Subversive Shelving for Beginners

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 9 2010 2:44 PM

Subversive Shelving for Beginners

As of this writing, there are 2,722 members of the Facebook group "Subversively move George W. Bush's memoir to crime section in book shops." Thegroup's goal, judging from its manifesto, is not necessarily to harm sales of DecisionPoints —the true-crime section probably attracts more motivated browsersthan the tables stocked with dull, earnest nonfiction anyway—but rather to "[m]akebookshops think twice about where they categorize our generation's greatest warcriminals." First stop, Barnes & Noble. Final destination, The Hague!

Crusades that label themselves subversive tend to be about as rebellious as sucking on a breathmint after brushing one's teeth before bedtime. But re-shelving presidential pensées is surely a new low innonviolent protest. Or it would be a new low if the guerrilla book-movers hadn'talready taken aim at prime ministerial pensées .Since its publication in early September, Tony Blair's AJourney has been relocated to the Crime , TrueCrime , Horror , DarkFantasy , FairyTales , and PainfulLives sections. (Does that last store have a separate Joyous Lives shelf,I wonder?) A Journey also seems tohave been placed in the underwearaisle , permitting the hilarious caption, "Blair is pants ."

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Of course, sometimes discussions of reshelving areappropriate. In the late 1980s, I worked at a feminist bookstore where we spentfar too long debating where to put Lynn Andrews' work. Her book MedicineWoman (along with several sequels) was presented as an autobiographicalaccount of a spiritual journey into Native American culture. Some Native womencomplained that Andrews, a Caucasian, was appropriating their culture. Faced witha request to remove the books, which sold very well, from the store, we insteadchose to move them from the Spirituality section to Fiction.

Generally, though, covert book-moving is juvenile andpointless—it simply creates unnecessary work for the people who get paid to putthe books in the right spot. Cyberprotesters, may I remind you of the primedirective: Fight the realenemy .

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.