Everyone's asleep except me. And you.

The Algorithm Is Shortchanging You

The old bookseller used to go back in the stacks and move things around. He’d put poetry from Ashbery in between volumes of Manchester’s biography of Churchill; Bowlby’s books on attachment theory found themselves next to Kerouac and Tolstoy and Agee and Wright. And the art books? Oy, what a mess. The Art of Florence shared shelves with Klee and Mondrian; Mapplethorpe mocked Jansen’s History of Art; Skrebneski lived with Caldwell and Klimt and Bloemart.

Sometimes I’d go back there and try to rework it, alphabetize it, organize it, catalog it.

But just as soon as I was done, he’d be back there mixing it again, putting Jung with Orwell together; the How To’s about gardening with the collected works of Odets.

Once I said, “You know you’re making it hard for anyone to find anything.”

He scoffed. “No, I’m making it easier for people to find themselves.”

I wasn’t going to settle for self-help pablum today. I pointed out the sales loss he was exposed to when people couldn’t find what they wanted. How they’d go across the street to Kroch’s, or Rizzoli.

It just pissed him off.

“What good is a bookstore if you only find what you came in for? How can anyone discover anything new within themselves if they aren’t surprised by the world? I don’t sell books for money. I sell them because I love them. What are you here for?”

This is why, 30 years later, I can tell you with certainty: The algorithm is shortchanging you.

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