This past weekend I found myself in suburbia, bored, and somehow lured into the flashing lights of the all too familiar corporate bookstore. I like to read, I like books, I like other people who like books, so why not?
I browsed the new releases and best sellers strategically placed two feet from the entrance of the store, a little distracted by the “adopt a greyhound” group and their dogs that also decided to occupy this space. Romance, self help books (Oprah’s book club’s finest), how you, as a catholic, can transform the world…is this really what people are reading? Apparently yes, given the crowd of “intellectuals” that actually “accidentally” pushed me out of the way when I browsed one section for too long. I finally found something that might be worth reading, but promptly put the book back on the shelf when I realized it was nearly $25. I haven’t bought a new hardcover in years and don’t plan on it anytime soon. I’ll wait until it’s used for $2 on half.com.
I made my way away from the romance and back to the “Food & Cooking” section, hoping to catch a glimpse of salmon cornets or caviar and oysters via The French Laundry Cookbook. Problem: I couldn’t find it. I searched the handy electronic database and realized that it was in the “Popular Chefs” section. There he was. Thomas Keller and the CIA cookbooks, right next to Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade garbage and Martha Stewart’s picture perfect dinner party.
Is this what America thinks of books? Can books be lumped together in one “hardcover” category, and can Americans be trusted to sort out the weeds? Does it not matter what someone is reading, just the fact that they’re reading it? Looking at my bookstore experience, readers seem to think so. In a recent conversation with friends, they compared how many Jodi Picoult books they had read, and I was looked down upon for having the lowest number (zero). It seems apparent that the majority of Americans see no problem browsing the bestseller shelves and paying $25 for the new Nicholas Sparks novel that, when asked, magically makes them more literate.
How does anyone expect the general population to be exposed to real literature if this is what they’re getting?