Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
For the Japanese, who claim the highest number of vending machines per capita, visiting the United States is going from feast to famine. America's selection of coin-acquired goods seems to have actually declined from the heyday of gelatinous hand dispensers and Automats (Amsterdam currently has a thriving network of the latter).
Even our well-mannered Northern neighbor is getting ahead. At the Toronto bookshop Monkey's Paw (named after the terrifying W. W. Jacobs short story), Craig Small has designed the Biblio-Mat, a vending machine for the used books.
Intended to address the large quantity of used books that typically sit in bins outside a bookstore (too weird to profit from, too rare to recycle), the Biblio-Mat dispenses a random used book for $2. Like the Random Wikipedia Generator (click that link as many times as you want), it offers the pleasure of knowledge without the burden of choice.
For the price of a bottle of water, why not take your chances with the Biblio-Mat in a train station or an airport?