Friday, September 28, 2007

The Priorities of our "Reading" Public

Given my general preference for reading books that have withstood some test of time, I have never been a great fan of the New York Times best-sellers list. The Fiction column rarely interests me, and most of the Non-Fiction entries are fluff. Nevertheless, Reuters reporter Steve Gorman decided there was a story in the latest version of the Non-Fiction list; and he may have a point, since, if nothing else, the top three entries may tell us more about our national priorities than many of the more methodical polling systems. Let's take those three entries "from the top," as the say:

  1. The top slot is currently held by Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence. My guess is that most of the people buying this book never listened to any of Greenspan's Congressional testimonies, nor do they know very much about either the why or the how of the Federal Reserve, let alone Greenspan's policies in running it. Nevertheless, the word quickly got out that this would be a "tell-all" book that had a lot to say about our current President; and that seemed to be enough to make Greenspan as much a center attention as he was when the fate of our monetary supply was in his hands.
  2. Coming in behind Greenspan is O. J. Simpson with If I Did It. I suppose you could call this a "subjunctive tell-all book." It had one of the longer build-ups in public relations history, primarily because there was a whole to-do over whether or not the book should actually be released to the public. That was enough to get the general public to lap it up once it went on sale.
  3. Behind O. J. we find Bill Clinton's Giving book. As non-fiction books go, this is definitely the most informative of the bunch. It is even bold enough to recommend an altruistic life-style that can be realized without seriously disrupting one's budget or time. It definitely provides more opportunities for serious reflection that O. J. does and is probably easier to negotiate than Greenspan's text. Could it be that the lower priority has something to do with what the title says about the subject matter?

Of course the Times list says nothing about what people are actually reading. These are books to be set out on the coffee table to identify their owner as a thinking individual who has time for serious reading matter, which is to say that these all serve the purpose of cheap set dressing. In that respect I suspect many will use the overt display of Clinton's book as an excuse for not having the time to heed any of its lessons. Clinton should have known better. He could just as easily have produced a reality television program that could have been kick-started with the examples cited in his manuscript! What if people watching that program started thinking about what they could do to appear on subsequent episodes? That would be a concept!

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