Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Author scams - big time in the small time

I know political books are a strange game, and that people mess around with these books because they fear the ideas. When I was working at a Borders, once, I heard a customer bring a Dr. Laura Schlessinger book up to a fellow cashier and ask us to remove it from the shelf because she's homophobic. (my apologies for the link - click at your own discretion, as it's really her site.) Now, see here: this woman is NUTS. I've heard her show, sadly, and I've glanced at her books, with are written with her trademark shrill, overly moralistic tone. And I would hardly argue against accusations of homophobia. But I'm not sure it's at the level that it needs to be expunged from box store shelves. I've written about this before so I won't go into it, but I just wanted to mention the story as an example of how customers react to political books and authors.

When I was in the BookHampton in South Hampton last winter, which was a lovely little store with helpful staff, the cashier told me that they had had a political book table set up for the 2004 elections, and they had nothing but trouble. People were moving piles of books out of sight and turning books around, trying to silence the ones they didn't like. In an age of people calling books obsolete, these are visceral reactions.

But Shelf Awareness, in their daily email today, has this story from Kerry Slattery, general manager of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, that is completely nuts:
"The author Eric Alterman [a columnist at the Nation and author of What Liberal Media?, When Presidents Lie and more] was scheduled to appear at our store, and C-Span was planning to cover it. I got a call that morning from 'Eric Alterman's assistant,' who told me that he was terribly sorry, but that Eric woke up with a serious case of bronchitis and would not be able to catch his plane to do the event and wasn't able to talk at all--and that he felt just terrible about it. It was a very busy moment at the store and I didn't think to get the number, etc. The first thing I thought of was to call C-Span and let them know. I don't know why I didn't think to call the publicity person at the publisher, but I didn't have it handy and I was really busy, and the call seemed convincing to me. When I called C-Span, they contacted the publisher and found out that Alterman was indeed planning to appear and that the call was a scam (apparently from someone who didn't agree with the author's political views)! Fortunately, I hadn't sent out a cancellation e-mail, and everything was fine, but I felt so foolish for being taken in."

What is wrong with people? And Eric Alterman is not exactly calling for the overthrow of the media entirely - something I again would not necessarily oppose. And yet he elicits this kind of scam from some whackjob.

Well good - let books and authors anger people. It annoys me when you have talking heads screaming at one another on primetime "news" shows, but it's somehow satisfying to know that people who *don't* like Alterman and thinkers like him are nervous. Booksellers, however, watch out for these ridiculous scams!

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