aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Is our celebrity-obssessed culture ruining us? ruining the book world?

In his new book, Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction, Jake Halpern argues that some people, particularly young girls, are literally addicted to celeb trivia. (This could explain why Paris Hilton was the most Googled name in 2006.)

"We become addicted to things that have a mood-altering effect — drinking, pornography, chocolate," says the 31-year-old freelance journalist and NPR commentator. (Full disclosure: I think he is using the word "addiction" quit loosely. Especially when it comes to chocolate. So don't try to take away mine.) Halpern says that celebrity gossip has become inescapable because of changes in the media. "It used to be neatly contained, but now it has metastasized."

Compare that with this NY TImes article about a bookstore that is closing. It begins, "Logan Fox can’t quite pinpoint the moment when movies and television shows replaced books as the cultural topics people liked to talk about over dinner, at cocktail parties, at work. He does know that at Micawber Books, his 26-year-old independent bookstore here that is to close for good in March, his own employees prefer to come in every morning and gossip about “Survivor” or “that fashion reality show” whose title he can’t quite place.

"Shoppers used to spend hours in Micawber Books picking just the right book, the store’s owner said.
“It kills me,” Mr. Fox, 53, said over coffee on Friday afternoon, shaking his head. “The amount of time spent discussing culturally iconic shows has superseded anything in the way of books that I can detect. Discussing books is very much one on one. It just hurts me.”

"Mr. Fox is bracing himself for an emotionally wrenching few months. In December Micawber announced that it would close, after years of fighting not only the tyranny of other media but also the steady encroachment of big-box retail competitors and the Internet."

This is me speaking. I'm not that much younger than Mr. Fox (Full disclosure - Fox is pretty cute, esp. for 53 - check out the photo. And "Logan Fox" would be a great name for a character.), but I don't remember any storied time where people spent hours talking about books with each other. Then, as now, there might be a handful of books that most people have read or at least heard about. Right now, depending on the circles you run in, it might be Harry Potter or The Historian. But it was still a one-on-one conversation, not a group of people at a cocktail party.

The NYT goes on, "The other crisis for independent booksellers, Mr. Fox said, is the current state of publishing. The job of building writers’ reputations and nurturing them has fallen to agents, he said. Publishers are concerned only with the bottom line, he added, looking for the home run instead of the single."

(Full disclosure: You always hear about publishers building up writers in days of yore, but I wonder if that was ever true.)

"And there is the question of quality. Though Micawber carries a few, Mr. Fox laments the rapid growth of the celebrity cookbook genre. Children’s books, in particular, are driven by marketability instead of creativity, said Bobbie Fishman, the children’s books buyer at Micawber. “It’s either pirates, wizards, one of a series, or written by Katie Couric,” she said."

(Full disclosure: That's probably true, but haven't there always been bandwagons? Imitations of things that are already selling well? I do think people are more in a hurry, so they have less bandwith to devote to ferreting out the gems, and just go with what is easier.)

The NYT goes on, "Independent bookstores across the country are suffocating, squeezed by Amazon.com and the chain bookstores that deliver deeper discounts and wider variety than independent shops. According to the American Booksellers Association, a trade group of independent bookstores, there are about 2,500 such stores in the United States, down from about 4,700 in 1993. And that is not counting those that sell only used books."

(Full disclosure: that is scary, because independent booksellers, I believe, do more handselling and are drawn more by a love of books than employees at chain stores, who might be there because Starbucks and The Gap aren't hiring. Or not. But there is more of a chance.)

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