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Thursday 15 April 2004

Nation Nation

After picking out a number of books the other day, I happened to notice that the three I was ultimately marching off to the cash register were Asphalt Nation, Fast Food Nation, and Corporation Nation.

I quickly put Asphalt Nation back, not only because I didn’t want to be seen buying three books with similar titles (what would people think?!), but because it seemed to spend most of its time pointing out the painfully obvious. (After having read the other two books, I’ve concluded that I should have put them back, too; they’re not well-written, they’re incredibly biased (thus throwing everything they say into doubt), and in general not worth their inflated prices.)

The whole experience got me thinking, though, and a little bit of web searching turned up what I was afraid of.

There is an incredible surfeit of books on the market with titles of the form of [Noun] Nation.

The trend seems to have been kicked off by Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation in 1994. This was a well-publicized and successful book, to put it mildly. Apparently authors and publishers around the country determined that it was the snappy ‘nation’ as the second half of the title that made it so. They then all set out to imitate it.

(I found only one book with such a title published before Prozac Nation. It’s Redeemer Nation, by Ernest L. Tuveson, and published by the University of Chicago Press in 1980. I doubt whether Ms. Wurtzel or her publishers were aware of Redeemer Nation, though, and in any case Prozac Nation was published almost fourteen years after Redeemer.)

In the almost seven years since the publication of Prozac Nation, though, there have been at least thirty widely-distributed books with titles of the [Noun] Nation form, from Adoption Nation to Viagra Nation.

In my search, I deliberately excluded titles like Cherokee Nation or Pueblo Nation or anything that appeared to be using the word ‘nation’ according to its dictionary definition, and not as a marketing gimmick.

Apparently, I am the only person in America who finds all this just a bit disturbing.

Here I’ll write some capsule reviews of these books. Some of them I’ve read, some I’ve glanced into, and for some I’ve only read the publishers’ blurbs. My opinions are still valid.

Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck.  This is actually an excellent book, despite the stupid title.  It concerns urban planning, and what’s wrong with the urban ‘planning’ that has resulted in American suburbs.  Definitely worth a read, and probably worth the price of purchase.  There are a lot of little pictures illustrating various points.
Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.  Eric seems to have a love-hate relationship with the fast food industry.  On the one hand, he likes Big Macs and Whoppers, and he admires the entrepreneurial spirit that has resulted in these huge multinational corporations being built out of literally nothing in a very short period of time.  On the other hand, he seems to be a bleeding-heart liberal who would prefer to pretend that the entire fast-food concept is impossible without exploiting people who can’t get better jobs.  He does make some good points about the U.S. government being essentially for sale to the highest bidder, but overall the book in a bit uneven and does not progress in a straight line toward his conclusion.
Asphalt Nation, by Jane Holtz Kay.  Admitting We Have A Problem.  I have not read this book, though I glanced into it.  It appears to point out a lot of the things said in Suburban Nation (above), but specifically dealing with cars, i.e. cars in America have ceased to make life better in a lot of cases, and are actually making things worse.  
Free Agent Nation, by Daniel H. Pink.  About the reaction of the employee class to corporate downsizing trends: companies are not showing loyalty toward their employees, so people are no longer showing loyalty toward their employers.
Adoption Nation. Presumably it’s about adoption.
Corporation Nation. I am currently reading this book.  Its general thesis is that corporate power has grown too great in the USA, and that we are going to hell in a handbasket as a result.  I vaguely agree with that (though not in the way the author would like me to), but I still have to say that the book is a good cure for insomnia.
Credit Card Nation. About credit cards and how Americans are using them too much.
Database Nation. Presumably, privacy fearmongering.  Expect at least one chapter on the Dangers of the Internet.
Salmon Nation. Fishermen in the Pacific Northwest, and how tough things are for them.
Gunfighter Nation. How the Wild West really wasn’t, and why guns should therefore be banned. This thesis has since been discredited.
Joystick Nation. How kids are paying too many video games, and why they should be stopped.
Alien Nation. I think this is a tie-in to the TV series of the same name.  Or possibly the book on which it was based.  Whatever.  Title ends in ‘Nation’.
Cinema Nation. Movies in America.  This book stands out as being one of the very few -Nation books that is not advocacy for one cause or another.
Buffalo Nation. Presumably about a nation of people living in western New York.  Or just possibly about American Indians and now noble they were before Europeans came.
Adventures in a TV Nation. By Michael Moore et al.  This is a tie-in with Michael Moore’s TV show, TV Nation.  The book does not precisely fit the title requirements, but the TV show does, and so the book is included here.
Restless Nation. About insomniacs, or possibly American rootlessness.  Might actually be good, if it’s about the latter.
At Fenway: Dispatches from Red Sox Nation.  Does not precisely fit the requirements for the list.  Included here to illustrate the contemporary tendency to divide people into ‘nations’ (which is what I believe this phenomenon with the book titles is about) based on something as trivial as what baseball team they support.  (Note to Red Sox fans who are tempted to write about how Red Sox fandom is not trivial: shut up.)
Ritalin Nation. Presumably about Americans’ tendency to pump their kids full of drugs if they don’t "behave".  (After all, if the kids don’t "behave" they could fall in with a Bad Crowd and wind up — gasp — taking drugs.  Um..
Hispanic Nation. I was ambivalent about including this one, because you can make a very good argument that Hispanics actually do form a legitimate nation of people.
Comic Book Nation. About comic books, oddly enough.
White Nation. Essentially, a book about why Jews, Blacks, and everyone else not exactly like the author are just terrible, terrible people.  I think that the fact that the cover photo is of a Normal Rockwell-type baby holding what looks like a noose is about all you need to know.
Cafe Nation. About cafes, I think.
Film Nation. Do not confuse this book with Cinema Nation, above.  
Warrior Nation. The only non-American book in the lot, this one is about Britain’s military tradition over the past few centuries.
Condom Nation. They get some points for making a semi-clever pun.  I think that it’s about the idiocy of government bans on handing out free condoms.
House/Garden/Nation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literatures by Women.  Ahem.  Beware of book with oblique strokes (i.e. /) in the title.  Beware of anyone who pluralizes ‘literature’, which is already a mass noun.  Beware of this book.  It will melt your brain with postmodern idiocy.
Private Nation. I cannot figure out what this is about.  A photographer is credited, so presumably it has pictures.
Carnal Nation. Recent federal anti-obscenity laws prevent me telling you what this book is about.
Radio Nation. About radio.
Viagra Nation. The socially-acceptable version of Carnal Nation.
Posted by tino at 10:11 15.04.04
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