Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
9 out of 10
Cancel culture? If it's like this, sign me up! Also, 7 other things worth your time.
I once knew an author who really wanted to be on the New York Times bestselling list — so badly, in fact, that he had the words “New York Times Best Seller” tattooed in mirror script on his chest as motivation.
I think he’s still trying to achieve that goal, but it turns out there’s another, much faster way to get books to the top of the bestseller lists.
Don’t try this at home, my friends, but it’s what the folks who now own the copyrights to the catalog of Dr. Seuss books have accomplished this week. It goes like this:
Review your catalog and conclude that while some of Seuss’s books are beloved, others contain racist language, images, and stereotypes.
Announce boldly — on Seuss’s birthday, no less — that you’re discontinuing publication of six offending titles as a result (out of 60 or so).
Bunker down, as you’re pummeled nonstop for being the latest example of “cancel culture.”
Laugh all the way to the bank, as your remaining catalog shoots to the top of the bestseller lists, and you get much more attention than you otherwise would have.
Seriously, as I’m writing this, here’s what the Amazon Best Seller List looks like.
Not the children’s bestseller list, mind you, not the bestseller list of books written by authors who died in 1991 and thus haven’t had a new title in years — but the overall, cross-genre, every-book-on-the-platform bestseller list:
The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection, by Dr. Seuss
Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss
Fox in Sox, by Dr. Seuss
Life After Death, by Sister Souljah
The Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss
What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss
That’s 9 out of the top 10, and 27 out of the top 100.
(At risk of a tangent, it’s ironic that Sister Souljah is the only author to crack Seuss’s iron grip on the top 10, since we’re talking about authors and artists being publicly repudiated.)
Now, even though I used the phrase “cancel culture” above, I take some issue with it here.
The six titles being pulled clearly have racist imagery. They were of a different time, and it makes sense to prune our cultural canon once in a while. It’s inevitable in fact, because there’s only so much reading time in one person’s life (or one child’s), and there are always newer authors, other options.
Nostalgia alone doesn’t equal greatness.
But in the late Theodor Seuss Geisel’s case, even dropping these six titles leaves 55 other books — along with annual TV specials, movie deals, and a business that did $33 million last year.
In fact, while Geisel sold an astounding 200 million books during his lifetime—he’s actually sold many more (450 million!) posthumously.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d only even heard of two of the six books that Dr. Seuss Enterprises says it’s pulling: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo.
Did I ever read them as a kid? Did I ever share them with my daughter as a dad? If so, I have zero recollection, so they didn’t leave much of an impression.
Beyond that, the others on the list might as well have been Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie, for all I knew of them: McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super, and The Cat's Quizzer.
Seuss had gifts. He was prolific. I tried to copy his style once as a sort of parody-slash-homage in an article for Inc.com; it was a spectacular failure.)
But, he was a product of his time, and I’m not going to cry to learn that people are moving on, ever so slightly.
Plus, if being canceled means your books rocket to the top of the lists, then sign me up. No tattoo required.
7 other things worth your time
We are getting closer to another stimulus Bill, but one senator delayed passage by invoking a rule that required its entire 628-page text to be read aloud in the Senate before it can proceed. (Journal-Sentinel)
Martin Shkreli, the so-called PharmaBro, who first became famous after he hiked the price of a lifesaving drug by 4,100% and who is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for an unrelated crime, was hit with a proposed class action lawsuit asking for at least $200 million in damages. (CourtListener)
An ex-Maryland police chief, whose LinkedIn profile describes himself as “happily retired, but also happy to help!” and proclaims that “95% of your challenges in law enforcement melt away if you remember to speak to people the way you would want to be spoken to,” was arrested and charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and arson, after authorities said he spent 10 years targeting people he had disagreements with. (LinkedIn, Baltimore Sun)
About 10 years ago, when I was at Stars & Stripes, I spent some time talking with a group of roughly 90 U.S. veterans who had not been American citizens, and who had later committed felonies, and been deported to Mexico. They mostly lived in a single town together, near the border at the time. Here we are a decade later, and they’re renewing their attempt to come home. (Daily Beast)
Grocery stores say they’re starting to see the pandemic boom-time slip away, as people prepare for a return to normalcy (and stop hoarding). (CNN)
“While much has been made of the reported exodus of technology firms from San Francisco to new hubs like Austin … the phenomenon is not as common as many think. While Elon Musk has of course relocated to Texas, ‘96.9% of startups stayed in the Bay Area during 2020.’" (Business Insider)
An asteroid that NASA describes as “potentially hazardous” — the size of the Golden Gate Bridge — will pass within 1.25 million miles of Earth on March 21. To put that distance in perspective, the closest planet, Venus, is about 159 million miles away — but the moon is only 238,900 miles away. Anyway, I’m taking this report from People, which is not the main source I’d use if I truly thought this were a potential Armageddon, but it’s worth noting. (People)
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