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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Bibliophile

    There’s a better way to be an anti-establishment, socially progressive, stick-it-to-the-man, change-affecting badass: Read.

    Think about it; the clothes that are available for purchase at an affordable price are designed by someone who thinks they know what you should wear, made by an underpaid, mistreated worker in a giant factory overseas and look just like all the other clothes everywhere else. The movies that are available for viewing are only the ones picked up and distributed by giant corporate “”entertainment”” machines because they think they can suck our pockets dry with drivel about explosions and aliens. Even widely available music is more the result of computer-polishing than artistic inspiration.

    How can we idealistic young consumers in the coveted 18-24 sales bracket, really subvert the corporate machine, and show everyone we’re not all programmed MTV-bots who consume anything that’s marketed to us with a shiny label and a pretty model? Read.

    To pick out an unpopular book and read it, and to consider it carefully, is an act of rebellion against everything society thinks college students are.

    We have to read a great deal for class, but that’s what we’re told to read. We sometimes read to keep up with popular culture, but so much of that is generated by expensive marketing schemes and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality. It is in the rare moments we have to read for our own personal enjoyment that we reveal our natures as consumers and as people.

    If time for non-academic reading is tight, a bestseller is a tempting choice. It’s sold well, so presumably other readers have enjoyed it. That means it’s good, right? That it’s worth the time and the inflated sticker price?

    Hardly. Bestseller lists are as much a reflection of whether a book is good as they are whether a lot of people want to look like they read what’s hip and new. A book that sells well is probably a result of the marketing efforts of a large publishing house: the five largest publishers make up 80 percent of  bestseller lists, and the largest 10 account for 98 percent.

    Do all good books get published and marketed by those 10 publishing houses? Should readers let our choices be monopolized by those who have the money and resources of a corporate giant behind them?   

    Books that sell well might not even be widely read. In the 1980s, the staff of the New Republic magazine put coupons redeemable for cash inside copies of a heavy political tome on the bestseller list, and not a single one was sent in. The book — about nuclear arms control — sold well because it was already selling well. People bought the book because other people bought the book.

    The mark of a good book is not that a lot of people bought it. The mark of a good book is that an individual reader spent time on the words, enjoyed the experience, learned from the piece and maybe loaned it to a friend.

    We shouldn’t let our choices be selected for us in a high-rise office in New York. Thousands of smaller presses release books that might cater more to the personal and even smaller collective taste of a reader.

    College students are engaged, passionate, intelligent people. So then, why are books marketed to us and that sell well in our age bracket so often vapid celebiographies and groupthink derivative genre knockoffs?

    Buying a book that is in a pretty display case in the front of the bookstore is like only listening to music that someone else declares hip, with a “”strong buzz”” and a “”street team”” in “”your marketing area.”” We can spot pathetic promotion efforts and trying-too-hard from a mile away. So why not extend this stand-offish, rebellious skepticism to our book choices?

    Go pick out a book you’ve never heard of — it could be rewarding. Try a section you might not normally choose, pick out a book from a smaller publisher, or grab a used book at random. Underappreciated books are cheaper, more ambitious, and much edgier than the fluff with little redeeming value “”The Man”” says you should be reading.

    To start, you might stop by indie bookstores Antigone Books, Revolutionary Grounds, or Book Stop on Fourth Avenue and pick up a book that’s not in wide distribution. As a primer, try picking up the underrated short story collection “”Why The Devil Chose New England For His Work”” by UA professor Jason Brown, or the social activism novel “”If I Die in Juarez,”” by Stella Pope Duarte and published by the UA Press.

    And if you really want to get subversive, rebellious and punk? Try reading a book from the library.

    — Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English. She can be reached at arts@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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