“Crazy… Irrational… Catatonic… Rubbish… Abysmal… Tired… No respect… A visual catastrophe… Jumble sale… Shoot-yourself-bad.” It’s 8 a.m. on James Daunt’s first day as the new chief executive of Barnes & Noble and he’s first on the floor of its four-story, 60,000-square-foot flagship in Union Square in New York an hour before customers start arriving. He does not like what he sees.

“What in God’s name is this?” he asks, studying a display table with a prized spot at the store entrance. “Salman Rushdie next to Debbie Macomber! Bloody hell! How could a bookseller conceivably put those two books next to each other — ever?” Macomber is a bestselling author of romance novels who also writes cookbooks. On the next table, Daunt finds How to Have Your Life Not Suck by Bianca Juarez Olthoff next to a biography of Benjamin Rush, “one of the great founding fathers of America. This is an irrational selection — a crashing assault of the appalling, next to the wonderful, next to the indifferent. And we’re putting it front and centre!”

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