Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why ban books when you can brand them?

Posted By on 03.22.07 at 08:45 PM

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The Beachwood Reporter's Hipster 101 post on what you can't read if you don't want to be a snotty urbanite, combined with a lively discussion thread at Chicagoist, has me realizing there's pretty much nothing I can read on the bus without marking myself as an unfortunate cultural stereotype. The Man With the Golden Arm is out ("only for Chicago hipsters"); I wonder if The Last Carousel, which I just purchased, is safe. John Kennedy Toole's classic A Confederacy of Dunces is similarly verboten because the main character disdains (god forbid) pop culture, although Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly is apparently safe 'cause there's a movie. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is now nonhipster for the same reason. "Wonderous, glorious" books are for snobs.

Nor is my nonfiction reading list safe. The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times are out (that would make me an @$$hole). Enjoying the New York Times would brand me as self-righteous, and the Sun-Times is a right-wing rag. And I can't even work on public transportation: the Reader is pretentious, except for the cover story on Alpana Singh.

I'm starting to think Americans don't read not because they're dumb, but because they're terrified. If I'm reading Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End or Max Barry's Company, everyone might think I'm an anxious trendoid chasing whatever's new. Or a self-ironizing corporate drone. Picking out books is starting to become like buying clothing, which I guess makes sense when Urban Outfitters has a bookshelf.

The solution, I think, is old-school book covers, so I can read my book and not shatter everyone's fantasy of how cool their city is. 

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