Monday, November 7, 2011

The Useless Books

I had an idea a few months ago to start a collection of books that will one day be pointless. It was inspired by a conversation with my friend over at The Sedentary Vagabond about Y2K. I remember as early as 1998, looking at a table of books in Glastonbury, England during my semester abroad, and seeing a treatise on this terrible, looming apocalypse of Y2K that everyone was afraid to talk about. I didn't buy it, but less than six months later, the general tone of the book would have become obsolete, as everyone was talking about it by then.

It spawned many, many successors. By 1999, Barnes and Noble was offering entire tables of Y2K books. You could read about any aspect of the coming disaster: how it happened, how to prepare for life afterwards, how it could be averted, how to avoid similar catastrophes, should we survive this one. Obviously, it didn't come true. But someone worked hard on all of those books. What became of them?

I wondered that anew the week Barack Obama produced the original copy of his birth certificate. I happened to be in Barnes and Noble again, and saw a hardcover copy of a book called something like "Where's the Birth Certificate?" on the new release table. Unfortunate timing, though I felt less sorry for the author once I learned that he was behind the Swift Boat book, too.

I can't help but feel a little sorry for the authors of all of these books that are current now, but will soon fall out of favor. Those who write books like the 300-page guide on finding information on the internet (c. 1997) that I saw at my library in Central New York, at least know that they are not necessarily writing for the ages. But I feel bad for those who spent a lot of time formulating and researching a thesis, only to be entirely off-base with it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who does. I checked out one of my favorite book humor websites, Awful Library Books, and they too have a white elephant book featured in a recent entry.