Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Political Books

The one thing I can say about working as a bookseller is that no matter what your political views are, political books can be a hassle when they are new. The outrage that political books carries baffles me, and it's not just one side over the other--both sides seem to be fascinated by sticking it to the other side in the bookstores. I've seen copies of various political books vandalized, turned backwards, hidden behind other books, opposing view books placed in front of them, etc, etc, etc. It's kind of funny when you consider that both sides of the political aisle cry freedom of speech.

The customers who buy political books are also upset when they arrive in the bookstore and their beloved author has stirred up so much controversy that everyone and their mother are calling the bookstores and holding mass amounts of the book; the 40-100 copies are flying off the shelves in record numbers on the first day; and then the conspiracy of booksellers hiding the books starts when the books have sold out. The authors stir up more controversy on their radio or TV shows saying that the books are being "hidden in the back" by evil booksellers who oppose your political views.

The one thing I can say about political books as a politically minded person is that they aren't a large chunk of my book collection. In fact, I don't read as many political books as people assume. People don't consider that the majority of people who write political books don't exactly write them from a neutral point of view. Ann Coulter is going to write her views from her right-wing perspective knowing that the people who read her books are going to be offended or slap their knees in laughter saying "YOU TELL 'EM, ANN! GOD BLESS YOU!" We all know that Noam Chomsky isn't going to pull punches in his anti-war/anti-imperialism books. Political books serve the purpose of rallying the troops; you are going to find whatever it is you're looking for whether you read Glenn Beck's books or Keith Olbermann's books. If someone is writing from a centrist point of view, it will likely attract people who have an interest in hearing someone reach across the political aisle--and there aren't too many of those books out there (or they are written by Thomas L. Friedman or Fareed Zakaria, who are proud self-proclaimed "centrists").

When do I read political books? The only times you'll catch me reading a political book is when I want to get an idea of what someone's point of view is on a specific subject. Before Barack Obama announced his candidacy, I read "The Audacity of Hope" to find out where he stood on the issues and what his beliefs were. I've found myself skimming Mitt Romney's books looking in the index for mention of specific issues. Or I find myself reading a book related to a particular issue that I have an interest in such as why are the media outlets so untrustworthy, or why truth and reason are so unpopular these days. My firm belief most of the time is that political books are mostly junk. Looking at a political book on the display or bookshelf is the one time where you really can judge a book by its cover. When I see a book with "DEMONIC" written across the cover with Ann Coulter's name on it, you can pretty much guess where she's going with that title.

When it comes to political authors, I have noticed that there are many on the left and right side of the aisle who need to learn how to write, do research, and cite their sources. There are very few political writers who have mastered the art of writing in my opinion, and the list of the ones I hold in high regard I will keep to myself. Another thing I've concluded is that many of them who single out specific people could be sued for libel and slander if anyone had the time to pursue a long, expensive court case to prove libel and slander while the author claims his/her freedom of speech is being pounced upon, or someone cries political martyr.

What responses do I give when people have asked me about the political books they're buying? "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't read political books, but this one is selling pretty well." The belief of the book retailers is not to engage with the customer about political books, and I agree that is the best policy to have when you're dealing with the general public. And while you're buying that Glenn Beck or Howard Zinn book, know I'm happy to take your money for it and could careless that you are buying it.

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