Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Nonfiction Books = Reality TV?

This weekend, I can’t imagine I was I the only one who noticed a strange thing in the best seller book lists. Both in the LA Times and the NY Times, a truly ragtag group of celebrities – Tina Fey, Steven Tyler, Rob Lowe and Betty White – dominated nonfiction hardcover book sales for the first week of May. The top ten was rounded out with new books by the (clearly) irrepressible Dick Van Dyke and Shania Twain (in the NY Times) and, in the LA Times, along with Van Dyke, we found the equally energetic Shirley MacLaine . . . and yet another book about Cary Grant.

Has the nonfiction book list become the publishing industry equivalent to reality TV?

No one bats an eye anymore when a celebrity dominates discussions about a political election or a natural disaster or an international health crisis. We’ve grown used to these incursions and the optimistic among us just hope that a little glitter and razzmatazz will attract constructive attention to difficult social issues. But perhaps our apathy about the way that entertainment has weaseled its way into just about every aspect of modern life will end once we’ve started to notice how beholden our notions of reality are to celebrity takes on them. 

Is it all that bad that one of the more brilliant TV comedy writers of our generation sits atop our nonfiction best seller lists? Not necessarily. But the relentless drive within every media sector to find “built-in audiences” by attaching their formidable resources to pre-made media stars like Fey may start to wear thin as we realize that the books that might be telling us about our shared history are edged to the side by reminiscences about life inside the media bubble . . . which is increasingly becoming the only reality that really counts.

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