Dog-Eared and Dispatched: November 24, 2013
Happy Thanksgiving, literary citizens! This week, we begin by taking a moment to honor three authors who have recently passed away. Next, we investigate the ongoing labor strikes at Amazon fulfillment centers in Germany. And while we’re on the subject of Amazon and unions, we discuss the debate currently underway between Transport for London and Underground employees as the Tube considers adding Amazon delivery sites to its list of amenities. Finally, we send you into the upcoming week’s festivities with a recap of the National Book Awards ceremony, including sample writings from several of the finalists.
Members of the literary community lost three powerful voices in book culture this week: Doris Lessing, Louis Rubin, and Barbara Park. Lessing, who died on Sunday at the age of 94, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 . Depicted as both “cavalier and curmudgeonly” by The New York Times , Lessing was an “uninhibited and outspoken novelist” whose famous line upon hearing that she had won the nobel prize was, ” Oh, Christ. I couldn’t care less .” Known for his own “curmudgeonly demeanor that was countered by his big-hearted, boyish twinkle , ” Rubin was a man of many hats: writer, editor, publisher, educator, and literary critic—to name only a few. Co-founder of Algonquin Books, Rubin was a revered scholar of Southern literature, mentoring such writers as Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton, Annie Dillard, and John Barth. He died on Saturday at the age of 89. Author of the bestselling Junie B. Jones series, Park connected her pull toward reading and writing to her desire to express her sense of humor . “[In high school,] I had begun to find myself quite amusing (though certainly not everyone agreed with me on that one),” she once wrote in response to one young reader’s inquiry. Park died on Saturday at the age of 66 after battling with ovarian cancer. She founded Sisters in Survival to raise funds for women with ovarian cancer. [Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, The New York Times, Reuters, newsobserver.com, Publishers Weekly]
The strikes taking place at Amazon’s fulfillment centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld, Germany are still going strong, with Verdi union workers planning their next walkout to coincide with the start of the Christmas shopping season . The strikes commenced in late Spring as a call for higher wages, with 9,000 Amazon employees asserting that their pay falls below the level of other workers within Germany’s distribution sector. Amazon has refused to acknowledge any wage disparities. Instead, the massive online retailer has claimed that its fulfillment centers act as “logistic” rather than “distribution” sites, with the wage rate of Germany’s logistical sectors lower than that of its distribution sectors. As such, Amazon has stated that it is paying its workers accordingly, and that it is “well prepared” should the workers choose to strike again during the coming weeks. So far, the Verdi union has staged three walkouts in July, August, and September. [Shelf Awareness, France 24]
While German workers prepare for a standoff with Amazon, Transport for London, the company that runs the Underground system, is debating the idea of introducing Amazon drop-off points along its railway lines . These 24-hour delivery sites would be located in the Tube’s soon-to-be defunct ticket offices. Following the introduction of automatic ticketing machines, the 268 ticket offices (of which 260 are scheduled for permanent closure) account for only 3 percent of the Tube’s annual ticket sales. According to Mayor Boris Johnson, such a partnership “will be hugely valuable to London’s economy, which is increasingly a 24-hour economy, interacting with time zones around the world.” Transport workers’ unions within the U.K. are of another mindset, however, pointing to the 750 jobs that will be lost as a result of this decision . While these two forces battle it out and plan for a possible strike, Amazon has declined to confirm or deny this development, with one spokeswoman telling TechCrunch, “We do not talk about plans we may or may not have for the future, so I am unable to assist with your query on this occasion.” [Shelf Awareness, Tech Crunch]
On Wednesday, November 20, the winners of the 2013 National Book Awards were announced by the National Book Foundation. The winners included Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck (Young People’s Literature), Mary Szybist for Incarnadine (Poetry), George Packer for The Unwinding (Nonfiction), and James McBride for The Good Lord Bird (Fiction). The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was also presented to E.L. Doctorow. In addition to these awards, Nobel Prize author Toni Morrison presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to celebrated author and poet Maya Angelou. Overwhelmed and joyful, Angelou told the crowd, “For over 40 years, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it… I haven’t tried to tell everything I know, but I’ve tried to tell the truth.” The ceremony—which marked the 64th of its kind—took place at Cipriani in downtown Manhattan, with 700 people in attendance. A webcast of the event can be viewed here . Free samples of the winners’ and finalists’ works are also available here. [Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, National Book Foundation, GalleyCat]