I went to the mall after Thanksgiving to check out the frenzy that is Black Friday and perhaps to find some good deals, since this college student’s pockets aren’t exactly deep. Let’s just say that after two hours of shouldering my way through store after store, experiencing concert-level mosh pits in cashier lines, and generally wishing to be someplace else, I was more than ready to escape the craziness. Borders, the only bookstore in my local mall, loomed into view and I gladly shoved my way through the double doors, welcoming the general peace within. Bookstores tend to inspire library-levels of quiet in me and I guess that goes for everyone else since Borders was surprisingly quiet compared to the rest of the shopping mall.
This made it easy to hear the woman sitting right next to the door. She was behind a card table, modest stacks of books flanking her, pen in hand. She told me what her name was. Introduced her book, told me she was doing a signing today. I think it might have been the fact that I was still shell shocked by the intensity of the rest of the mall, but all I did was nod, smile maybe, and then I passed her, making a bee-line to one of the red chairs that were beginning to look like Shangri-La.
It wasn’t until later, safe in my quiet home, when the ability to think came back to me that I realized that I couldn’t remember the woman’s name or remember the name of her new book. I don’t think I saw a single person greet her with more than a nod or a smile, and the best attempt to acknowledge her was a lazy announcement over the muffled stereo system directing customers to the front of the store. I wondered if it was the hectic nature of the day that kept people from greeting her and buying her book, or if it was something else.
I won’t try to guess at how many books were sold that day, but judging by the amount of time I spent in line, I’d be inclined to say a lot. There were signs around the store advertising various new books, but they all had one thing in common – the author’s name was a recognizable one. James Patterson had his own display, as did Stephen King and Dan Brown. The name wasn’t merely a name it seemed, but an advertising ploy, a way to grab attention for various books.
It’s not uncommon for writers to gain a loyal following of readers, but it takes a select few to attain celebrity status. Stephen King is one of best examples. You’d probably have to leave the continent to find someone who hasn’t heard of him. Dan Brown recently reached this level, with the ridiculously popular Da Vinci Code, although I personally doubt he’ll become as ingrained into our culture as King has. Stephanie Meyer can be considered a celebrity writer, although the writer part is debatable. J.K. Rowling walks the red carpets at the premiers of the Harry Potter movies and has even had a documentary about her in the year leading up to the publication of the seventh book.
That woman in Borders, selling her book, signing her book, got barely a look, while the shelves were emptied of Stephen King and James Patterson. Is a name worth more then an actual person? Celebrity status means a lot on our culture and I guess it just disappoints me that more people, including myself, would go for the big names than take a chance on something that’s new. Maybe it was just the book sales that made people rush past her table. I don’t know. But maybe this idea of celebrity has gotten too big. I’m fine with it in Hollywood, but it really has no room here in literature.