Having been a guest on former Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara’s podcast, “Stay Tuned With Preet,” Bassem Youseff decided that if Preet could get a show from Cafe, so could he.
Bassem was a surgeon in Egypt who, during the Arab Spring, started a YouTube series to show what was really happening on the front lines of the protests. This grew in popularity until he was offered a TV show, and that grew in popularity until he was hitting 14 million viewers a week and being called the Egyptian Jon Stewart. And until the government decided his humor and honesty was dangerous and tried to arrest him. He tells a hilarious story while speaking with Preet about being brought in for questioning by the authorities, and as much as I laughed at this, I can’t believe someone in the government or a member of the pro-Islamist faction that also hated him, didn’t find some reason to execute him.
That’s the shorter, less funny version of how Bassem essentially had to flee to America, so definitely go and listen to his appearance on “Stay Tuned” when Preet went live at the Apollo theater, and then check out his new podcast, “ReMade in America.”
It’s the second episode of his show that made me stop what I was doing and really listen, as it seemed to be a convergence of multiple ideas and stories that had been circling me recently. In this episode, Bassem speaks with Baratunde Thurston about controlling your own story, your narrative, and how the United States was essentially built on destroying an entire race’s ability to do just that. As George Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
As Baratunde begins to talk about that, about the history of slavery and the systemic, institutional racism that is the inoperable cancer of our nation, I was reminded of a passage by James Weldon Johnson that I came across the other day, that I believe comes from his book “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”.
“…but if the Negro is so distinctly inferior, it is a strange thing to me that it takes such tremendous effort on the part of the white man to make him realize it, and to keep him in the same place into which inferior men naturally fall.”
Apparently—apparently—according to the company brochure, this is a word that booksellers often use. While it is not found in every dictionary, they say, it does describe the “greatest pleasure of all”; the book one simply cannot stop reading nor refrain from hand-selling to every customer one comes across.
No one who actually works for a living at a bookstore has ever or will ever use that word as anything other than a punch line for how out of touch our corporate handlers who dictate bookselling programs are with actually selling books.
Unputdownable. Break it down, sound it out. Think about each part. Remove a piece and think about what the new meaning would be. Putdownable. Downable. Putdown. Unput. Each part and even the word as a whole, rolls off the tongue with a sound so ridiculously reminiscent of Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984 I have to wonder in which edition of Big Brother’s dictionary the folks at Home Office found this word.
Is it in an attempt to appear of a superior intelligence that they chose this word? Or simply a desire to use a unique phrase as their calling card? If it was the former, in order to display intelligence to their customer base all they really needed to say was ‘it was good’.
“This book was good. I really liked it. You should read it too. The End.”
That’s all they actually needed to say to get the point across to the average customer. Even better would have been to use a picture of a thumbs up on the brochure. They could have saved a lot of money on their pamphlets, not to mention time searching through the dictionary for a word as unique and rare as unputdownable. It took three booksellers ten minutes and sixteen different dictionaries to even find one with ‘unputdownable’ even in it. At corporate? There must have been dozens of unpaid interns and several executive committees to discuss the finding and selection of this miraculous, holy grail of a bookselling word.
And yes, in the above customer interaction example, it would be necessary to write ‘the end’ or else, as with the calendar of in-store events available at the Customer Services counter, the customer would continue to flip the Recommends pamphlet over, as if waiting for something new to appear on one of the sides of the page. Much like my roomate realized, pointing to the light switch across the room and saying “Lumos!” will not cause the light to turn on, neither will continuously flipping a piece of paper over will not change what has been printed on it.
Stop it. Put it down. You’re an idiot.
Perhaps, much like the titles featured in the company recommendations program, that calendar of in-store events is simply unputdownable. Perhaps it should be the next selection? It may be so well written, so informative, so engrossing, so gifted in inspiring the need for each and every book club and author signing and story time to take place immediately as the waiting for events a day or weeks in the future could very well induce vomiting and death, that the customer will refuse to believe they’ve truly come to the end of events. In their desperation they flip it over and over again until eventually the movement becomes slower and slower until they finally reach acceptance with the end. Perhaps an understanding too, that soon, even before they know it, a new month will be put out and maybe, just maybe, if the heavens smile upon them and the stars align in their favor, this one too will be unputdownable.
But why not take it a step further and give the customer the most superunputdownablest collection ever? Why not give them what they truly crave to satiate their endless hunger? Why not collect each month’s calendar of in-store events newsletter in one complete attractive gold-edged leather-bound edition, available exclusively at your local bookstore?
Each reading group moderator and story time facilitator could sign the title page, creating not only its very own historical in-store event in the process, but transforming a simple, yet elegant, book into a family heirloom to be brought out at special gatherings and shown with awe and respect to those gazing in wonder as the stories are told of the calamitous Thursday Thrillers meeting at which a pair of dentures were viciously destroyed at the hands of the unspeakable formidability of a cement-like Rice-Krispie treat purchased from the café that was, unbeknownst to the victim, past it expiration date.
Or perhaps the now infamous Friday Story Time of aught-eight, as it has since become known in bookstore lore, when those children, led in song showed that although mere children, they were happy, they knew it, and yes, yes my friend, they clapped their hands. It was an experience that was truly…
Originally published through MattS’ MySpace page back in the day when that was a thing, this post was edited on 12/29/2014 in an honest attempt to make it not suck.