The Strange Case for Amazon's Strange Bookstores

The tourist visiting New York City often comes to gawk at celebrations of American capitalism. The world's most expansive emporium of M&Ms, it's biggest Applebee's. The latest entry to this emporium of American commerce doesn't beg attention for its sheer size but curious novelty: one of the country's growing number of Amazon bookstores recently moved into The Shops at Columbus Circle, a minimall squeezed in between a few grandiose hotels. While brick and mortar locations of the hidden giant have been popping up around the country since late 2015, the entry into New York feels like an intensely symbolic gesture. In a city so famous for books that can be measured by the mile comes an entrant with its nose snubbed toward the game.

Among the features that a deliberately cheerful Amazon clerk highlighted to me during my visit was the bookstore's deliberate decision to only display all books face out, as opposed to the conventional spine-centric display common in most bookstores and, generally, bookshelves anywhere. It is, arguably, the point behind the bookshelf as a vessel built to contain books. "We place books face-out on the shelves, so each can communicate its own essence," Amazon explains on its website. Amazon is, of course, not the first to discover the possibilities of using the cover of books in order display the 'essence' of their contents. Much like how mail order service had long been a staple of commerce before Amazon realized you could use it for anything, so goes their approach to boutique book display. Taking it to the proverbial eleven.

The most obvious consequence of the face out displays, which turn the quintessential quiet of bookshelves into very loud galleries full of visual bombast, is that there are less books. "The store holds only about 3,000 books," Alex Shephard writes in his assessment at the New Republic, noting that it is "a number far too low for most booksellers to carry if they want to stay in business for more than 30 days." Combined with the style of the displays, this gives the effect of making Amazon's imprint in New York feel more like a book showroom then literature greengrocer; where your cute indie bookstore, or even one of the few corner Barnes & Nobles left, often struggle to fit some of the thousands of books published every year in New York's expensive square feet, Amazon absconds with the effort. The books chosen are a gamble, the clerk I talked to told me that they are refilled regularly but selection, largely, is meant to stay put. (the approach, admittedly, isn't an Amazon original; it could be compared to the selection at, say, The Strand's numerous book stalls throughout the city; small collections of classic-ish titles placed throughout the city, including inside a Club Monaco, to entice passerby)

(Andrew Karpan)

The Amazon book store gives the New York tourist, fresh off their Central Park carriage ride, a chance to see what books they are, allegedly, interested in. Paired together, face up in the fiction section, this felt curious. Zadie Smith right next to Danielle Steel, Steinbeck, along with Bill O'Reilly, are some of the few writers whose work are represented more than once, a satisfying nod to the world of the shared spaces of the high school english classroom or 24-hour news channel. Where other literary enclaves pride themselves on thorough curation or appealing oddity, the used bookstore comes to mind as does the fashionable art book boutique, walking through the Amazon bookstore feels like staring at the shelves of a Martian who had studied lots of BookScan data before depositing himself on the planet and had, thus, come to conclusion that people really seemed to have bought lots of copies of The Alchemist.

There are few commercial institutions quite as likable as bookstores. They are marketed as small, cloistered versions of the popular culture and their regular closings are mourned as communal losses of some better part of our selves. They like to constantly remind us that they are run by people who are not, Supreme Court be damned, corporations. Airport bookstores, which seem like a model that Amazon closely looked at, are rarely talked about in publishing circles. Employees often claim, instead, to be english majors and staff picks regularly hang on the wall of bookstores.

Amazon's riposte to the idea is smart: blurbs siphoned from their own user website's user reviews, itself a cannon of popular intrigue. Instead of the general comical copy penned by suffering assistant editors at publishing houses or the kind of faux-condescending noise that booksellers typically live in, you get earnest gems like: "Hands down one of the BEST books" and "Until the past year or two, I only thought of him as that guy..." A few shelves are given to a literalization of the website's "Customers who bought this item also bought..." feature, a bookshelf that offers comps to titles like A Girl on the Train and other household bestsellers. The mechanical nature can prove comic for political titles like J.D. Vance's consoervite bestseller, A Hillbilly Elegy , a memoir by a Yale law grad admonishing poor people for being poor. It is comped to titles like Matthew Desmond's Evicted and Kathryn J. Edin's $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, left-leaning titles both.

Which is not to say that the sounds of publishers can't find their way into the noise; on a copy of Trainwreck, a nonfiction title by Sady Doyle about the motif of the women destroyed in popular media, a fawning blurb was offered by the suspicious Liam O., who once worked as a the publisher's head of direct sales. "By the end of this book, I felt guilt, sorrow and ultimately empathy." A likely story, Liam!

Popular memoirs about coming back from the dead share space with Pulitzer-Prize winning novels and all those history books with Bill O'Reilly's name on it(Andrew Karpan)

Unlike many information gathering conglomerates, Amazon broadcasts very little shame over fueling their inventory with information gathered from internet. The advice of Amazon subsidiary Goodreads is mentioned throughout and, as I was told, these books represent the most popular on both platforms, the most highly rated literature of our time. Which makes wandering into the nearest Amazon store an essential stop on any tour of the centerpieces of globalized American commerce. It's what the people are reading.

Find one near you.

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Travel Tips

Three Things to Consider When Planning Your Vacation

There are plenty of things to consider when planning your vacation. Make sure you have all your bases covered by the time you buy your plane ticket!

Going on vacation is wonderful after months of stress and work. There's just one last hurdle before hopping on that plane: planning.

There can be an overwhelming number of things to consider when planning your vacation (COVID-19 not least), but putting them in an itemized list helps. Here's a quick cheat-sheet for you to get a jump-start on that.

Vacation VacationUniversity of Kentucky

Remember Your Budget

If you make a budget, which you definitely should, stick to it. Don't spend more than what you can afford when you start vacationing. Vacations are meant to be relaxing, so saddling yourself with debt will only dampen the fun of your trip. How much are you spending on living accommodations, food, activities, travel? How much are you setting aside in emergency funds in case something happens?

Plan for the Length of the Trip

Are you going out of town for a few months, or do you only have a week off? How much time you have can affect where you can go and how much you can enjoy it. If you only have a week and a half for a trip, then it's best not to go somewhere that's a 16-hour flight away. Half the trip is going to be spent on planes, and the other half will be spent being jet-lagged.

Trip length can also affect how you have to deal with your home while you're away. If you're away for long periods of time, do you need to hire people to cut your grass? Do you need to hire house sitters or babysitters? There are even things to know if you need to board your dog. Keep all these in mind for extended vacations.

Consider the Weather

You never want to ruin your vacation by heading somewhere beautiful in its offseason. Depending on the time of year, most activities could be canceled due to weather restrictions. Some places are ideal for winter trips, and other destinations are made to be enjoyed during the summer heat. Plan accordingly, and don't show up in a swimsuit when it's 50 degrees outside.

That rounds up the basics, but there are plenty more things to consider when planning your vacation. Give yourself wiggle room if any unique considerations pop up in your planning process.

There has never been a better time to learn a language than right now. While we can't really travel, we can still get ready to explore the world and other cultures through film, music, and food. But the key to all of this is language. It can be hard getting started on your own and so we found the perfect solution: Rosetta Stone.

We've been loving hunkering down and digging into Rosetta Stone, a language learning app with many different languages, the best lessons, and an affordable subscription. It's flexible and made to work for you, no matter what level you're starting at. Jump back into French without dusting off your highschool books or pick up Mandarin with a clean slate.

Thinking about Rosetta Stone for your language lessons? Here are the answers to your most pressing questions:

What languages do they offer?

With Rosetta Stone, you can choose from 25 different languages including Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. When you get the Unlimited Languages subscription you gain access to all 25 and can switch between languages. While you may be intensely learning German, you can take a break and pick up some conversational Korean — all in one app.

What are the features?

What makes Rosetta Stone's lessons really work are the incredible learning features.

Phrasebook will teach you short, useful expressions that are sure to come in handy during your travels, letting you see the practical application of what you're learning. Seek & Speak brings the fun back into learning by having you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and taking photos of them to get the translated name. Even in an app, Rosetta Stone turns any environment into a classroom.

TruAccent is a speech engine within the program that provides instant feedback on your pronunciation so you know if you're on the right track. You'll grow more confident about speaking aloud and it's like having an accent coach in the room with you.

How long does it take every day?

Rosetta Stone's lessons are bite-sized, so all you need is 5 -10 minutes a day to sneak in some practice and work towards your language goals. Of course, you can do more if you want but there's no regimented schedule or pressure to speed ahead.

How does it compare to in-person classes?

With the Rosetta Stone app, your learning is within your control and designed to move at your pace. The app will tailor to your particular interests, strengths, and weaknesses! Plus, with the recent explosion of online classes, most people have fallen away from in-person instruction anyway.

Rosetta Stone brings you expert teaching, fun engaging lessons, and a multitude of language options all on-the-go. Take your classes whenever and wherever works best for you, conveniently on the app.

Is it suitable for all levels?

Absolutely. When you first start, the app allows you to choose a study plan based on your experience level. So, if you're a beginner you can start from scratch and those with some proficiency can advance to where they're comfortable.

How much does it cost?

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month and grants access to all 25 languages, cheaper than Netflix. You get an education at a great value and the best part is no ads while you learn!

We look forward to our Rosetta Stone lessons and highly recommend it to anyone eager to learn a new language or even brush up on an old one. This program makes learning fun, practical, convenient, and most importantly affordable.

Say bonjour, to the go-to language learning app and have the world right at your fingertips!

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!

Like so many out there I haven't been traveling. With everything going on these days I've been staying home, which I love, but it does have me itching to travel. The international section of Netflix just isn't satisfying my travel bug like it used to (trust me, if it's been recommended I've watched it).

I was looking for another way I could travel without leaving home so I did the rounds of take-out food: Chinese, German, Italian, and Mexican. This was fun and tasty but a pricey way to explore the world.

A friend of mine suggested taking a prepping approach to travel and try Rosetta Stone: a language learning program that offers an annual plan with access to 24+ languages.

I've always wanted to learn a new language but have had trouble committing. I was a bit wary about starting Rosetta Stone but ultimately decided to give it a shot.

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month for 12 months (what a deal). While I was determined to learn Spanish in anticipation of my dream trip to Spain, this plan allows me to switch to any of the other 24+ languages.

I was excited to get started and use the app. I figured with all of the extra time I had until I could actually go on my trip, I'd aspire to be near fluent by the time it happened.

Jumping right in, I took a ton of lessons through their app and really binged the language. I loved the focus on conversational language, phrases, and vocabulary but after about a week I had burned myself out a bit.

I ended up pulling back and doing 10-minute lessons a day. This was manageable and easy to incorporate into my schedule whether it was by doing a lesson over my morning coffee or winding down right before bed. Learning in bite-sized amounts helped me digest the information and really process what I was being taught.

After a couple of weeks, I was getting really comfortable with Rosetta Stone and was actually enjoying the learning process… even though I wasn't a big fan of language when I was in school. What really set this experience apart for me was the Phrasebook and Seek & SpeakⓇ features.

Phrasebook teaches short, useful expressions that I know will come in handy on my trip. Seek & SpeakⓇ definitely brought the fun back into learning for me, as it has you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and take photos of them. Once you do this it gives you a translation of each item (I've never enjoyed looking for cucumbers in my fridge before).

Watching so many telenovelas I knew how important the accent is (in any language) but difficult without an in-person instructor. Rosetta Stone realizes that too and uses TruAccentⓇ. The speech engine within the program gave me instant feedback so I knew that my pronunciation was on the right track and it made me more comfortable speaking aloud.

Rosetta Stone turned out to be a great choice for me. Now I'm daydreaming about traveling and feel like when the time comes I'll be ready to. I'm so confident in my learning that I've branched out and have done some lessons in Italian and French! I'm thinking, after Spain… maybe Rome and Paris? My destinations list is endless now!

Honestly, with Rosetta Stone, I feel more inspired than ever to travel and all this inspiration is happening right in my home. I can't wait to take what I've learned on the road but until then the preparation is still incredibly fun and useful.

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!