Yesterday, on a dictionary errand, I went into a large bookstore in the next town. It’s a typical installation, with a coffee-house on one wall, music and video in the back. It has, perhaps, a few hundred thousand books on the shelves, tastefully arranged around leather chairs. I love book stores, always have.
I decided that I wanted to search out a religious book, a notorious project by the Virginian Thomas Jefferson. You know the one. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth is an interesting project that you should read about, but not right now. Suffice it to say that it’s sometimes called the Jefferson Bible.
So I looked for it.
Fruitlessly, it seems. The religion section in any American bookstore is large, provided that you are seeking one of the many flavors of Christianity. I found fifty different kinds of bibles, with various qualities of cover and annotations. Next to it was a large section of Christian commentary of the “How to Read the Bible” sort. Next to that was a section of books by or about the various icons of the Christian right, Sarah Palin, Joel Osteen, etc.
So, like any well-trained student, I went to the card catalogue. No longer on cards, these wonderous devices can link you to books on any subject, and, for a price, deliver it directly to your door. It’s the kind of thing that a person with a bad book habit, like me, should probably avoid. One interesting feature of this bit of software is that it tells you if a book is likely to be in the store. So I searched.
Not only was the book I wanted not in the store, there was only one book of Jefferson’s anywhere. Jefferson was prolific, highly influential, and well-regarded in his day. One thing he isn’t, now, is popular. The books that are in the store, in carefully arranged displays that target the impulse buyer, are the ones that people actually read. They are not necessarily the ones that, I think, they should read.