Monday, June 30, 2008


We're Doomed

Thanks to a great present from my wife of a generously large gift card to Barnes & Noble, which just opened a two-story location in our local mini-mega-mall, I spent a pleasant hour+ becoming acquainted with its wares this evening (David Quammen's The Reluctant Mr. Darwin and an inexpensive copy of Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, if you must know, as an appetizer).

However, as always, I came away from a visit to one of these bastions of current American taste in reading rather depressed. The science section was excruciatingly small and tucked away in the farthest corner from the door. Not counting "Idiot Guides" and their kin, there was no more than four six-foot-high, four-foot-wide shelves devoted to books on science. A good portion of those were biographies, such as Quammen's, and most of the rest were popularizations of science. There were little or no "hard" science, though, to be fair, they may have been shelved in the "Reference" section, which I did not peruse. And then you had the gross mis-shelving, such as Guillermo Gonzalez' The Privileged Planet, flying under false science colors.

On the other hand, there were three of the same sized shelves of Bibles alone. Add to that four shelves of "Christian Inspiration" and four more of just plain "Christian" books and science was greatly outgunned by one religion alone. Add to that sections on "Eastern Religions," "New Age," "Astrology," and the like, and science was swamped by purveyors of faith. And we need not even count the ordinary woo, such as "Alternative Medicine." Heck, even one sub-category of Japanese animation known as "Manga" had more shelf space than science.

It's not like Americans don't have some sort of interest in science -- the science fiction section was five times larger than the science area. We just like to read about fantastic futures we won't be participating in.

The only hopeful sign was that there were a large selection of low-cost Barnes & Noble editions of great literature that were being pushed as "summer reading." Maybe future generations of Americans will at least be reading the classics during lulls in serving up hamburgers to the Chinese and Indian tourists.

I feel your pain, brother. Visiting B&N has been an exercise in angst lately.
And I'm always ambivalent too -- which just adds to the pain -- because the younger generation at least seem willing to come to a store that mostly has books and actually pay for some approximation of literature and knowledge. I had lived in dread of having an "Eloi moment," when everyone around me, drugged on tv and computer games and the internet, had forgotten what books were or why they were important.
I was in the York (Penna.) B&N the other day, looking for Lauri Lebo's The Devil in Dover. It took me a long time to find the small collection of science books. That was after I checked the computer to find the book's location--it might have been in the York/Pennsylvania local interest or some other section. (And there turned out to be a big pile of them by the checkout line.)
Well, at least those of us who seek out science will always have a job, even if not in this country...
I was referred to this post by Dana, and I must say that I empathize. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with what gets passed off as "literature" these days!

Good luck in your pursuit of science!
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