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Book News: Amazon Wants To Ship Products Before You Even Buy Them

An employee prepares an order at Amazon's fulfillment center in San Bernardino, Calif.
Kevork Djansezian
Getty Images
An employee prepares an order at Amazon's fulfillment center in San Bernardino, Calif.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Amazon has patented "anticipatory package shipping," a system that ships products before customers have actually bought them — based on what it predicts they will buy. The Verge explains: "Amazon plans to box and ship products it expects customers to buy preemptively, based on previous searches and purchases, wish lists, and how long the user's cursor hovers over an item online. The company may even go so far as to load products onto trucks and have them 'speculatively shipped to a physical address' without having a full addressee."
  • E. L. Doctorow tells The New York Times about his reading habits: "Sometimes I put books down that are good but that I see too well what the author is up to. As you practice your craft, you lose your innocence as a reader. That's the one sad thing about this work."
  • Biologist and author Lewis Wolpert has admitted using other writers' work without attribution in two of his books. In a statement quoted in The Observer, Wolpert said: "I acknowledge that I have been guilty of including some unattributed material in my last book to be published, You're Looking Very Well (2011) and in the initial version of my yet unpublished book Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?. This lack of attribution was totally inadvertent and due to carelessness on my part. It in no way reflects on my publishers, Faber and Faber, and I take full responsibility. When downloading material from the internet as part of my research, and coming back to it after a gap of maybe weeks or sometimes months, I simply did not recall that I had not written these passages myself." Wolpert added that he "would never ever knowingly claim someone else's material as my own."
  • The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Richard Powers' Orfeo holds some of the most beautiful music writing you'll ever encounter. In the book, Peter Elds, a composer who spends his evenings playing with DNA in his home lab, is suspected of bioterrorism and goes on the run. He wants "only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future." Powers is the king of the elegantly unexpected adjective: a stillborn smile, a curt ratatouille, stark raving mod. The finale of Mozart's Jupiter "spills out into the world like one of those African antelopes that fall from the womb, still wet with afterbirth but already running." Powers spoke to NPR's Audie Cornish last week: "The great beauty of being a novelist is that you can spend three or four or five years vicariously pursuing those imaginary Walter Mitty-like lives that you never got to pursue in the real world. I do have a stack of youthful compositions sitting on the bottom of my closet, so it was a great pleasure to spend these years working on this book — not just rediscovering the 20th century and this avant-garde tradition, but also to imagine myself into the life of somebody who sees and hears and feels the world through sound."
  • The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 spans the Nobel laureate's long career, from 25 Poems, which he published as a teenager, to his latest collection, White Egrets. The collection is edited by the poet Glyn Maxwell, who once wrote of Walcott's poetry: "The verse is constantly trembling with a sense of the body in time, the self slung across metre, whether metre is steps, or nights, or breath, whether lines are days, or years, or tides." Walcott is at his greatest when he writes about the sea — which he does constantly — as in a section from The Prodigal:
  • "When we were boys coming home from the beach,

    it used to be such a thing! The body would be singing

    with salt, the sunlight hummed through the skin

    and a fierce thirst made iced water

    a gasping benediction, and in the plated heat,

    stones scorched the soles, and the cored dove hid

    in the heat-limp leaves, and we left the sand

    to its mutterings, and the long, cool canoes."

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

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