Now, Where’s That Gonna Go?

So two weeks after moving into our new apartment, things are taking shape and beginning to feel like “home,” or at least as much as an apartment can. Most of this afternoon was spent with final tweaking, and unpacking books to place them on the bookshelves, the placement of which we had finally decided. Karen and I both have our share of obsessive-compulsive tendencies (I prefer “organizationally gifted”), and we like to organize our bookshelves by book type: plays together, fiction together, childrens’ lit. together…you get the idea. As we were placing old textbooks onto the appropriate shelves, Karen pulled out a text on “Principles of Marketing” from my undergrad, and asked succinctly where to place this as it didn’t match with anything else we own.

The textbook came from a marketing class I took in my last year of my undergrad, when I had (erroneously) stopped 6 credit hours short of my theatre degree, and declared a psychology minor to accompany my other major of communication. Having thus made the decision I would later regret to bow to the questions of “what kind of job are you going to get with that?”, I was looking for a way to make my communications degree more marketable, and I took a marketing class. A little over a year later, I stumbled into the psychology field and have made my living that way ever since, even though I’ve never been able to get theatre out of my blood. God has a sense of humor.

All that to say, I’m glad that a marketing textbook doesn’t fit in with anything else we own, because I hate the concept of marketing. What I realized tonight, though, is that it is an unfortunate necessity in our culture.

The realization came as Karen was distracted and drawn (as will inevitably happen) into reading the books she was trying to place onto shelves. She read some amazing passages by Douglas Coupland, from his book Life After God. I was struck by the ironic connection to our discussion over the marketing textbook, because I would never have picked up this book to read it. The cover is one of the worst designs I’ve ever seen (ironically not the one pictured in this Amazon link; our copy has a baby in a swimming pool. Horrible). My loss, because the passages Karen read aloud were some seriously amazing prose, and I now have every intention of digging into Coupland’s work further. Had she not gotten me past the cover, however, that would have never happened.

Similarly, I was strolling through the local Barnes & Noble last winter and ended up purchasing a copy of Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber (again, not the cover art in this Amazon link…my copy has a white minimalist winter scene that reached off the shelf and grabbed me). I highly recommend the book, which I ended up very drawn into, even though I wasn’t looking for a crime thriller at the time. This one, as it turned out, was of extremely high literary quality. I stumbled onto it because of the cover. Marketing worked here as well as it would have in reverse of the horrible cover to our copy of the Coupland book.

I see marketing having positive and negative effects on us. At the end of the day, I don’t see our culture working without it, but it still ultimately leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because I think it leads to a notable absence of authenticity. The whole idea of selling art and finding a “target audience” is somehow repellent to me, but I see the necessity of it, I suppose. That’s why I’m the writer and not the agent, I guess.

It also lends a fresh credence to that old adage of not being able to judge a book by its cover.

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