Sunday, December 7, 2014

Save Our Books. Maybe the Blue Ones.

Author James Patterson wants to #saveourbooks.

And he wants it done in a very oddly specific way: President Barack Obama must appear in public carrying a book, and then visit a bookstore or public library. I'm a little confused on the details. And also, Mr. Patterson did not offer any guidelines on what color the book should be.

I think President Obama should pick a blue one.

The confusing part is this: I'm not sure how that's going to #saveourbooks.

Yes, it is true that poll after poll shows the majority of American adults have read one book (and one book only) year after year. The polls do not answer the question on what was the color of the book they read, but blue is probably a pretty popular color, thus my recommendation to President Obama on his book color selection.

Me, I'd like to see the book-reading pendulum swing the opposite direction a bit in our house. We can't get our kids' attention for anything without having to tell them, almost automatically now, "Put down that book and look at me!"

And it's our own damn fault. The house is stuffed to the gills with books, and both my wife and I have a "to read" pile on our nighstands that are taller than our respective nightstands (and my wife uses an old bar stool as a nightstand, so her pile is high to the point I have to surmise it's symmetrical book stacking and has been done by the ghost form the New York City Public Library.

So I know the effectiveness of seeing people lolloping around with books in their arms. (Personally, I'd like to know the effectiveness of people putting books back on the shelves once they're done lolloping about, but my kids will only do that under court order.) But getting this President Obama thing to work, well, I'm not sure that's as awesome sauce as Mr. Patterson thinks it will be. First of all, what book? Obviously, it can't be just any book. I certainly wouldn't be caught dead, as a national political figure, carrying around just any book. So he'd better go with a nondescript book with one that has a cover made for libraries, with no distinguishing marks on it whatsoever. This isn't meant to appease the right-wing nutjobs who'd object to seeing the president carrying anything but a Bible, but to cater to the general snobbery of the book world where friendships are made and broken by the dust jackets people spot on public transportation.

Also, I'm fairly certain Mr. Patterson's request is going to have to wait in line behind all of the other requests for meaningless symbolic public assistance President Obama receives on a daily basis. He's got to be so snowed under in requests to appear in public holding soccer balls, wearing a santa hat, not wearing a santa hat, carrying a cat that poops in organic clumping kitty litter, in a suit made entirely of solar panels, in the costume of an X-files Black Oil alien and so many other what-have-yous that the book thing is on the bottom of the "Idiot Public Stunt" request book he has on his nightstand.

And even if he were to follow through with the request (after a national Book Club Snob referendum on the book he should be seen carrying) there would be the struggle of publicizing the fact: The national media is past the fawning stage; the only way this bit of fluffery would get on the news is if the president snubbed the book snobs and appeared with some dreck (such as that published by, say, a Mr. James Patterson) and appeared instead with something like "Atlas Shrugged." Oh, hells bells that would make a few heads explode out there, right?

If it's a pedestrian book, I can just hear the news reports now:

President Obama appeared today in public carrying a copy of "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, cleverly hiding the portrait of the author on the back cover so as not to frighten small children. And that's about it. He had the book in public. Then he went to a public library where he issued a cadenced, frowny two-minute speech about the importance of concealing the portrait of Silverstein from a sensitive audience while using the stacks of dusty books at the library as a backdrop. Then he went to Camp David where if everyone there is obsessed with his every public move, at least he doesn't have to worry about accidentally glimpsing Mr. Silverstein's portrait. Back to you, Mary."

So yeah, it's not going to get on the news. But a photo of him with a book would probably be presented to the public. And shared wildly on social media. By the kinds of people who have to-0read stacks that threaten to fall over on them and kill them while they're sleeping. And not generally get out to people who don't read more than one book a year.

I still think he should pick a blue book. Or a red one.

Yes it's true I learned cynicism and sarcasm by reading books, and I wish, too, that more people would learn about these and other important topics by reading more books than they do. But this stunt is little more than that: a stunt. What non-readers need is a shift in attitude brought on my circumstances that really impact their own lives, not an image of President Obama walking around with a book. But those kinds of things are a lot harder to accomplish, with or without a #saveyourbooks hashtag.

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