I got an interesting email last week from an employee at a bookstore chain. Previously, I had written about the state of publishing a couple times and pointed out who doesn’t have a problem offering books that … might not be good for people.

“Not good” in my world means books that espouse worldviews that are harmful. As a hypothetical case, I’d have a problem with a store that stocked the Satanic bible.

The employee gave me a detailed analysis of what is important in the chain that employs him. Not surprisingly, what is important is the bottom line. Period. Very detailed sales reports monitor the buying habits of people who have been fed fluff by these stores and the vendors who supply them.

The chain maintains a veneer of conservative religious stock.

But they also champion either fluff or outright dangerous books by heretical authors.

The titles that deal with things like “Having the Coolest Life in Five Minutes” are created to make money, period. The byproduct is that they appeal to the basest human nature: the appeal to self. So I consider those titles harmful, and yet chain stores (and some independents) pander to human nature. Their purpose isn’t to edify, but to ring up sales.

Further, there is the error of omission. Many bookstores, especially the chains – okay, I’ll say it, Christian chains – will not promote titles that really need to be put in front of readers. Of course, the excuse is always used that they are just giving the public what it wants. Perhaps, to a degree, that is true.

But if I owned a store, I’d rather promote titles that educate and alert, rather than pander. Why not have readings and in-store discussions on titles like “Economics Does Not Lie” by Guy Sorman? Or how about “Muslim Mafia” by Dave Gaubatz and Paul Sperry? Or “A Wonderful Deception” by Warren B. Smith?

I can tell you, though, that at least two of those books would be anathema to Christian bookstores. They wouldn’t want to offend the mosque down the street or the emergent village folks up the street.

So it was that I really reflected on the email and was happy that at least someone on the inside knows the truth. This person also understands how many of the publishers who feed product to these stores think. The idea is to turn a bestselling author’s book into a mug, or art print, or candle. Any overpriced gift item that will take dollars away from books that inform and alert us to dangers in our world.

I thought it courageous, too, even though the person remains anonymous. Isn’t it sad that in 2009 America, these things aren’t talked about openly?

So in the end, it’s just kind of sad that a chain store employee has to clandestinely inform, albeit in a most fascinating email. It all reminds me of the hilarious exchange between Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) in “The Odd Couple.”

Felix had fixed a terrific spaghetti dinner. It looked great, it was filling. But for Oscar, it wasn’t what he needed or really wanted. So he threw it at the wall. As they watched the noodles and sauce slide down the wall – Felix starting in disbelief – Oscar growled, “Now, it’s garbage.”

Much like the titles that chain stores choose to stock.

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