Your local university bookstore, bringing Woke culture to a backward small town near you
It was just Commencement Weekend at the central Pennsylvania liberal arts college where I teach. COVID restrictions looked to be in serious retreat around town, as families were excitedly milling about on the main drag, many mask-free, and the whole area was bustling with the happy energy of a graduating class.
Our university bookstore is one of the main attractions on the town’s central street. As it happened, my wife, young daughter, and I stopped in to browse during all the commencement-related activity. I had not been in the store in nearly a year, and I noticed, the minute I stepped inside, that the signs of the ever-intensifying Woke Revolution were everywhere. Yes, university bookstores have long been sites for “progressive cultural outreach,” but things have clearly accelerated, to judge just from the visual architecture and content of the displays.
At the front entrance stood a huge entry display, a shelf boasting two seven-copy-high stacks of The Hill We Climb, the staggering banality of a poem that Amanda Gorman recited at Joe Biden’s inauguration, to the oleaginous praise of a swooning progressive America. This emaciated little book scarcely merits the descriptor, as the text that makes up the poem runs a mere 700 words (fewer than this article), which is just a bit more than one page single-spaced in 12-point font. Though the publisher inflated it intensely, printing each page with just a few lines, the whole thing clocks in at just over 30 pages. With a sticker price of $12.99, those 700 fiercely resistant words will cost you the same as a paperback copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare (Canterbury Classics edition) and an accompanying $2 cup of coffee. But, the welcome caffeine notwithstanding, what can the woefully non-diverse Bard have to say that isn’t said in a more inclusively excellent way by a “skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother”? And this masterpiece includes a foreword by none other than Oprah Herself!
So, there’s the leadoff batter for our bookstore. Who’s up next?
Two Obamas in a row, that’s who. Just to the right of this front display stood another huge one, bearing the title “National Campus Bestsellers,” with Barack’s A Promised Land and Michelle’s Becoming nestled in comfortably alongside other essentials for your awokening college student, such as Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. A good general rule: your university bookstore can never have enough advice books and autobiographies from progressive black politicians and celebrities. Never enough of those.
Just a bit further inside the store stood another display, this one proclaiming “Still, She Persists” and featuring books by women writers spanning the broad political spectrum from the far left (Stacy Abrams, Jill Lepore) to the slightly less far left (Elizabeth Warren, Madeline Albright). Also on this stack: Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s The Book of Gutsy Women, The Illustrated Feminist, 200 Women, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, and Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World. Oh, and one more—tucked away surreptitiously at the bottom—the autobiography of one Assata Shakur, a convicted terrorist cop-killer who escaped from prison with the aid of the Weather Underground and fled to communist Cuba, later inspiring the founders of Black Lives Matter with heartwarming statements such as this one: “Revolutionary war is a people’s war … Armed struggle can never be successful by itself; it must be part of an overall strategy for winning.” Here we have the full spectrum of persisting feminist women who won’t take “no” for an answer! (Shakur’s book is also assigned reading in at least one course at my university of which I am aware—it’s important to give students the murderous terrorist perspective on things too, you see, just for the sake of fairness.)
To balance out all this contemporary writing, facing the “Still, She Persists” display was a “Classics” shelf. Did I say, “balance out”? On the top row of this display of classic literature were featured only books by women—several each by Jane Austen, Willa Cather, and Kate Chopin, among others—with one lone male-authored exception—a meek Don Quixote—peeking nervously through that crowd.
Next to this shelf began the section on fiction. I wish you could see the photos I took of entire racks here to get a visual idea of the gender and racial representation of literary fiction presented. A consultation of these shelves would leave the browser with the distinct impression that the overwhelmingly vast majority of contemporary fiction is written by women, and much of this by women with distinctly diverse-sounding names such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hala Alyan, Xio Axelrod, and Wayetu Moore. I picked three shelves at random and counted the number of female and male names in the books placed facing out: fully 70% were books by women authors.
I then headed to the teen and children’s sections to see what the bookstore staff was promoting for the younger readers. An informal analysis of the faces on those books showed at least 1/3 of them as distinctively black. For reference, the white percentage of the population in the little town (population around 6,000) in which the bookstore sits is somewhere above 90%, and the faculty at the university are only slightly less white, around 85%. Blacks make up under 2% of the town’s population. The student body at the university is marginally more diverse, at 75% white and perhaps 3.5% black.
Books for young readers included the following titles, placed face-out on key eye-level shelves: Who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?, Baby Feminists Too, I Heart Science (with two scientists—both of color, naturally—on the cover), Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? (answer: one scientist—a black female one, of course—on the cover), Baby Geek (featuring a baby in a t-shirt with a picture of a slice of pie bearing the pi sign—can you guess the race of the baby? I bet you can), Little Heroes of Color, Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted, and Daddy and Dada. And no, the last is not about somebody’s father’s interest in an early-20th-century European avant-garde art movement, but rather about how awesomely cool it is to grow up without a mother.
By this point, I thought I might have enough data to write up something interesting and started out of the store. On the way out, I passed by the Science section. Face out, at eye level were two intriguing titles by female MDs: The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women and What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine. (Try to imagine a book about men modeled on the first title, and then immediately wash out your brain with soap, you disgusting misogynist!) Then my wife, aware of the little research project in which I was engaged, called me over to the Religion section. She pointed out several shelves of books on witches, witchcraft, and spells: among other titles, I glimpsed Hexing the Patriarchy, The Green Wiccan Spell Book, Wild Witch: A Guide to Earth Magic, and The Witch’s Book of Self-Care.
“How many people around here do you think are witches?” she inquired.
Good question. Here’s another: how many more will there be one day, if we can just get a few more university bookstores around here?