Book-Vending Machine Dispenses Suspense
Earlier this year, Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey's Paw used-book store in Toronto, had an idea.He wanted a creative way to offload his more ill-favored books — "old and unusual" all, as the store's motto goes — that went further than a $1 bin by the register.It came in a conversation with his wife: a vending machine."Originally, I thought maybe we would just have a refrigerator box and paint it to look like a vending machine," he tells NPR, "and put a skinny assistant of mine inside and have him drop books out when people put a coin in."But then he was hanging out with a friend, Craig Small, who runs an animation studio in Toronto."I mentioned the idea to him, and he said, 'Forget it! Let's just build one!' "So they did, and for the past few weeks that machine has been up and running. The "Biblio-Mat" is about the size of a refrigerator and painted vintage pistachio green with chrome accents. On the front, in old-style lettering, it reads: "Every book a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles."Though he's not making much money off the Biblio-Mat, Fowler says it's a great way to entertain customers — especially kids."One kid I can think of in particular — a very intense, physical little boy, not what you would necessarily consider the bookish type — he got a weird, local history book about Hamilton, Ontario," he says. "And apparently he's been carrying it around his house, you know, asking his mom, 'Did you see where I left my Hamilton book?'"It's like it completely reinjects the mystery into these old printed artifacts."Fowler says the machine reinforces something he's learned in the book trade: People are always looking for meaning."People have a deep need to think the thing is actually being picked for them," he says. "Yesterday a young woman got a book out of the machine — 12 Hardest Shots in Golf, or something like that — and she was not very impressed. But then she said, 'I know exactly who I'm giving this to for Christmas.' "
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