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Book News: Labor Department Investigating Deaths At Amazon Warehouses

Paul Sakuma

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

  • The U.S. Department of Labor says it is looking into the deaths of two temporary workers in incidents at Amazon warehouses since December 2013. One man was crushed after being caught in a conveyor system at a warehouse in Avenel, N.J., and another died June 1 at a facility in Carlisle, Pa. The Department of Labor cited Amazon contractor Genco and four temporary staffing agencies in connection with the 2013 accident. Amazon was not cited, though a news release quotes the head of the Avenel area office for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as saying: "Temporary staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of temporary employees. These employers must assess the work site to ensure that workers are adequately protected from potential hazards." Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Update at 8:30 p.m. ET:In a statement issued later, Amazon said: "Any accident that occurs in a facility is one too many and we take these matters seriously.")
  • In an interview about The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, Neil Gaiman tells The Wall Street Journalthat reading novels can feel like work if you're a novelist: "You can see the joints. It's like a professional magician going to a magic show. You may admire the speed with which something's done, you may admire the variation on the way that you've seen it done, you may admire the brilliant new approach, but you are not going to worry that the poor woman is going to get cut in half. But every now again you get lucky and you run into a book that can just put you back in the audience."
  • The Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has won the £5,000 (about $8,500) Commonwealth Short Story Prize for "Let's Tell This Story Properly," about a woman who finds out about her husband's secret life after he dies. "Kayita died in the bathroom with his pants down. He was forty-five years old and should have pulled up his pants before he collapsed. The more shame because it was Easter. Who dies naked on Easter?" (You can read the whole story over at Granta.)
  • Notable Books Coming Out This Week:

  • The magic of the Harry Potterbooks had less to do with magic, and more to do with world creation. It was all in the details: enchanted castles, lovely-sounding Latinate spells that put chewing gum up people's noses or expelled their entrails, historical wizards named Uric the Oddball and Barnabas the Barmy, Wendelin the Weird and Emeric the Evil, bubblegum that makes the chewer levitate and chocolate frogs that hopped. Potter author J.K. Rowling, writing under the name Robert Galbraith, brings her talent for world creation to The Silkworm,which is set in chilly, misty world of a London private detective, and mingles themes from both classic detective novels and gruesome Jacobean revenge tragedy. In the book, author Owen Quine is found murdered and gutted in the precise manner he described in his unpublished novel, and detective Cormoran Strike (rumpled, misanthropic, brooding) must use the sinister book to find the killer.
  • Jennifer Weiner's All Fall Downfeatures Allison Weiss, a stressed-out blogger with a prescription pill habit and a serious case of denial. She survives for a while in her world of plastic-y suburban wealth and Lululemon yoga gear before she ends up in rehab, and thence to sobriety, salvation and a new pet puppy. But, like Allison, the novel is stretched too thin — the writing often feels perfunctory or clichéd, and though there is much talk of trial and suffering, Allison's inevitable redemption feels slightly cheap. Weiner's heroine is so unbearably snobbish that, at the end, one can't help but think she deserved a little more hardship than she got.
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    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.