Sticking it to the Man, in a Manner of Speaking
Today, on my lunch break, I decided to go browse for books at Chapters. I had no intention of buying anything, but when I got there I tried to find a copy of The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. To my surprise, they didn’t have this rather popular title in stock. Actually, there were only three copies to be found in all of the Chapters, Indigo and Coles on the island of Montreal. Montreal’s a big city, you would think this book would be a little easier to find.
This omission in Chapters in-store catalogue no longer came as such a surprise when I went looking for the women studies section of the store, because what I found was a section called gender studies, which consisted of two very small shelves of an odd assortment of titles. Sure enough they did carry some interesting books that spoke to a variety of gender identities, but these tiny little shelves also contained such titles as The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss.
On a more positive note, they did have three copies of Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Three copies they DIDN’T have three weeks ago when I ordered the very same book from their store. I might be wrong in the assumption that my ordering CUNT was a key factor in the decision to make copies available for their in-store customers, but this made me happy. Sure, I’m sure this decision was purely fueled by the idea that if they were able to make money selling one copy they would probably make more money if they had it in stock. Nevertheless, I felt like the power I have as a consumer lead to a positive change in the world.
I used to work at an Indigo store and I’m familiar with their selling tactics. A common practice is to shelve certain books so that the cover is visible to the customers or to place them on those little plastic racks at the end of each bookcase so that they are more visible and will sell better. The choice as to which books get to be placed in these prime spots is sometimes arbitrary and sometimes it’s a direct recommendation from higher up the food chain.
Who am I to question the higher-ups? Nobody really, except for the fact that I CAN and quite frankly enjoy doing so. When I worked at Indigo, I would take note of which books were facing out and which weren’t and if I thought that the strategically placed books were ALL representative of people and points of views that generally try to squash freedom and promote a very biased and centered idea of the world that does not make room for anything or anyone that questions the patriarchal, white, upper-middle class norms that the people in power are so fond of, I would exchange some of them for books that promote other kind of ideas. I wanted the selection to be more balanced and give a voice to every sphere of society.
This small habit that I picked up from my days at Indigo still trills me. I love it, because it’s such a subtle act. And today, that is precisely what I did when I took the three copies of Cunt: A Declaration of Independence and placed them, cover facing out, over the much more visible and accessible copies of The Game.
Try it, next time you’re in a bookstore and you’re browsing the politics section or the history section make sure that everyone has a voice. Maybe replace a book about Columbus with a book about the atrocities and still lingering affects of colonization. It’ll make you feel good, I swear. Consider it therapy for the soul.