Jim Sledd. A man of decency and great integrity. He resigned his professorship on principle, continued to produce strong work on language, and remained a thorn in the flesh of the reactionary academic establishment into his 80s.

Ris a' Bhruthaich: The Criticism and Prose Writings of Somhairle Mac Gill-eain (inscribed, Acair, 1985). In Scotland, Somhairle Mac Gill-eain (Sorley Maclean) was a hero. Poet and tradition bearer, he fought for years for the validity of Gaidhlig, his own language and the right of children to be educated in it. My grandmother was the last Gaidhlig speaker in my family.

Poems by Tom Leonard (O'Brien Press, 1973). Tom is another who has never walked the easy road. His work (poetry and criticism) is first rate. He continues to irritate the British literary establishment and elsewhere continues to influence young writers.

Shopping Cart Soldiers by John Mulligan (inscribed manuscript). John died around 10 years ago, just at the point his first novel appeared in print. Like so many Vietnam vets, John came through hell with the demons of post-traumatic stress. He spent years on the streets mainly around the West Coast. He managed to bring himself out of that, wrote his work and got his life back on track. He also became a spokesperson on behalf of fellow vets. He was younger than me, and it was a horrible tragedy that he died in a road accident. I was lucky to know him.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Great Stories of All Nations, collected and edited by Maxim Lieber and Blanche C. Williams.

Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Orally Collected, with a translation by John Francis Campbell, in four volumes.

The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and Her Universities in the Nineteenth Century by George Davie.

Book Review

Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin Books, $26.95 hardcover, 320p., 9781616205041, August 22, 2017)

In her YA novel, All These Things I've Done, Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) wrote, "lies can sound awfully pretty when a girl is in love with the person telling them." The pretty lies on which Young Jane Young turn are some of the oldest told by men. They don't love their wives, they'll divorce when the timing's right, ad nauseum. In Zevin's fourth adult novel, more than queasiness abounds when congressional intern Aviva Grossman's affair with her boss, a popular Florida politician, comes to light. Floridians are disgusted; Aviva is slut-shamed; the congressman, loyal wife Embeth by his side, is fine.

Aviva's mother, Rachel, outlines that story in the first of five sections. When her daughter told her that she was in love, Rachel sensed there was more to it than "He's handsome. He's Jewish. I don't want to say too much." After the affair blew open and Aviva became a punch line, Rachel tried to help: "Well, you could apply to law school. Plenty of people from dubious backgrounds go to law school." But Aviva moved away with no forwarding address. Rachel believes she has a grandchild--Aviva calls once or twice a year--but doesn't know for sure.

Fifteen years after "Avivagate," Jane Young weighs in. She's an event planner in Allison Springs, Maine, with a precocious eight-year-old daughter, Ruby. A few years after planning the wedding of Franny Lincoln and Wes West ("I often ended up hating the groom, but not usually so fast."), she hears that the despised West may run for mayor, and decides to challenge him.

Ruby, 13 years old by now, chimes in with the third section, during the political race. She is charmingly quirky, overly fond of quotation marks and puns (if she had a pet, she'd name it Peeves, so she could say, "This is my pet, Peeves"). During a mayoral debate, a penny drops for her and she Googles "Aviva Grossman." Deciding the congressman is her father and despising her mother for her lies, she sets off for Miami to see him. Now Embeth Levin takes over the narrative. How she and Ruby meet, and the result, is one of the sweetest segments of the novel.

Aviva's part comes last. It's cleverly written as a Choose Your Own Adventure story--"If you continue to see him, turn to page 86." "If you tell him it's over, turn to page 150."--and relates her affair. "You have always felt lumbering, misshapen, and bulky. He looks at you like you're butter and he's a hot knife." She thinks of herself as a younger, more political Carrie Bradshaw.

Young Jane Young is a witty and wise story of three generations of women; in particular, Rachel and Ruby are often laugh-out-loud funny, while Jane/Aviva and Embeth have a wryer take on their circumstances. Strong and brave, transformed by scandal, they make their way in an often hostile world. In a dream, Jane asks Aviva how she survived. Aviva replies, "I refused to be shamed." --Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: After a scandalous affair with a congressman, Aviva Grossman leaves Florida and changes her name and her life. But the past is always lurking.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: I Read the Retail News Today, Oh Boy...

I read that a Wisconsin technology company is offering employees "rice-sized" microchip implants between the thumb and forefinger "that can be used to scan into the building and purchase food at work," according to USA Today. "Whether or not to get a chip is up to the employee to decide." Would you?

This was just one of several articles I read in July that have prompted me to consider (not "imagine," because we're well beyond sci-fi here) the orientation of frontline indie booksellers in a tech-obsessed business world. This is not about e-books, which are so early 21st century. Despite all the essential technological advances that have made indie bookstores more efficient and profitable, the relationship status between frontline booksellers and the future of retail is still... complicated.

This is particularly true at the "last three feet" of the process, the precious seconds when a book finally crosses the unfathomable gap between sellers and consumers, creators and readers. That crucial moment remains unplugged, defying algorithms--just one human talking to another about a book.

So where do microchip implants fit in that exchange? What if the chips were connected directly to a bookstore's POS and inventory management systems? A frontline cyborgian bookseller of the near future could process credit card purchases with a properly microchipped index finger by just tapping fingertips with the customer. Even cyborgian booksellers are people. 

I read that in the late 19th century, people didn't like waiters. To remedy the situation, vending machine inventor Max Sielaff teamed up with a candy company to open the first Automat in 1896. Atlas Obscura explained the basic concept: "The walls inside each store were lined with a series of small windows, each of which contained an item of food. Customers inserted a coin, and the window unlocked, allowing them to pull out a meal. There were no waiters, no tips, and food came fast."

Are you imagining a 19th-century version of an Amazon bricks-and-mortar bookshop? Go ahead, but like Amazon Books, Automats "were anything but automatic.... In New York, thousands of Automat employees prepared meals in a secret kitchen, then slipped them on to a 'rotating pivot'... Yet customers were so enthralled by the idea of an automatic restaurant that they often failed to understand that these 'waiterless' eateries were staffed by waiters in all but name."

I read on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's blog that the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union is criticizing Amazon's $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods Market, "saying that the deal could hurt customers and workers and lead to significant automation of jobs." Amazon... declined to comment.

Softbank's Pepper, "a revolutionary tool that enhances your customers' experience."

I read a New York Times piece about Amazon Prime Day, that nascent CyberBlackFriday-in-July tribute to greed, in which John Hermann observed that he "didn't lay eyes on a single Amazon employee during Prime Day, except for the home-shopping-marathon talent, leaving the onus on me to wonder what was going on behind the scenes. Aside from the 'origin scan' on my track-your-shipment page, I won't know a thing about where my package came from, or be reminded of how it got to me.... Amazon need not bother to tell a story; in fact, its goal is to reduce the retail story to a single button, an instant, an unprecedentedly complex process taken for granted."

I read a Forbes magazine take on Prime Day that suggested going to the store or the mall has become "a discretionary diversion undertaken primarily when people want a shopping experience, as opposed to a buying experience, in which online often proves to be the best option.... For just about every product category, Americans simply don't need to go to the store in order to shop, so going to the store becomes the experience."

I read that Amazon is hiring people "to #Work From Home as #Customer Service Associates through the company's Virtual Contact Center. The job requires employees to answer customers' questions by phone or when they contact #Amazon through its website. Amazon will pay to train applicants so they will know what to say when shoppers need assistance." One of the primary qualifications "is for people to be able to have pleasant conversations on the telephone and know how to use a computer."

Wait, doesn't Alexa already do that? Pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain.

I read that 98% of all retailers have fewer than 100 employees, according to the National Retail Foundation: "With a smaller workforce, every employee has an outsized impact on business results, and can therefore be a persistent challenge."

In the world of independent bookselling, we already know about individual booksellers' "outsized impact on business" because it's people--whether visible or behind the scenes--who are still making our retail news. They're the ones who are telling stories, having conversations, and creating experiences for readers at the last three feet. At least that's what I've read.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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