Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fighting the vast Right Wing with Pea Shooters, Part One: Books and Bookmakers

We progressive types are working overtime these days marching, rallying, sitting, petitioning.  We place ourselves prominently on Twitter (with our #p2, #OWS, and #CTL hashtags) and on Facebook.  More and more of us have taken to writing political blogs.  Our blogrolls feature other bloggers, other writers who work as hard or harder than we do, trying to sort out the truths behind America's astonishing decline and the Rightward drift that led us here.  Our job is to rout out the bad guys, to expose them and make sure justice take its course.  Some days we actually think we're winning.

Silly us.

This is not David and Goliath, with the little guy getting a chance at saving the day through luck and pluck.  Not anymore.  This is Goliath stomping David into the ground. There's David, bleeding and broken--but look!  He's still breathing!  David's crowd takes that as a sign of victory and moves on. The next time they'll try peashooters.

 In the 21st century--a century only slightly over a decade old and already the leading contender for "modern century most likely to return to the Dark Ages"--we the people are millions of little Davids and Big Business is one huge Goliath. We wee Davids actually thought if we worked hard and built up our troops and used truth as a weapon, we might some day be able to take Goliath down. We thought we might be able to survive and maybe even thrive without too much breakage or damage to our dignity.  We thought we could do it not by might (because we aren't the mighty ones, they are) but by using corny throwbacks like common sense and good will and solidarity.

 Again, who were we kidding? 

I'll give you one small example of Goliath's power and why we don't stand a chance:

Ever been in a Books-a-Million store? I hadn't either until I came south, and I went in innocently enough, as anyone would. It's a bookstore, after all, and I do love bookstores. But I didn't have to spend much time there before I began to see a trend: I am the kind of person they hate. I am the enemy. Me!

 I realize I'm in the south and the south is hostile to avowed liberals, but come on--let me at least get to the humor section before the attacks begin.

 This is what I encountered mere feet inside the door the other day:
At Books-a-Million, Myrtle Beach 1/25/12

This is an end cap in the main aisle. The titles change periodically, but the lean to the right never goes away. (I apologize for the poor photos. I took them with my kindergarten grade cell-phone camera, quickly so nobody would notice, because I was, after all, standing in plain view, because that's where these hostile books can best be seen.)

There is another Books-A-Million outside a huge mall a few miles from this smaller mall. They have an all-rightie-all-the-time end cap in their main aisle, too, so this is not just some Bubba manager's idea of fun, it's store policy. (In case you're wondering, I've looked all over for the liberal end caps.  They're not there.)

So then it came to me that if I buy something in a BAM! store (that's their nickname), I'm aiding the enemy. So I don't. Now I plan my trips to Books-a-Million as one would a reconnaissance mission, a stealth activity: Let's see what rotten propaganda they're pushing now.

Once I get past that ugly end cap, I spend a few refreshing minutes in the "Politics" aisle rearranging books so that the few liberal or even moderate books cover much of that junk. (Pathetic, I know, but it's the best I can do ever since I took that stand against vandalism.)

Then I grab something to read and sit at a table in their Joe Muggs Cafe (My own little sit-in I call it, since I read their books and magazines and never buy anything, but it's not as satisfying as it should be, since, so far. no one seems to notice.) 

I should mention that BAM! publishes a monthly Book Page magazine highlighting their latest books.  Mark R. Levin, a Right Wing radio personality and "the #1 bestselling author of Liberty and Tyranny and regular Fox News contributor"  is on January's cover. (Last month it was Glenn Beck). Levin has a new book out called, "Ameritopia, The Unmaking of America".  Before I saw that cover, I confess I had never heard of Mark R. Levin. (Am I the only one?  I don't know.  I only know that I was much happier before I knew that his new book, "Ameritopia" is at the top, the very tip-top, of this week's New York Times non-fiction bestseller list!   )

So I took a look at the new book by this guy who--my god! NYT Best Seller!--I really should have heard of by now. I turned page after page and, okay, as a new Mark R. Levin reader who is also a liberal, I'm as biased as biased can be.  But even I am shocked at how badly this book stinks!  

Let me tell you, he's no Glenn Beck.

From the Introduction:

In Ameritopia I explain that the heart of the problem is, in fact, utopianism, a term I discuss in great detail throughout the book.  Utopianism is the idealogical and doctrinal foundation for statism. While utopianism or statism or utopian or statist are often used interchangeably, the undertaking here is to probe more dceply into what motivates and animates the tyranny of statism.  Indeed the modern arguments about necessities and virtues of governmental control over the individual are but malign echoes of utopian prescriptions through the ages, which attempted to define subjugation as the most transcendent state of man.
Oh, my gawd. Huh? What?

But, wait...the first lines of the first chapter, "The Tyranny of Utopia":
 Tyranny, broadly defined, is the use of power to dehumanize the individual and delegitimize his nature.  Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable and even paradisiacal governing ideology.  There are, of course, unlimited utopian constructs, for the mind is capable of infinite fantasies.  But there are common themes.  The fantasies take the form of grand social plans or experiments, the impracticality and impossibility of which, in small ways and large, leads to the individual's subjugation.

And it goes on.  And. . .on.  And. . .on.

This book, I remind you, is NUMBER ONE ON THE NEW YORK TIMES NON-FICTION BEST SELLER LIST.  The book came out on January 17--less than two weeks ago--and already over 1200 people have reviewed it on Amazon, 876 of them giving it Five Stars

It's a runaway best seller and from where I'm sitting (In BAM!s Joe Muggs cafe) I'm concluding that something besides this book is stinking to high heaven.

Consider this:

After the closing of Borders Books in 2011, Books-a-Million became the second largest bookseller in the United States, behind Barnes and Noble.   They operate some 200 stores in the south, the northeast and in the midwest.  They've now taken over dozens of empty Borders stores and opened Books-A-Millions in their space.

And they sell millions of books on their website.  If you go on their site and click on the "Political Science" category, as I did yesterday,  on the very first page you'll find a mess of right wing and conservative books, from the current to the moldy old.  Glenn Beck is prominent, as is that guy, Mark R. Levin.  Laura Ingraham is there; so is Sarah Palin.  So is Bill O'Reilly, not for his most recent book about Lincoln, but for his memoir, published way back in 2008.

Bill Clinton and Zbigniew Brzezinski are there, too, but from what I can tell, they're mere tokens. (Unless maybe they said something bad about Obama. . .)  But I have to wonder why old books by the Righties, some more than three years old, are at the top of their list when so many other, newer  books might better deserve to be there.

Mark R. Levin's "Ameritopia" is his second book for Threshold Publishing, a Simon and Schuster imprint that exclusively publishes conservative books, many of which rise to the top of the NYT best seller list.  Levin's book, "Liberty and Tyranny" (There's that word again) also hit the top of the NYT bestseller list, and now he, along with Glenn Beck, is Threshold's star.  Mary Matalin is its Editor-in-Chief.  (I looked hard for a liberal arm of Simon and Schuster (a CBS company), or any other publishing company, and--no surprise--there are none.)

In a telling article about Threshold in Politico, July 21, 2009, it's clear that any liberal expecting to write a best-seller might better stick to fiction:
Adam Bellow, executive editor at HarperCollins, noted that conservative publishing first took off in the 1990s, with the New York houses initially resistant — until the possible payoff became obvious for books taking shots at liberals. (Bellow edited Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” for Doubleday.) Now, going forward, he notes there are challenges ahead for upstart imprints like Threshold.

“If you’re setting up an imprint, you’re taking on a real financial challenge,” Bellow said. “You have to have screaming commercial best-sellers. You have to keep delivering them year after year. The success at Threshold, which took a while to find its legs, has been largely to do with Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. And the success of those books is that these authors have enormous media platforms.”

Bellow, who’s editing Sarah Palin’s much-anticipated memoir, said he expects that at least through Obama’s presidency, publishing houses will stay committed to churning out conservative books for at least one reason sure to keep publishing executives — whether right, left or in between — pleased. “Feeding that market will continue, because it’s going to be profitable,” he said.
So what's to stop a big bookseller like BAM! from manipulating the market?  (They also own a book distribution company.) What's to stop Threshold?  What's to stop any of the Right Wing top guns--the Koch Brothers, say-- the people with all the money?  What's to stop them from buying up tens or even hundreds of thousands of these books and sitting on them?  (It's been done before on a smaller scale.  Remember the fuss about Newt Gingrich during the congressional hearings just before they gave him a big, fat noogie?  Seems he got some Big Guys to put up $150,000 to promote and/or buy up his book, Window of Opportunity to make it look like people were actually reading it.)  And what's to stop 800+ stooges from churning out magnificent reviews for a book that nobody in their right mind would actually read through to the end?

Does anybody really believe that the average reader is clamoring for more of the same from Mark R. Levin?  (That same Mark R. Levin who gushes his thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in his Ameritopia acknowledgements?)  Unless you're hopelessly in love with the words "utopianism", "statism" and "tyranny", there's nothing juicy in there, no matter how hard you look.  It's one endless, dry paragraph after another.

Just as radio and TV stations can promote their own and manipulate their viewership into believing that their way is the way it is, the way it should be, and ever will be, so can book stores, simply by advertising and placement.  But this appears to be beyond simply leading a horse to water.  Somebody is buying up and pushing those books, and it ain't the general public. 

But to be fair, in that same BAM! store I managed to find a slim volume called "What it means to be a Democrat",  written by George McGovern and published this past November by Blue Rider Press, a new imprint from Penguin.

Sen. McGovern's book was one of first on Blue Rider's list to make it to the bookstores.  It's a tribute to publisher David Rosenthal (fired by Simon and Schuster after 13 years), who chose a book so important in its own way, but with virtually no chance at bestsellerdom.  That little book, so honest and true, so meaningful to those of us who work to make the Senator proud by living by his ideals, will never reach the top of the NYT best-seller list.  And what a crying shame that is.
Above all, being a Democrat means having compassion for others.  It means putting government to work to help the people who need it. 

It means using all available tools to provide good health care and education, job opportunities, safe neighborhoods, a healthy environment, a promising future.

It means standing up for people who have been kept down, whether they are native Americans or African Americans, women, immigrants, or the homeless.

It means taking care of the mentally ill, of seniors, of vulnerable children, of veterans--and making sure all people are treated with respect and dignity.

(Introduction to "What it Means to be a Democrat" by George McGovern.) 


  1. Thanks, Ramona, for reminding me that other thinking people are in the world, continue to care, and share their thoughts.

    Although you start out by noting that there are a bunch of folks doing that, via blogs, and blogs about blogs, and similar, the thoughts and community are needed.

    I am in Michigan, haven't seen a BAM yet in my neighborhood. Although it is SAD when I pass the giant and always-used-to-be-busy Borders building in Birmingham MI on Woodward, fine with me that it hasn't reopened as a BAM.

    Thanks for sharing your observations.

    1. Anon, we are building a community that works together and finally we're beginning to see positive results. Occupy Wall Street couldn't have happened without the Internet swarm spreading the word about where the protests the protests would be. Then, sometimes while they were happening, the play by plays told us of their progress or the obstacles in their place. I don't think the recall petitions in Wisconsin would have reached a million signatures without Twitter and Facebook and individual blogs. I don't think OWS would have grown to such numbers without the internet telegraph.
      It's an exciting place to be right now but there is still so much work to be done. So the more the merrier and thanks so much for chiming in.

      I think there are only two BAM stores in Michigan right now--one is in Traverse City and the other is in Monroe. I don't know if they took over existing Border's stores but I wouldn't be surprised. I'm a Michigander, too, and I don't want even one of them there.

  2. Good post. My first reaction was, well, it is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – some lovely people, but crazy politics. However, the monthly Book Page magazine you cite does change the picture. Conservatives have indeed done bulk buys for at least a decade to goose their "bestseller" numbers, and then sell the books at a steep discount, give them away as subscription gifts, or chuck them.

    Levin believes himself to be a great intellectual, and markets himself as one. I also can't read mention him Levin and his "books" without thinking of Dahlia Lithwick's classic review of Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America:

    I use the word "book" with some hesitation: Certainly it possesses chapters and words and other book-like accoutrements. But Men in Black is 208 large-print pages of mostly block quotes (from court decisions or other legal thinkers) padded with a foreword by the eminent legal scholar Rush Limbaugh, and a blurry 10-page "Appendix" of internal memos to and from congressional Democrats—stolen during Memogate. The reason it may take you only slightly longer to read Men in Black than it took Levin to write it is that you'll experience an overwhelming urge to shower between chapters.

    1. Batocchio, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing Dahlia Lithwick's review of one of Levin's books. Her review was written almost six years ago and Levin is still being touted as a "best-selling author". Gaaaahhhh!!

      I love this from Lithwick's piece: "Men in Black never gets past the a.m.-radio bile to arrive at cogent analysis. Each of the first three chapters ends with the word 'tyranny.' Absent any structure or argument, this book could just have been titled Legal Decisions I Really, Really Hate."

      Six years ago he was over-using the word "tyranny"! It's just too absurd. And disgusting. Shame, shame, shame on the New York Times. How long must these charades go on?

    2. And, hey, thank you, thank you, thank you for putting the link to this post up on Mike's Blog Roundup on Crooks and Liars. 580 hits and climbing. WooHoo! I LOVE you guys!


  3. The Goodwill store in Nashville has two HUGE tables of hardcover right wing literature (sic). It was pretty icky. Anyway, it was there in Dec. and I rechecked in Jan. - still appeared to be same size! I keep wondering about the Goodwill shopper who would spring for these 1.99 books. Also wonder about the charitable deduction taken by these disreputable publishers.

    1. Well, good that nobody is buying them but shame on Good Will for charging $1.99 for them. lol

      Were they new books with several copies of the same titles? If so, I would love to know where they came from.

  4. I know that the conservative movement has bought up books to give a book hype and increase sales and/or to make certain books appear to be top sellers when they aren't. However, being someone who likes to be truly fair and honest, is this a practice of the left, even if on a more limited scale. I do remember many years ago that a Democrat senator, Wright - I believe his name was, had some ethics inquiries for doing what Gingerich later did.

    1. Mike, Jim Wright was accused of arranging for bulk sales of his book to groups in lieu of speaker fees so he could get past speaker fee limits. He was forced to resign over it. Newt got smacked cross the fingers by congress but kept his job.

      The article indicates that the NYT Bestsellers List once used a dagger mark to indicate bulk sales but I looked at it today and it no longer does.


      I'm sure bulk sales are common practice everywhere, but what I'm talking about here is a concerted effort to drive book sales up in order to make it appear that a book is a national best seller. It's not illegal. It's probably not even unethical, but when it comes to trying to sway people toward a philosophical point of view and make it seem more legitimate, it's downright dishonest.

  5. LOL I would totally do the same thing...subtly and quietly place liberal books on top of the others!

    I don't think we have a BAM! around here, and after reading this, I wouldn't shop at one even if we did.

  6. Beth, there are now two BAM! stores in Michigan and I'm heartsick about it. We have a Koch Brothers governor and now this!

    But moving liberal books to the forefront has become a new hobby of mine, so I may have to look up those BAM!s and see what I can do.

  7. Hmm. I worked for many years for both Barnes & Noble and for Borders. You would see the polar opposite there, just stacks and stacks of left-wing books on the main aisle. The problem is that the picture is wrong from both sides. We're supposed to have at least some democratic (little "d") principles in this country, so both sides deserve a voice in the public arena! Why are so many liberals against free speech these days? Ah, you must have forgotten your roots.

    1. Where was it written that I don't think both sides should be heard? No, my complaint is that bookstores, of all places, shouldn't be biased toward one political philosophy over another.

      That sorry argument about liberals being against free speech is as phony as Rick Santorum's piety. Especially coming from someone who hides under "anonymous".


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