Book club review: Feeding the hand that baits you

By Erik Jay
web posted June 26, 2000

There is nothing new about decrying the biased-to-port nature of mass media -- not in the observation, which goes back a few generations, and certainly nothing new in the incessant wailing and gnashing of teeth that the observation elicits from the starboard-side passengers of the gargantuan U.S.S. America.

We know that the Talking-Head Troika of Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw is a veritable adjunct of the Democratic National Committee; we recognize the output of the Hollywood "majors" (Disney, Dreamworks, Warners) as being distinctly left-wing and snide; we have no problem discerning the anti-Christian, anti-woman, anti-American, anti-any-decent-thing-at-all nature of "gangsta rap" records (I was not going to say "music!"); and as for most of the major newspapers and magazines, they give us the likes of George Will -- who "changed his mind" about supporting the Second Amendment and then fell into the David Brooks/Bill Kristol "national greatness" crock pot -- and tell us he's a "conservative" commentator.

Of course, trumping all of these "information delivery systems" is the Internet. It's a fabulous tool in need of disciplined craftsmen; it's an infinitely expanding pile of disparate data in need of good, and patient, editors; it's a never-ending story in need of good directors who know when to say "Cut!" and "That's a wrap!"

Still, most of us know about the many guises and routes of slanted media, and we factor defense mechanisms into our lives: we have filters for the kids' net browsers; we control the TV programming in the house; we check all Marilyn Manson and Megadeth CD's at the door; and we subscribe to the right mags and ignore the ones that are left. If you're doing all this, you're pretty well covered.

But I happened upon another category of "info delivery system" that seems to lie just beneath most right-thinkers' radar coverage, one inhabited by the same sort of stylish, clever, stealthy, and doctrinaire folks that staff the ABC's and TurnerVisions of the world: book clubs.

Now, sure, there is the Conservative Book Club, and the Laissez-Faire catalog, and a few other notable libertarian/conservative book/video clubs.

Of course there will be the usual niche players, but the overwhelming majority of book club purchases funnel through a mere handful of firms. I thought I was avoiding the explicit partisanship of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the other major outfits by signing up with the Quality Paperback Book Club (QPB) -- dream on, silly human.

Once I had built up some "bonus points" I tended to stick with the sale flyers and the "specials" pages when my monthly quarter-pound of catalogs and order cards would arrive from QPB. Only last week did I take a close look at the particular titles that QPB was actively promoting on the check-the-appropriate-box reply card, as well as in the four-color-on-newsprint mini-catalogs.

The trouble was apparent right from the start. My three choices on this month's main selection postcard? Susan Faludi's "Stiffed", the "Encyclopedia Africana" that Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, Jr. finished up for W.E.B. duBois, and "The Viagra Alternative" by one Dr. Marc Bonnard. Oh, boy.

I figured there had to be something better than (a) Faludi's hysterical anti-male screed, (b) the latest Afrocentric hagiography purporting to establish a black Athena, black Cleopatra, black Jesus, or whoever, or (c) a book on erectile dysfunction that no man would ever buy for himself (not in a store, anyway). Even as my vaunted "liberal garbage-o-meter" was buzzing and clicking away in the middle of my frontal lobe, I started plowing through the QPB mini-catalog to find A Worthwhile Read.

By page seven I'd already passed on "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (artist seduces model, model likes it), "Ahab's Wife" (the real power behind Melville's misogynistic madman), and "The Boomer" ("...former QPB Editor Marty Asher's unforgettable indictment of his singular generation"). That last one seems particularly daring and distinctive: It's about time someone indicted the boomers for their vacuity, greed, middlebrow tastes, and spiritual bankruptcy. Or has someone done that already? What? A thousand of 'em? Hey, you're right! It schlepped my mind, I guess.

Fortunately, though, there is "The Complete Directory to Primetime Network & Cable TV Shows" which should be good for at least 5,500 laughs; it runs 1363 pages, but there are 5,500 different series listed. And in rapid succession over the next five or so pages, we get the whole animal kingdom involved in solving man's Urgent Dilemmas (pollution, insensitivity, warm Evian water): "Dogs Never Lie About Love" (or anything else, since they can't talk); "The Passionate Observer" (wherein the talking insects give clueless humanity lessons in, er, humanity); a new "spiritual journey book" from Jane Goodall (write your own comment here); a memoir of a Harper's editor's pet; and books that promise to help you "think like a cat" and be as efficient as "ants at work" (the latter by a fellow "set to become the Jane Goodall of entomology").

Leaving aside the question of how many Jane Goodalls the world really needs, I accelerated my pace and whipped through the rest of the 32-page catalog rather quickly. A high proportion of the available titles were such as these: "Self-Nurture" and "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say"; "Sun & Moon Signs" and "The Kama Sutra"; "Men on Men 2000: Best New Gay Fiction of the Millennium" and "Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing"; "Beyond Evolution" and "Woman: An Intimate Geography."

Whew.

There are certainly plenty of Father's Day gifts here for that "Utne Reader" reader in your family, or your friend with the "Mother Jones" jones, if you know what I mean. If you don't know what I mean, either (a) you don't have time to stay abreast of the colloquialisms for "addiction" or (b) you are not the sort of person who would stay abreast of colloquialisms for "addiction" even if you did have the time.

I'll tell you this: If you were a regular reader of the kind of garbage and pap promoted by QPB -- of the tens of thousands of books in stock, they feature only 150-or-so titles in the spiffily designed color catalog -- you would know lots of colloquialisms for "addiction"; you'd know 'em for a skein of other sex practices, illicit powders, and self-medication procedures, too.

That you are a reader, regular or not, of SierraTimes would suggest at once, to me at any rate, that you are not unaware of what constitutes real art, a good novel, a well-written treatise, decent poetry, and worthwhile information.

And as far as any of that goes, in the entire QPB catalog for June, I found "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand. Period. Oh, sure, there were innocuous and even practical books throughout: restaurant guides, regional cookbooks, various encyclopediae. But in and among the titles treating culture, politics, current events, sexual relations, history, or philosophy, the overwhelming orientation is... well, it's what you'd expect once you remind yourself that book clubs, too, are just delivery systems for the reigning orthodoxy of the day.

And should you need reminding, the reigning orthodoxy of the day is socialism with a happy face, the la-dee-da style of oppression with a smile and a wink. (Satan comes as an angel of light, remember?) Bottom line for me: I'm going to use my bonus points and then quit QPB. I already give the Conservative Book Club, F.E.E., CATO Institute, ISIL, the Libertarian Party, even American Opinion bookstores (yes, Birch-affiliated) and a few others my book business. Now these good guys will start getting the money that went to QPB, money that actually helped QPB carpet-bomb America with their touchy-feely, politically dirigiste but colorfully printed palaver.

I want my dollars to help liberty make sense to more people. Don't you? Now, until we (virtually) meet again, go out there and do some good.

Erik Jay is editor of "What Next? The Internet Journal of Contentious Persiflage" which you can subscribe to by visiting http://erikjay.com.

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