Big Boxification

When was the last time I purchased an actual book at Barnes and Noble? In a vain hope that they might have something intellectual and edgy, I stop in once in a while. If I were a faster learner I might have known that I’d leave disappointed. You see, it’s been rainy a lot around here and rainy Saturdays are perfect for book stores. But where are the good books? I’m not just picking on B&N. I stopped in Bed, Bath, and Beyond (they don’t really use the Oxford comma, but then, who had time for commas?). This is not a frequent occurrence since we rent and it’s hard to gentrify bohemian decor, but we needed a practical household item. After wandering enough aisles that I thought it was time to hire a jungle guide, I found that the choices were actually rather limited. If I don’t like what they tell me to like, well, I’m out of luck. The local stores were driven out of business, you see, and you have to like what we have to offer because we are the BIG GUYS.

It’s not just housewares. It’s everywares. We’re a big box society. Costco and Sam’s Club and SUVs to haul it all home. Once, back when paper was still a thing, I had to find some file folders. I tend to like color coding—my non-Harvard-educated mind just rolls that way. So I went to the local stationary store and found a virtual reading rainbow of options. A year or so later, strangely, more papers had accumulated. I went back and the store was out of business. A Staples had opened nearby. Everyone was going there. They offered a superfluous loyalty card—where else would you go? They had four colors of folders. Just four. In industrial cardboard boxes that mean business. I mean BUSINESS. You want choices? There’s a clinic down the road. Unless you’re female, of course.

Photo credit: Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons

I’m not a genius, but I can recognize repeating patterns. Big box settles outside your town then limits your choices. I consume, therefore I am. To buy, or not to buy? I am not a number, I am a—what? What am I if I’m not a consumer? A communist, I guess. And everyone knows the Bible says communism is evil. And if you need a Bible you can purchase one from Sam’s Club. To be part of the resistance, you need to buy from Amazon. What a radical I’ve become! At least at Amazon they still have books.


Factor Fiction

An article on CBS that my wife sent me tells how Costco mistakenly labelled a shipment of Bibles as fiction, setting off a tweet-storm. Some offended, some applauding, a 140-character barrage ensued as Costco apologized. What was the fuss about? As a person who has experience with both fact and fiction, it has become clear to me over the years that these categories are not nearly as sharply defined as they might appear. We make labels to help us categorize a confusing reality. Our brains, nevertheless, easily accept fiction as fact, at least for purposes of getting along in the world. The earth is spinning, right now, at over 1,000 miles per hour. We don’t perceive it, and in fact, it took not a few deaths and apologetic clerics before it was admitted that evidence we don’t feel proved the case. Each day we choose to believe the fiction that we are holding still and the sun goes overhead. Is anybody tweeting about that?

One of the angry bird calls pointed out that Costco (which apparently now has an imprimatur) doesn’t label their Qurans as fiction. How many Christians have read the Rig Veda and not wondered whether its proper label fell on that side of the pricing gun? The matter of fact or fiction is one of opinion. Even those books bearing the label of non-fiction are interpretations of evidence. When it comes down to ultimate truth, where it lies is always a matter of faith. Who buys a Bible at Costco anyway?

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When I was a child and Amazon did not exist, buying a Bible was itself a kind of sacred act. You wouldn’t think of going to Wal-Mart to do such a thing. You went to the Christian bookstore (or, I suppose, if you grew up in a city, a secular bookstore might do). You talked to clerks who knew the differences between versions. The place smelled of leather and velvet. It was a place dedicated to the truth. Costco is a big box store. Buying in bulk implies something. Ironically, those who angrily tweet about the Bible’s label don’t seem to realize that Bible selling is big business. You won’t find much in the way of small publishers’ literature in such a store. Next to your giant cartons of cereal and immense packages of diapers, why not tuck in a Bible as well? When you get home you can tweet about how much money you saved buying eternal salvation in bulk.