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A frozen peach of Serendip.

In searching for something more from William Empson on Edmund Spenser, I happened upon a listing for Radical Spenser, which, I mean, you know, okay, I’m in, but I didn’t want to give Bezos any more money, so I went poking about the Powell’s catalog, and as it turns out they don’t have it at all (recently cutting bonds with the river might maybe have something to do with it; that’s me, always with the edge cases), but: but. —There, between Cold Service Spenser [sic] and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money was, well, this striking bit of in-house marketing copy:

At Powell’s, a lot of our inventory is hand-selected, and hand-promoted. And a lot of our inventory is not. With several million titles available online at any given moment, complete hand-curation is not possible. Unmasked by Andy Ngo came to us through an automatic data feed via one of our long-term and respected publishers, Hachette Book Group. We list the majority of their catalogue automatically, as do many other independent and larger retailers. We have a similar arrangement with other publishers.

This book will not be on our store shelves, and we will not promote it. That said, it will remain in our online catalogue. We carry books that we find anywhere from simply distasteful or badly written, to execrable, as well as those that we treasure. We believe it is the work of bookselling to do so.

And this is how it works, in an interconnected age: when one orders books from let’s say Powell’s, one does not order a book Powell’s currently has on their shelves, or stacked on pallets in their warehouse; just-in-time inventory management allows Powell’s to take your order, pass it along to a distributor, receive from them a copy of the book you want, and pass it back to you, taking a slice along the way, and all so quick you’re usually none the wiser. (Trust me: I’d know if Powell’s actually had 20 copies of one of my books a-waitin’ in a warehouse.) —The downside, of course, is the very lack of those hands, selecting, promoting, curating, which also funnily enough is why YouTube’s such a cesspool, and Twitter a hellsite, and Facebook the destroyer of all we might hold dear. Such a common tragedy.

It should also be noted that said long-term and respected publisher, Hachette Book Group, one of what used to be the Big Five (not counting Bezos), launders its profits through various imprints, so that the money from the street doesn’t get its stink on their name—unless someone like Powell’s goes and gives up the game, most folks would just see that milkshake boy’s first book was published by Center Street, home to such other distinguished authors as Jeanine Pirro, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump, Jr. —Undoubtedly, much like those distinguished others, this doxxing grifter will likewise benefit from the conservative book club bulk buy two-step—so, hey, congratulations?

Still: you’d think such cut-outs would make it easier, not harder, for an incomplete hand to still curate its inventory by saying no, not those, not the ones with that label. There being so many, and so carefully calibrated and all. —Funny, that.

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