Book of the (National Book) Month

So it turns out that March is National Book Month.

One of my promises to myself, once I stopped being a poor graduate student and started being a productive member of society, was to buy more books. I like to read. But books are pricey, and when you’re a transient graduate student, you also become aware of just how much they weigh. So as an underemployed dissertator and adjunct instructor, I limited my non-academic book-related transactions to catching deals on my Kindle, borrowing e-books from the local library, and yes, even doing a little pirating.

Now, I have an income and I live in a town with a great little independent bookstore. So in addition to whatever else I might read for research or pleasure, and I’ve decided to start a one-man book club, a monthly event in which I visit my bookstore, purchase a paperback, read it, and maybe write up a word or two. And maybe some other folks out there will join me. It’s just an idea.

Other than the fact that it’s National Book Month, I started thinking about this because I recently revisited David Welky’s Everything Was Better in America, an excellent history of 1930s print culture. Among other topics, Welky examines the phenomenon of the Book of the Month Club, which began in 1926. The club, and its many imitators, were of course, efforts by savvy book industry men and women to sell products. Welky argues that the Book of the Month Club influenced presses to appeal to mass market audiences. The result, one might argue, was the homogenization of literature, and a shift towards inoffensive, middlebrow fare.

Still, there’s something nostalgia-inducing about imagining a time in which Americans partook in a national literary conversation. And without these clubs, it is unlikely that books like The Grapes of Wrath would have had the audiences that they had. On the other hand, they same could be said for Gone With the Wind. Maybe we do have a contemporary national book club, one whose curators are as diffuse as the nodes in our social networks, and it’s what pushes people to consume Twilight and Gone Girl. Is it nothing more than a pipe dream, then, to wish for all of us to get together to read Teju Cole? Or Gary Shteyngart? Or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Or Daniel Woodrell?

This month, I’ll settle for a book club of one. And I’ll be reading Phil Klay’s Redeployment. And maybe you’ll read it too. It’s out in paperback, and you shouldn’t have any problems finding it in your indie bookstore.