As long as we aren’t speaking metaphorically, I will absolutely judge a book by its cover. Anyone should be able to spot a self-published pile of garbage (most likely copied and pasted from Wikipedia) from a mile away after thirty seconds of instruction. (Hint: It’s cheaply bound and fucking ugly.)
Bookstore customers tend to hold the common misconception that the King of Publishing has bestowed a knighthood upon any author so honored to grace our warped, dusty shelves. Guys, with enough money and motivation, I could have my third grade book report in stores nationwide within a couple of weeks. If I wanted it on the bestseller lists, all I’d have to do is turn around and buy thousands of them back. With the resulting publicity, it might get legs of its own, or I might end up writing my next book about do-it-yourself bankruptcy petitions.
“But Bob,” you’re mumbling into your smoldering Samsung, “as a proponent of Automated Luxury Polyamorous Pansexual Post-scarcity Space Communism (ALPPPSC), how can you take a such a steaming dump on the masses? The proletariat should have access to the eyes and ears of the people! Tear down the gatekeepers! Off with King Publishing’s head!”
Au contraire. The same top-hatted, monocled magnates are still swimming in their gigantic piles of shitty teen poetry money. The only difference is that they’re spending less of theirs finding these assholes. The answer to everything is still, “be bankable.” Are you already famous for something that has nothing to do with writing? Here’s a book deal. Did you get hot on Amazon writing dinosaur porn? Here’s a book deal. Did you self-publish the doodles and emo notes from the liner of your junior high Trapper Keeper after you hit 100,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel? Here’s a fucking book deal.
As the Chairman of ALPPPSC (ALP³SC), I’d remove the funds and the fame entirely. There shouldn’t be a system to game. We’d all be as one in the shiny digital databanks of the Starship USS Indestructable-B, equally accessible and left to be browsed or abandoned on our own merits. Then we’ll engage warp 9 over to James Patterson’s literary sweatshop planet and free the slaves.
Nevertheless, I don’t judge you by what you purchase. Believe me, there was a day when I put people into a column every time they asked for Mein Kampf (usually “that Hitler book”) or the The Satanic Bible between giggles. Oh wait, I still do that. It’s the Idiotic Teenager column. Yes, we can also get The Anarchist’s Cookbook, kids. No, it isn’t banned. No, you aren’t on a list.
Well, not our list, anyway.
Yeah, I might get a kick when you buy six copies of Clinton Cash so you can give them as Christmas gifts, but I also realize I’m coming at the situation from a completely different angle. It’s been interesting times discussing politics with the Trumpers and Tea Partiers over the past year. They’re so close to embracing ALP³SC and they don’t even know it. Maybe I can sneak The New Jim Crow into their orders after I delete a couple of these Bill O’Reilly books.
I don’t judge, guys. Maybe you’re purchasing Killing the Rising Sun for your ailing grandfather, who actually had a hand in killing the rising sun. Still, it’s something that O’Reilly’s other books in the Killing series are named after a particular historical figure, but in this case he was apparently so hellbent on otherizing Japan, like some slanty-eyed bucktoothed WWII propaganda caricature, that he settled on targeting the entire fucking country and slapped a mushroom cloud on the cover. I had a lady come in an ask, “Do you have that book on killing the Japanese?”
Yes, of course. Right over here.
I don’t want to misuse the term offensive. Offense is an attack or a physical reaction. As it is with other powerful words, we risk watering them down when we throw them about willy-nilly, just as I risk starting a prescriptivist versus descriptivist web battle by even mentioning this issue. Offensive describes my sulfurous ass gasses. Many of the things I find ignorant or slightly annoying are probably not correctly defined as offensive.
That being said, my jaw locked up the first time I saw the electronic bulletin with attached color pre-order poster. I laughed, incredulous. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said. “Are you fucking serious?” Oh god, I am clenching my teeth right now. Maybe it’s the coffee, but I’m pretty sure I’m offended.
Bestseller, baby. Bestseller.
Your Supreme Chairman doesn’t want to resort to censorship. Hell, I read ridiculous shit constantly. Tweets, posts, and memes, some brilliant, most dreck (occasionally a disease, a pox on humanity, but I digress). There are gems in the sewage but there’s also hepatitis and a slight chance of alligators. If you want to read at all, you’re going to consume junk. I’d say roughly 95% of what I sell on any given day is absolute swill. There’s a whole section of manuals on how to be a better sociopath, then a couple of aisles away there are sections full of books about dealing with all the goddamned sociopaths, some by dead bearded guys and others featuring amorphous sky friends who may or may not have been purported to have beards.
I love you, pagans and wiccans. I really do, but it occurs to me that somewhere along the line, while your brain was short circuiting under all the inconsistencies of organized religion, you took an, uh, different fork off the road of realization and decided that instead of questioning the existence of magic, you’d add even more magic. Hey, that’s cool. Whatever gets you through the night.
As a big ol’ nasty agnostic atheist, though, one of my proudest moments might have been when a young woman tracked me down years after a reading recommendation and thanked me, profusely, for changing her life. I barely recalled the initial interaction when she brought it up, but the situation was that she had been in her late teens and had finally gotten out on her own. She expressed that she’d been brought up by parents who were oppressively religious and asked for a suggestion. I handed her The God Delusion.
Yeah, yeah. I know. You can shit on Dawkins all day long for being a gigantic dickface (which he can be, but so can I), or being Militant Atheism 101 meant for angsty young people who’ve just escaped the dogmatic clutches of their upbringing (along with Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, Tyson, Nye) and I won’t argue with it. Thing is, motherfucker still saves lives, and he coined that meme thing you Millennials love so much. He’s also married to Lalla Ward, who is a sonofabitchin Time Lord. Let’s not throw out the brilliance with the bastard-water.
It’s taken me a while to get to this zen state of not caring whether you order a book about keeping your Christian children straight or not. Maybe you’re neither Christian nor straight and you’re reading it as research, so you know what you’re up against. I’ve seen it happen. I also try to remember the words of Jedi Retail Master Christopher Clark, who would shrug and say, “I don’t care as long as it keeps us in business.” I don’t think he’d sell espresso and hand grenades to toddlers, but I’m also not sure.
Capitalist leanings aside (I’ll have you ALP³SCing eventually, Mr. Clark), it’s good advice. For a guy who probably runs his mouth a little too much about bookselling (especially when it comes to the promise of continued employment), I do enjoy being able to pay my mortgage. As much as I complain about the industry, it comes from a place of love. I adore my coworkers and I want us all to succeed. Unfortunately, it often seems there are too many broken processes and not enough people willing or able to address them.
However, when you tell me you need a physical copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because you want to hold it in your hand and you don’t want to get your e-reader dirty, but then you turn around and ask if we have any used copies?
Yeah. I’m judging the fuck out of you.