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Book News: Secret Video Documents Conditions In Amazon Warehouse

A worker at the Amazon fulfillment center in Swansea, Wales, processes orders in 2011.
Matt Cardy
Getty Images
A worker at the Amazon fulfillment center in Swansea, Wales, processes orders in 2011.

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

  • Amazon's labor practices have come under fresh scrutiny after BBC reporter Adam Littler went undercover as a worker at an Amazon warehouse in the U.K. Wearing a hidden camera, Littler worked at a warehouse in Swansea, Wales, for seven weeks as a "picker" and was given 33 seconds to collect orders from 800,000 square feet of storage, according to the BBC report. A handset timed him and beeped if he made a mistake. Describing one 10.5-hour night shift, Littler said, "I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I'm absolutely shattered." The BBC showed the video footage to Michael Marmot, an expert on stress and mental health, who said the work involves "all the bad stuff at once," and could lead to "increased risk of mental illness and physical illness." In a statement, Amazon wrote, "We strongly refute the charge that Amazon exploits its employees in any way. The safety of our associates is our number one priority, and we adhere to all regulations and employment law."
  • Romesh Gunesekera has a new short story in The New Yorker. In "Roadkill," set in the time after Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, Gunesekera writes: "She nodded, as though small killings were a natural part of politics as well as of hotel management. She pulled out one of the two paper serviettes from the chrome clip on the table and smoothed it like a mini funeral shroud. 'You have to bury the dead and move on.' "
  • James McBride, whose novel The Good Lord Birdwon the National Book Award for fiction, told The New York Times that he was so sure he wouldn't win that he didn't bother to stop eating during the announcement: "I was so stunned that I walked up there with my napkin in my hand."
  • Patricia Cornwell says that if she hadn't become a mystery novelist, she would've been an archeologist: "As a child, my dream was to be an archaeologist when I grew up, and in a way, my fascination with forensics makes total sense. It's all about taking a shard or splinter or bit of bone and reconstructing how someone died and lived, and who they were. An archaeological site is really one big crime scene."
  • 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.