Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Open Letter To Barnes & Noble, from An Employee

I've been working at Barnes & Noble for roughly a year and a half now and I frankly enjoy it. My coworkers are good people, and I'm around books all day, which is why folks like me usually take jobs like this in the first place.

Occasionally, though, I see something that makes me raise my eyebrows, and, far more rarely, something that just plain irks me.

At the moment, consider me irked.

Now, let me first say that I fully support the B&N mission to sell pretty much anything that is printed on some form of paper and bound between two covers. We'll pimp anything in print, and chocolate besides - it's how we make money, and that's fine; I'm a capitalist, after all.

Let me also say that, in regards to books that may be found offensive by the adherents of certain religions, I recognize that Barnes & Noble has the right to not carry certain magazines that have cartoons that may be found offensive by rampaging muslims while at the same time carrying any number of books that are most certainly found offensive by religions that don't issue fatwas. It's a free market, and you have the safety of your employees to consider.

Let me also say right up front that I do not think you are currently carrrying anything in your inventory that I believe should be pulled out of your inventory, no longer to be sold by B&N. I don't believe it's possible to sell any book at all that couldn't be found offensive in some way by someone. I haven't met a person yet who didn't have a sore spot or two when it came to Things In Print. Try to appease everyone, and you'll soon end up selling nothing. I understand this point.

That being said . . .

I am irked about a certain book. I am not going to ask you to stop selling it - it's a big seller, after all - nor am I going to suggest that you're going to hell, or wherever, for carrying it at all.

The book is Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, reviewed here. It is not a happy or religiously inspirational book to read, certainly. The back cover alone, which describes the Mormon church as "Taliban-like", would be amusing in some other context. The book itself is less amusing, arguing that Mormons - all Mormons, and not just a few polygamist nutjobs - are potentially violent, perhaps murderously so, precisely because of our religion. (Yes, I am Mormon.)

Well, Krakauer is certainly free to have such a view and to write it, just as B&N is free to sell his book in an open market place.

What I want to know is, how did this book end up on two - count them, 2 - different displays on Barnes & Noble's display tables? And, in regards to at least one table, I'm talking about Store List books, books that some yahoo in a cubicle in Marketing at B&N's headquarters has decided need to be displayed on specific tables or endcaps in the store.

Under the Banner of Heaven appears on both the "Religion & Inspiration" table and, amazingly, the Easter table.

It boggles the mind. Unless I missed one, Krakauer's book is the ONLY negatively-themed book on BOTH tables. As it is frankly a sloppily-researched attack on a major religion, what is it doing on these displays?

I mean, Good Lord, at the very least I'd like to know how this book ended up on an Easter display, seeing as it has nothing to with discussing the Mormon POV of Christ's Resurrection? More tellingly, why isn't it being accompanied on the Religion & Inspiration table by equally ridiculous and offensive choices, such as "The Catholic Menace!" or "Those Damn Jews Ate My Baby!"

Just curious.

Cameron Wood
Store 2751

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