The Help Desk: The handmaid's fail

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I work at an independent bookstore. We had to sign a nondisclosure agreement from Penguin Random House ensuring that we wouldn’t sell their new book, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid's Tale sequel The Testaments, even a minute before midnight on September 10th. We were told if we got caught selling the book early, Penguin Random House could penalize us by not ever selling us any of their titles again, which would essentially put us out of business.

Unfortunately, as you probably know, Amazon mailed copies of The Testaments to their customers a week early. Amazon says they only broke the embargo for 800 customers, but who knows if they’re telling the truth about that figure?

Look, accidents happen — even if you’re the biggest and by far the most evil bookseller on the planet. But the thing that chaps my ass is that Amazon basically is suffering no consequences for breaking this embargo. If I sold 800 copies of The Testaments a week early, I could be sued into oblivion. Is it too much to ask that the same rules apply to everyone? Hell, Penguin Random House didn't even mention Amazon by name in their tweets about the incident, presumably because they're too scared to call them out.

I’m so frustrated with Penguin Random House that I just feel like quitting the business entirely.

Karen, Greenwood

Dear Karen,

As my father used to say before he killed himself, "Life isn't fair and then you marry one." (And then she leaves you, which really isn't fair, and then you start drinking with guns.)

Yes, Amazon is taking over the free market like online outrage is overtaking any kind of action. Yes, Penguin Random House is staffed by punitive cowards. But before you do something rash, like quit the soul-satisfying business of selling books for something with a dental plan, know that things could be worse.

I know people who work for Amazon. They have to sign a non-dick-closure agreement and wear catheters so that they can work straight through bathroom breaks. THAT’S HOW THOSE BOOKS ARE SOLD SO FAST AND SO EARLY! It’s not all boob-shaped terrariums and 5-star ratings behind closed doors – Jeff Bezos makes people dance for pocket change every time an order doesn’t qualify for free shipping. And that's not even the worst of it. Next week, Seattle employees will walk off the job to protest Amazon's indifference to the sous vide hellscape our Earth is becoming, in part because of the company's policies and practices.

I also heard Bezos sold his mother's organs on Deep Dark Prime after she gushed about the customer service at Best Buy. (For Mother's Day, he regifted her her own kidney.)

My point is, life isn't fair. Every pocket of the globe has its injustices – you may not have dental, but hey — you don't have to professionally piss in a bag.