Monday, August 04, 2008

Great moments in visiting the parents, episode II: "Atheism/Astrology"

This is more a continuation of my incongruous book arrangements post than of episode I since this story takes place on a sub-voyage: a road trip to Madison, WI, to visit friends.

I've gotten into this crazy habit (probably inspired by Hemant's blog) of looking for the atheist books every time I go to a bookstore to see how they're displayed. This is the funniest one I've seen so far:

I know the tag is illegible in this photo, but this shelf's category is "Atheism / Astrology." I should probably make a joke about the word "atheism" being miraculously obscured from suffering this indignity, but my crappy photography skills require no supernatural explanation. (It's digital! Take two every time! says hubby.)

I hope this is somehow just alphabetical, but then it's not clear why "Wicca" is the next shelf down. Is it just me, or is this actually worse than getting confused with devil worshippers?

I found this in a feminist bookstore. To my fellow lady atheists: it looks like we have our work cut out for us, as usual. But I love a good challenge! :D

Anyway, I don't want to be too hard on A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore. They have a very cool shop with a large selection, and of course I was pretty psyched to find a women's bookstore at all. I haven't seen one since my pilgrimage to San Francisco a few million years ago.

And continuing my orgy of books, I picked up a few titles I'd been meaning to purchase: Parenting Beyond Belief, Dan Savage's The Commitment, and The Best of Best American Erotica 2008.

That last one wasn't actually on my book list -- it was a substitute. I was hoping to find Greta Christina's Best Erotic Comics 2008, and this was the closest thing. I'd just have ordered it through Amazon (as I did for a big chunk of my mountain of books I'll be schlepping back to Switzerland), but the thing is that for convenience I've been doing my Amazon orders through my Dad's account. I've ordered several books he probably wouldn't buy, but somehow I felt like buying a book of erotic comics was going a little too far... Maybe next year! :D


Varina said...

Is it just me, or is every third feminist bookstore called "A Room of One's Own".

I'll never understand why Wicca is considered so much more feminist friendly than atheism. A lot of that goddess stuff is very gender essentialist, especially when put in actual historical context.

Also, you can order a pretty wide selection of English books from; the shipping is just 5 euros to Switzerland and you don't have to pay TVA.

Aerin said...

Yeah, that seems like a bit of a stretch. It's not even in alphabetical order - which I could (potentially) understand...Anabaptism, Astrology, Atheism, etc.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sabayon!!!

Yeah, I should try Amazon in Europe. A few times I was looking for books in English and didn't find the ones I wanted, so I've mostly just been buying/ordering through bookstores.

Hey Aerin!!!

Good point -- it's actually not alphabetical order. And they didn't even have a section on Anabaptism, so I should at least be happy that atheism warranted a stretch of shelf space. ;^)

Lorry said...

Amazon? Pshaw! Try or - English books up the wazoo and free shipping within the EU.

Did you mention anything about the strange placement while at the store? I'd have been tempted to, especially at a small feminist bookstore like that. I was there a few years ago, but I wasn't looking for any atheist books. ;)

Anonymous said...

Do what I do - rearrange the books!

I pick up the pseudo science manuals and put them in religion and move HALF the atheist books from religion to science or philosophy.

They may move them back but it makes them think!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Alcyone!!!

Thanks for the tips! I'll try those.

I should have said something to them about the book arrangement. I'd already talked to them (to ask for Greta Christina's book), and they seemed friendly enough. But I figured I'd surprise them with it in this post. If they're paying any attention to their web stats, they'll see this. ;^)

Hey Anonymous!!!

That's a good technique as well. The only problem is that, in this particular case, the store was small enough that the people working there would have seen me do it and would probably have intervened. So just talking to them would have been more efficient. Or even better -- sending them this message via blogging! ;^)

Unknown said...

Ah now, you could always have an "oops" moment where you order the book not realizing that it'll upset your dad, right? :) OK, maybe that one is pretty obvious even to someone who doesn't know your parents.

Hope you're having a great trip, CL!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks O.G.!!!

Hope you're having (or had) a fun visit too!!!

p.s. that would work, but would still be a bother to explain...

King Aardvark said...

Wow, that's just some bizarre shelving. Maybe we should look on the bright side though: Wicca and astrology are very popular among feminists (apparently - I have no idea why) and atheism is sharing a shelf with them; therefore, atheism is also popular.

Btw, I just picked up Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus for $5 in the clearance section of Chapters. It looks interesting. Perhaps I can get my (religious) wife to read it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey King Aardvark!!!

That's a good point -- I hadn't thought of it that way.

I've heard a lot of good things about Misquoting Jesus. Now that I think about it, perhaps I should have picked up a copy during my U.S. book orgy. Alas, I'm already back in Switzerland (actually I'm happy to be back even if it's too bad I forgot to put this book on my list). Keep us posted on how you like it!! :D

Anonymous said...

It is indeed interesting to see where a bookstore places its books on atheism in relation to the rest of the topics, and I also find myself examining where they choose to shelve them.

Often they can be found jammed in the "philosophy" section (which makes sense) or even in the "religion" section (which, after a fashion, also makes sense). I've found The God Delusion wedged in between everything from C.S. Lewis to the I Ching.

I have noticed, though, that these placements often differ depending not only on the bookstore itself, but what kind of neighborhood the bookstore is in.

For example, in my area the closer a store is to a university, the easier these titles are to locate. However, when one ventures out into the suburbs, these books are usually squirreled away in the back or -- and I say this with all sincerity -- one must ask for them because they are kept behind the counter.

Of course, I may be wrong; I encourage everyone to check it out themselves.

Maria Salva said...

It reminds me of the recent controversy with the Blue Sheild (IIRC) web filtering, that categorized sites about "voodoo and atheistic beliefs" together in an "occult" category, while there was a separate category for mainstream religion. The actual content of the ideas hardly matters. It's as though they're going back to the most ancient definition of atheism: before it meant "without god," it meant "without my particular god," to criticize competing sects. For a christian conservative-leaning web filtering service, at least it made sense to lump all the "weird" ideas together. And the idea of it starts getting stranger when you start wondering about how generally skeptical books would be classified, that are more often associated with atheism, but strongly critical of things like astrology. I can't think of any explanation for the classification system in this case, but that no one happened to think about it. At any rate, recommending that the books go to, say, a philosophy section, couldn't hurt.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Maria!!!

Good point. It seems obvious to me that skepticism towards mainstream religion is related to skepticism towards other paranormal claims, but I guess it's simpler to divide books into popular beliefs vs. unpopular beliefs...

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Mister Domino!!!

Interesting observations! I haven't been doing this long enough to have much of a sample size myself. In the local English bookshop in Zurich, they seem to be mostly in philosophy or general religion, though I've seen some shelved with popular science.

galen dara said...


here in tucson we have Antigone Books a lovely little feminist hole in the wall.
I haven't been in in a while, will have to see how they categorize "atheist".

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey G!!!

When you find out, be sure to tell us! :D