Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 31, 2018

Harper Perennial: The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel

Algonquin Young Readers: Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1) by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Andrews McMeel Publishing: How to Draw a Reindeer and Other Christmas Creatures with Simple Shapes in 5 Steps by Lulu Mayo

Houghton Mifflin: No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt

Editors' Note

Quotation of the Day

Bookstores 'Can Never Really Be Apolitical'

"Finding the ethical balance of supplying customers with what they're looking for without actively supporting writers whom you find abhorrent can be a delicate dance. Bookstores are a workplace that can never really be apolitical, which is a part of their importance."

--Bookseller Rebecca Andoff of Type Books, Toronto, in the latest installment of BookNet Canada's "5 questions with" q&a series

GLOW: Houghton Mifflin: How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World's Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz


Name Change: Her Bookshop Becomes The Bookshop

Joelle Herr, who opened Her Bookshop in East Nashville, Tenn., in 2016 and relocated to a larger space the following year, announced that the store's name has been changed to The Bookshop.

On Facebook, Herr explained the decision: "While I did love the 'Her' (a pun on my last name), it quite simply led to much confusion. When I say confusion, I'm talking men standing outside, asking if it's 'ok' to come in. Women texting their fellas that they can come in from waiting in the car: 'We didn't think there'd be anything in here for him.' Lots of folks thought that we only carried books by or for women, which just isn't the case. We have always been--and will continue to be--'a nook for people who love beautiful books.' If you swipe, you'll see that we have spiffy, updated signage (by @isawthe_sign, original artistry by @finersigns), plus swag, like bookmarks, buttons, stickers, and more. Totes (from neighbors @lifeandlimbprinting) coming very soon! I'll close with a heartfelt thank you to all of our loyal and enthusiastic customers (and followers). The shop obviously wouldn't be here without your continued patronage--and I'm ridiculously appreciative and grateful!"

Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Tune It Out by Jamie Summer

Hilo's Still Life Books Severely Damaged During Hurricane Lane


Still Life Books, a used book and record store in downtown Hilo, Hawaii, was severely damaged last week by flooding from Hurricane Lane. Store owner Royce Wilson told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that out of the store's 7,000 or so books, only "800 to 900" were salvageable, and although the basement-level store had a sump pump, it was "overwhelmed" by the volume of water.

"I was standing in 2 to 3 feet of water watching Beatles albums floating by my feet," recalled Wilson. "And there was an Albert Camus novel floating by at the same time."

According to the Tribune-Herald, business owners and Hilo-area residents who suffered damage from Hurricane Lane do not know yet what sort of aid may be available. Wilson, who managed to save around 1,500 records, added that he thought he might have enough to start over in a smaller location.

"I feel like overnight I lost my... identity as a local business person and as a lover of literature and good music," he said.

Wilson's daughter Tamara White, meanwhile, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help him rebuild the business. Money raised by the campaign, which so far has totaled around $750, will go toward restoring lost inventory, repairing or replacing damaged shelving and furniture, and paying rent, as well as possible relocation expenses.

White called the store Wilson's "life's work, his dream, and his sole income," and noted that for years locals have referred to him affectionately as "The Bookman." She wrote: "For well over a decade, Still Life Books has been a pillar of the community, providing locals and tourists with quality merchandise for their reading and musical needs."

University Press of Kentucky: The Redshirt (University Press of Kentucky New Poetry & Prose) by Corey Sobel

Wild Fig Coffee and Books Seeks Buyer, May Close

"For Sale: 1 slightly used coffee shop/bookstore in an adventurous, quirky part of town w/tons of upside." Wild Fig Coffee and Books, Lexington, Ky., posted this message on its social media accounts yesterday, adding: "We feel like the shady guy in an alley hawking jewelry from his trenchcoat... 'psst, psst... hey buddy... lookin for somethin for the little lady? some diamond earrings? a gold bracelet? a 900 square foot coffee shop that sells books, perhaps? ...then step into my office. i got exactly whatchu need.' #seriousinquiresonly."

Unless a buyer steps forward, the bookshop will close later this month. Wild Fig is owned by Ron Davis and Crystal Wilkinson, who describe their business as "your very own local/global, writer-owned, black-owned, counter-gentrification bookstore, nestled in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky's North Limestone district. Our shop is named in honor of the writer Gayl Jones, who has made the NOLI her home for more than 40 years."

Davis told the Lexington Herald Leader that "his goal is to keep the bookstore open until the end of September, even though that costs him and Wilkinson more than simply closing the doors immediately. To buy the bookstore's remaining stock and name would cost a potential buyer $25,000."

"We had some cash mobs come through to support us between March and April, and we had a pretty good summer starting out. We felt like maybe we were starting to turn that three-year corner," he said, adding that even though "we're hearing about the future changes the area is about to undergo" the Wild Fig can't last for the years those changes will take to evolve.

SIBA Board Changes

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is adding two board members, whose terms begin in 2019. Janet Geddis of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., and Jamie Rogers Southern of Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., will be welcomed to the board during the SIBA Annual Meeting and Town Hall on September 14 at the #SIBA18 Discovery Show.

They join board members Kimberly Daniels Taws, Kelly Justice, and Shane Gottwals. Stepping down are current board president Doug Robinson of Eagle Eye Book Shop in Atlanta, Ga., and Stephanie Crowe of Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala.

B&N CEO Hunt: The Results

Our poll over the last 10 days seeking nominations and votes on a new CEO at Barnes & Noble with some book world knowledge and experience was striking to us in two ways. It showed both an impressive breadth of talent in the industry as a whole, as well as the passion and loyalty of so many B&N employees, who carry on despite turmoil at the top.

That turmoil was highlighted on Tuesday when Demos Parneros, who was fired as CEO last month, filed suit against B&N, charging breach of contract and defamation (and portrayed a petty, vindictive atmosphere in the executive suite). B&N obviously needs strong, smart, innovative leadership, but it may take more than just a new CEO to accomplish that.

But if B&N is listening, we believe there's a lot to consider in finding a path forward, from tapping qualified people in the business for a variety of roles to recognizing the commitment and contributions of the booksellers in B&N stores.

As noted earlier this week, Heidi Fairchild, sales and inventory manager at the B&N in Alpharetta, Ga., and an administrator on B&N's employee Facebook page, received much praise, mostly from other B&N staff. She wound up with more than 200 votes, the most of anyone in the poll. As a current B&N employee, she couldn't comment at length, but she did tell us, "I feel incredibly honored, and I am stunned at all the wonderful things people have taken the time to say."

Among the many qualified candidates from throughout the industry:

Madeline McIntosh, CEO of Penguin Random House: "She has shown she is skilled in sales, operations and in books themselves. B&N needs a book person in that job, and why not a woman who can perhaps make the chain more appealing to core customers?"

Shimul Tolia, CEO of Bonnier Publishing USA: "She's smart in business, passionate about books, with a breadth of experience, and a warm leader."

Terrance Finley, CEO of Books-A-Million. "Decades of experience in the industry, and years of success at a smaller chain."

Michael Tamblyn, Rakuten Kobo CEO: "Co-founded Kobo--why Kindle doesn't dominate Canada or a lot of the rest of the world. Was an indie bookseller back in the day. Great public speaker--would fire up the B&N troops!"

Also about Tamblyn: "Lots of leadership experience in the book industry from working at Chapters and Kobo. Has also formed many partnerships with other booksellers around the world. Knows what it takes to compete against brick and mortar and digital competitors."

Phil Ollila, chief content officer, Ingram Content Group: "A former retailer (Borders) who and works across the publishing/bookselling eco-system with knowledge of physical and digital sales. He is smart, a straight shooter and unflappable."

Also about Ollila: "Phil understands retail, content and marketing. Phil understands today's book business in all its forms (digital, audio, physical POD and more). Phil is respected in the industry and is a leader that publishers, agents and authors will want to work with."

Susan Kamil, publisher and editor-in-chief, Random House Publishing Group: "For her impeccable taste in quality commercial fiction (just one example of many smart, entertaining reads with staying power is Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson) and for resurrecting The Dial Press. She's worked in various departments of major publishing houses for almost 40 years. What better anniversary present could there be than gaining responsibility for the resurrection of B&N?!"

Dennis Abboud, president, CEO and chairman of book distributor Readerlink: "He has successfully rolled up, stabilized and grown the mass market book channel over the last few years. He's a savvy business person with a long track record of fixing ailing business models, turning businesses around and running them efficiently and profitably."

David Steinberger, CEO of Arcadia Publishing and former head of Perseus: "Success in turning publishing imprints and distributors into profitable and attractive businesses... experience turning around a book publishing business."

Jane Friedman, former president and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide and cofounder of Open Road Integrated Media: "Credited with inventing the author's tour and founded and became president of the first audiobooks division of a trade publisher. There are few people in the book publishing industry better able to boldly lead a large organization forward on a successful path into the future. There are few smarter, few with sharper instincts, and few as inspirational a leader as Jane Friedman."

Mike Shatzkin, founder & CEO of the Idea Logical Company: "A thought leader about digital change in the book publishing industry. In his nearly 50 years in publishing, he has played almost all the roles: bookseller, author, agent, production director, sales and marketing director, and, for the past 30 years, consultant. B&N has been one of his clients, and his posts on their strategy for both retail and digital business are insightful."

Shatzkin, in turn, wrote to us directly and nominated perhaps the most qualified candidate, saying, in part, "I am stunned and amazed that nobody has suggested longtime B&N executive Joe Gonnella for this role. I haven't worked with Joe or directly with B&N for well over a decade, but I am sure he would be one of the best possible candidates. He understands bookselling to its core and he also knows the B&N supply chain inside and out. He's also a literary man, personally. And a very capable leader... Whoever runs this chain over the next decade will be supervising a decline. But it can be done profitably and time can be bought to make it last longer. And I think Joe Gonnella could do it better than anybody else I can think of."

Thank you all for participating!

Obituary Note: Michael Sissons

Michael Sissons, a veteran literary agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop and "godfather of the industry," died August 24. He was 83. The Bookseller reported his stellar career included "representing names such as Simon Schama, Margaret Drabble and William Hague, setting up the Association of Authors' Agents, and overseeing PFD for almost half a century before acting as a senior consultant for the agency for the last decade."

"I would say that he was the godfather of the industry," said PFD CEO Caroline Michel. "For the whole of my publishing and agenting career, he was the best teacher and mentor I could ever have hoped for. He was also one of my husband's [the late Matthew Evans'] closest friends so personally and professionally his will be a towering loss."

Arabella Pike, William Collins publishing director, described him as "a master in our industry--a supremely tough and robust negotiator and fiercely loyal to his writers. His powerful grasp of the commercial side was balanced by his intellect, love of history and an unerring nose for the right subject. His curiosity, enthusiasm and immense experience of life bubbled up in every conversation--whether about the Vietnam war, or travels in Louisiana, the joys of the British countryside or the follies of politics."

Michel noted that "right up until the last moment he was coming in two or three days a week and doing deals for his authors, he could not have been more present. He had a formidable reputation which he lived up to but he had the heart of a lion. He will be so hugely missed by everybody here. Everyone respected and adored him--he was one of the best."


Partnerships Fuel New Dominion's Bilingual Event

"Paper Gardens: A Stroll Through French Literature," a bilingual event set for tonight at New Dominion Bookshop, Charlottesville, Va., "will whisk visitors away from workweek stressors into a world of waterlilies, peonies, roses and serenity," Pulse reported, noting that the event is co-sponsored by Dominion, the University of Virginia Press--which published Paper Gardens: A Stroll Through French Literature by Evelyne Bloch-Dano--and Alliance Française Charlottesville.

Readings from the new work will be offered in French and English. There will also be time to sample French refreshments, mingle and converse in both languages, and watch a slideshow matching photographs and paintings of actual gardens to the passages being read aloud about them.

"It'll be good for people who like gardens, who like literary history, who like French writing. And people who like cheese," said Julia McCrea Kudravetz, New Dominion's general manager.

Pulse noted that "Kudravetz and her team envision New Dominion as a gathering place for diverse readers with different tastes and talents. The retail side is important, but so is the experiential aspect that reminds people how important books and reading are to both higher aspirations and everyday living."

"I see the bookshop as trying to reach out to as many communities as possible and bring people together," she said. "It's about our community, and serving our community.... It's a different model--to be a community literary space."

Bookshop Engagement: Scout & Morgan Books

Scout & Morgan Books, Cambridge, Minn., shared photos on Facebook of a couple getting engaged in the shop, noting: "You just never know what goes on in the bookstore after hours. We'd like to extend a big congratulations to LeAnne Larson and Peter Troolin on their engagement! Peter knew exactly where his devoted bibliophile girlfriend would love to be when he popped the question. He set to work with an elaborate plan and pulled off the big surprise. We were happy to help and wish them many years of happiness together."

Book Trailer of the Day: What Can a Citizen Do?

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris (Chronicle Books), in which Harris demonstrates the unusual collage technique he used to create the illustrations in the book.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Eric R. Kandel on Science Friday

Science Friday: Eric R. Kandel, author of The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30, 9780374287863).

CBS Sunday Morning: John Kerry, author of Every Day Is Extra (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781501178955). He will also appear Face the Nation.

MSNBC's Weekends with Alex Witt: Chris Hedges, author of America: The Farewell Tour (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781501152672).

CBS This Morning: Lindsey Stanberry, author of Refinery29 Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances... And Everyone Else's (Touchstone, $19.99, 9781501197994).

TV: Mrs. Fletcher

HBO has given a series order for a comedic take on Tom Perrotta's Mrs. Fletcher. The Hollywood Reporter wrote the project will be "a dual coming-of-age story that explores the impact of Internet porn and social media on the lives of an empty-nest mother (Kathryn Hahn) and her college freshman son (Jackson White)." The cast also features Casey Wilson, Owen Teague and Jen Richards.

Perrotta wrote the script and will executive produce the series alongside Sarah Condon (Looking, Bored to Death), Jessi Klein (Inside Amy Schumer, Big Mouth, Transparent) and Nicole Holofcener (Togetherness, Enlightened, Bored to Death). Holofcener directed the pilot.

Books & Authors

Awards: Alternative Nobel; Kelpies; Canadian National Biz Book

Maryse Condé, Haruki Murakami, Kim Thúy and Neil Gaiman comprise the shortlist for the New Academy Prize in Literature, which was created earlier this year by more than 100 Swedish writers, actors, journalists and other cultural figures in response to the Swedish Academy's decision not to award a 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature in the wake of a highly-publicized scandal. A winner will be announced October 12 and presented December 9 at a formal event with a grand celebration. The New Academy will be dissolved in December.

Gaiman tweeted: "I’m thrilled to be on that shortlist. Winning would not make me any happier than being on that list makes me. So I don't think of it as being up against opponents, just as being in glorious and honored company."


The Lost Wizard of Nine Witches Wood by Hannah Foley won this year's Kelpies Prize, which "seeks to encourage and reward Scottish writing for children." Foley receives £2,000 (about $2,600) and a publishing deal with Floris Books' Kelpies imprint.

"With entries about everything from Bonnie Prince Charlie to a haunted lighthouse, the judging team had an extremely difficult but enjoyable task," said Eleanor Collins, editorial director for Floris Books. "The Lost Wizard of Nine Witches Wood stood out for its Scottish setting, fantastical thrills and magical heart."


A shortlist has been announced for this year's C$30,000 (about US$23,110) National Business Book Award, which is presented to "an outstanding Canadian business-related book published the previous year," Quill & Quire reported. The winner will be named October 2. The finalists are:

Stumbling Giants: Transforming Canada's Banks for the Information Age by Patricia Meredith and James L. Darroch
Creating Great Choices: A Leader's Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin
Looking for Bootstraps: Economic Development in the Maritimes by Donald J. Savoie
The Patch: The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands by Chris Turner

Reading with... Paul French

photo: Sue Anne Tay
Born in London, Paul French went to study and work in Shanghai in the 1990s and remained for nearly two decades. He spent much of his time there researching the interwar period in China and the foreign community in Beijing and Shanghai before World War II. His 2012 book, Midnight in Peking, reinvestigated the 1937 murder of an English girl in that city. His latest book, City of Devils (Picador, July 3, 2018), tells the story of the rise and fall of two foreign underworld figures who ran the dance halls, cabarets and gambling joints of 1930s Shanghai.
On your nightstand now:
The Kremlin Ball (1957) by Curzio Malaparte. He was an Italian author and journalist who flirted with both fascism and communism, but was mostly an intellectual dilettante and a dedicated contrarian. Published from an unfinished manuscript after his death in 1957, the book recalls 1929 Moscow and that strangely bohemian period in the Soviet Union between the death of Lenin and the onset of Stalin's purges. He writes of dashing international communist agitators, beautiful ballerinas, fashionable wives of senior officials and openly gay Russian diplomats enjoying a world of private balls, embassy dinners and literary soirées. It was to be a short-lived time--the arrests are beginning, the grim hand of Stalinism descending, and just about every fascinating character in the book will inevitably end up dead, on the floor of the Lubyanka, with a bullet in their skull.
I've also just finished The Passenger (2016) by Lisa Lutz (who now writes on HBO's The Deuce), which is the best contemporary American noir I've read since Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston (2013). I raced through them both in single sittings.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling. My first reading teacher at school in London was Mrs. Chatterjee, an Indian lady who wore a beautiful sari to school every day and read us Kipling's Jungle Book on summer afternoons before Home Time. Later I read Kim, and the combination of Kipling's conjuring of India, Kim's freedom to go where he pleased and his being a boy spy was irresistible. I've re-read Kim a few times over the years, and it still has a hold on me. I'm yet to travel the Grand Trunk Road across the Indian sub-continent as Kim did, but one day....
Your top five authors:
Graham Greene: Especially The Quiet American, The Third Man and Brighton Rock
James Ellroy: Everything from L.A. Confidential to Perfidia
Alan Furst: Everything he's published
George Orwell: The Road to Wigan Pier, Burmese Days and Homage to Catalonia as well as the novels Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Coming Up for Air
Jean Rhys: The pre-war novels and stories: After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight
Book you've faked reading:
A completely predictable one here--I've dipped in and out, made a couple of gallant attempts at read-throughs, but I've never got from start to finish with Ulysses.
Book you're an evangelist for:
To Bed with Grand Music (1946) by the English writer Marghanita Laski. Laski is rather forgotten these days, but was widely read in her time (the post-war decade). The book was considered outrageous when it was published, barely a year after the end of the war, as it concerns an Englishwoman, Deborah, whose husband is away fighting overseas. Despite swearing eternal fealty, Deborah, bored with life in the country, moves to London and takes a succession of lovers. Laski revealed the sexual excitement of wartime London, the casual liaisons during the Blitz and the liberation many women felt during that time.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Spies of Warsaw (2009) by Alan Furst. I was visiting Sydney in Australia and ran out of reading material. I walked into the cavernous Abbey's Bookshop on York Street and this cover grabbed me. I read the book on the plane home in one sitting and became Furst's loyal fan and acolyte. However, the picture that intrigued me has a fascinating history. It isn't Warsaw on the eve of World War II, or Paris before the Nazis arrived. In fact, it's by the British-born Picture Post photographer Thurston Hopkins and is from the Manchester University Students' Union Fresher's Ball in 1955!! Still, it did the job.
Book you hid from your parents:
Crash (1973) by J.G. Ballard. My parents were very liberal and never stopped me reading anything or censored my bookshelves. I censored myself when it came to Ballard and, at the time I read Crash, there was a big debate about the themes of the sexual fetishism in the novel. I was excited by the book, but a bit embarrassed about reading it, too, so I stashed it under my bed.
Book that changed your life:
Brighton Rock (1938) by Graham Greene. I don't remember being very excited by anything we were assigned to read at my North London school until a new young English teacher, Mr Marx, gave us all copies of Brighton Rock. He lured us in by saying there was lots of fighting and it was set in the seaside resort near London we'd all visited. I don't know about the rest of the class, but the book gripped me from the start. That book made me a reader.
Favorite line from a book:
The opening scene of Man's Fate (1933) by Andre Malraux with the assassin Chen poised to strike as 1927 Shanghai is pitched into revolutionary violence:
Twelve-Thirty Midnight
Should he try to raise the mosquito netting? Or should he strike through it? Chen was torn by anguish: he was sure of himself, yet at the moment he could feel nothing but bewilderment--his eyes riveted to the mass of white gauze that hung from the ceiling over a body less visible than a shadow, and from which emerged only that foot half-turned in sleep, yet living-human flesh.
Five books you'll never part with:
Rue des Maléfices (1954) by Jacques Yonnet. Written in the 1940s, it tells the story of the tight-knit quarters of Left Bank Paris during the Nazi occupation and the subsequent Liberation.
Thérèse Raquin (1868) by Emile Zola. I am a huge Zola fan and this one is the ultimate crime passionnel, a tale of love, adultery and murder that warns us of how obsession and passion can easily tip over into brutishness and cruelty.
In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy L. Hughes. For me Hughes is the preeminent American writer of the 1940s. Her sense of foreboding and suspense is classic American noir, and In a Lonely Place is her masterpiece.
L.A. Confidential (1990) by James Ellroy. I'd read Chandler, Hammett and Paul M. Cain before, and I've gone back and read them again since. But Ellroy's L.A. Confidential was a watershed moment for me and, I think (as do many of course), that it is a book that redefined the hardboiled, noir genre.
The Roads to Freedom trilogy (1945-1949) by John-Paul Sartre. The Age of Reason, The Reprieve and Troubled Sleep are Sartre's attempt to novelize his existentialist theory of human existence. And they are also highly readable novels providing detailed descriptions of life in France, through the eyes of the Parisian philosophy teacher Mathieu, his communist friend Brunet and a cast of characters from different class and political backgrounds.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Balkan trilogy (1960) by Olivia Manning. It's called a trilogy but it's really one long engrossing 1,000-page read. For me Manning's book is the most vivid description of Europe on the brink of war as Harriet and Guy Pringle move through Bucharest and Romania, trying to stay ahead of the conflict by moving on to Athens and Palestine, and eventually Egypt and Damascus. There's so much going on and so many wonderful set pieces that the trilogy demands reading and re-reading.

Book Review

Review: The Sadness of Beautiful Things

The Sadness of Beautiful Things: Stories by Simon Van Booy (Penguin Books, $16 paperback, 208p., 9780143133049, October 2, 2018)

Sorrow, joy and moments of grace are characteristics of Simon Van Booy's stories and novels. In his earlier novel, Father's Day, he explored the relationship between an orphaned six-year-old girl and her disabled, ex-con uncle who becomes her surrogate father. Out of tragic circumstances, the two learn how to adapt and form a bond that changes them in profound ways.
In The Sadness of Beautiful Things, a collection of short fiction, British-born and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Van Booy mines similar terrain and themes. This time he gathers eight short works that focus on a host of ordinary people who suffer devastating life losses, but find ways to go on--dramatically changed.
Each of these haunting, at times mystical, fictions are, at their core, love stories in every conceivable sense of the word. A daughter tells of her absent, volatile father and the lengths her long-suffering, yet forgiving mother ultimately goes to for their star-crossed relationship. Familial love takes center stage when the mental deficiencies of old age lead an unfeeling father into a labyrinthine depression. His devoted wife and their daughter connect with an eye doctor in Chinatown who offers a remedy. Grieving parents in a quest for healing after the death of their young daughter rely upon robotic, artificial intelligence, only to face chilling, unforeseen consequences.
"Not Dying," the longest and most inventively told story in the collection, probes a father's love for his wife and daughter--and their lives' meaning and purpose--amid impending fears of the apocalypse. The kindness and the loving generosity of strangers are central to another tale, about a mysterious shut-in with a heartbreaking past, who becomes an anonymous benefactor to a struggling family in town. Forgiveness anchors the story of a rough-and-tumble boxer who unexpectedly befriends a thieving, down-on-his-luck man. A search for the self imbues a piece about two lost souls: a 17-year-old vagabond hitchhiker gets picked up by a lonely 34-year-old woman struggling with the weight of the past. And the lives of a passionate, female blind pianist and a Chinese American jazz trumpeter surprisingly intersect via a humble and unassuming doorman.
Van Booy is a wise, philosophical writer. His spare prose is incredibly illuminating and is further enhanced by unexpected resolutions that allow graceful themes to expand and flourish. What makes this collection all the more compelling is that Van Booy claims, in the preface of the book, to have based most of the tales on true stories, told to him over the course of his travels. The dark, sad circumstances that germinate each of these poignant, unpredictable gems will lead readers to refreshing glimpses of transcendence and hope. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines.
Shelf Talker: A wise and deeply affecting collection of vividly told short stories that centers on the inner lives of ordinary people shaped by personal tragedy.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'Ambs' vs. 'Small Heroics' on Labor Day

When I saw the term "Amazon FC" in a headline recently, my first thought was: "Oh God, Bezos just purchased and renamed the Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer franchise (think Toronto FC, LA FC, NYC FC). What could be more absurd than that?

photo: Scott Lewis/Flickr

Well, maybe this TechCrunch headline: "What is this weird Twitter army of Amazon drones cheerfully defending warehouse work?" And this lede: "Here is a strange little online community to puzzle at. Amazon has developed an unnerving, Stepford-like presence on Twitter in the form of several accounts of definitely real on-the-floor workers who regurgitate talking points and assure the world that all is right in the company's infamously punishing warehouse jobs."

As Labor Day Weekend approached, I became more than a little addicted to the 14 or so Amazon FC Ambassador Twitter accounts, which launched a couple of weeks ago and are written by non-bot fulfillment center workers (though not, strictly speaking, "on the floor" now since they work full-time on social media duties) with buoyant attitudes regarding their jobs and employer.

TechCrunch pointed out that Amazon FC Ambassadors also share strikingly similar bio structures on their accounts: "(Job titles) @(warehouse shorthand location). (Duration) Amazonian. (2- or 3-item list of things they like.)"

I've been following @AmazonFCPhil ("Stower and ambassador @ BFI4. 2 year Amazonian. Photography, running and cycling. Kent, WA."). He seems cheerful enough, with a helpful, Alexa-like tone that only occasionally wavers into "WE ARE BEING TREATED WELL!" hostage video phrasing territory. He's not a big fan of punctuation, but, hey, it's the Twitterverse after all. A Phil sampling:

"Hello! I work at an Amazon warehouse in WA and I can assure you that they are treating me well! I have great benefits, like the people I work with and can go to the bathroom when needed"

"Hello! Cant comment on others situation but in my facility in WA, I am treated well -- My safety/well being are a top priority for my managers. The building is clean and I have great benefits including full medical insurance from day 1, 401K, stock and more"

"Hello! As learning ambassadors, we arent paid xtra for our social media role. We were offered the role and we accepted. It gives us a voice to express our own experiences. Eventually, we'll roll off and other ambs will replace us with a fresh view on their own experiences"


An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that FC ambassadors "are employees who have experience working in our fulfillment centers. It's important that we do a good job of educating people about the actual environment inside our fulfillment centers, and the FC ambassador program is a big part of that along with the fulfillment center tours we provide."

Yahoo Finance's Krystal Hu tweeted: "Believe it or not, Amazon workers are doing this 'voluntarily'. Workers who choose to be 'ambassadors' don't get extra pay--they usually get a day off, an Amazon gift card and some time away from packing boxes. A former ambassador describes it as 'the kiss asses of the dept' to me."

In an update, Hu noted: "Clarification: Amazon says FC ambassadors who tweet are different from the warehouse ambassadors my previous tweet refers to. Amazon now has 14 FC ambassadors, who have switched from warehouse work to this full-time role to do social media for Amazon while getting the same pay."

I don't want to be cynical, but this Amazon FC Ambassador hyper-enthusiasm ("yes we are totally noraml and not bots and we are totally happy working for an amazing company.") is creepy. Not for a second did I think those words came from "the floor."

I spent much of the first half of my life working jobs not unlike those warehouse gigs--at a marble mill, in supermarkets, on delivery trucks. I was born and bred to be a laborer. I can't outgrow or outrun that genetic code. Don't want to. I've seen my ancestors, like ghosts, in grainy old Vermont marble mill and quarry photos with their weary expressions and mute accusations--"What are you looking at us for? We've got work to do."

Work is not a cult. It's... work.

In a 1988 Paris Review interview, the late, great poet Philip Levine recalled: "I worked for Cadillac, in their transmission factory, and for Chevrolet. You could recite poems aloud in there. The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear."

It will come as no surprise that I don't believe a word @AmazonFCPhil and his fellow ambassadors tweet. Work is more complicated than their Twittervangelism proclaims.

Levine observed that Detroit in the late '80s was a city where "nothing grandly heroic is taking place... Nothing epic. Just the small heroics of getting through the day when the day doesn't give a shit, getting through the world with as much dignity as you can pull together from the tiny resources left to you. It's the truly heroic.... They've survived everything America can dish out. No, nothing grandly heroic is happening in Detroit. I guess nothing grandly heroic ever took place there; it was always automobiles, automobiles, hard work, and low pay."

Meet the new boss...

At least Bezos hasn't bought the Seattle Sounders. Happy Labor Day!

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

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