Never Shop At A Book Store When You’re Stupid.

You’ve probably heard that saying: “Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.” Well, it makes sense. You end up buyin’ all kinds of junk food that looks yummy, or buyin’ way more than you planned on.

Which reminds me of that time I went to a liquor store sober.

Dude. Big mistake. (“Awww, man, gotta get me some of this vodka. And this gin. Get some gin. Ooooo, tequila, get that.”)

Well, wouldn’t you know it, just the other day I walked into Book People here in Austin…. and I walked in stupid. Because there is so much that I don’t know, well, suddenly I’m reachin’ for every stinkin’ book on the shelves.

(“Gotta get me the new Seth Godin book. Oh, man, and lookit this new Gladwell title, ‘Outliers.’ He’s so smart, gotta git that.”)

Man oh man, I nearly flattened the embossed numbers on my Mastercard.

You know what might cure me of this book problem?

The new Kindle. Reason I say that is because the Kindle ads promise it can store 3,500 titles. Three thousand five hundred titles?

Here’s the thing. I’m a pretty fast reader. On vacation, I can put away about a book a day. But even at my best, … 3,500 titles? Polishing off that digital bookshelf would take nine and a half years of constant speed reading. Even Evelyn Wood, the speed-reading queen, man, at around book #1,954 … wouldn’t she just blow up?

Do I really need to carry 3,500 books on vacation? A guy named Barry Schwarz wrote a cool book called The Paradox of Choice. His main thesis: “We assume that more choice means greater satisfaction when it fact it means less.” He posits that a massive number of things to choose from can make a person feel bewildered, then anxious, and ultimately less satisfied after taking a purchase decision.

I think I know what Mr. Schwarz’s talkin’ about. Can you imagine if the first iPod’s commercials promised “A Trillion Songs In Your Pocket.” Man, I’d just tip over at the concept of a mathematical eternity burnin’ a hole in my pocket. I’d blow up.

Don’t get me wrong, I happen to love my e-reader (an iPad). But I don’t think the main promise of a Kindle or an iPad is Brobdingnagian memory. Just gimme a digital L.L.Bean-tote’s-worth of titles. Just enough books to get me through the Labor Day weekend.


  1. “I nearly flattened the embossed numbers on my Mastercard.”
    Great line.

  2. Based on the title, I expected this to be about someone wandering through the “politics” section at their local B&N.

    I’m with you on quantity though. We tend to look at storage space the same way we look at horsepower. More is always better, right? My motorcycle has 63 horsepower, but can outrun 90% of the cars on the road at 40mpg. Meanwhile my 16Gb iPad can hold more than I’d ever be able to consume between stops at my home computer. Enough is, well, enough.

  3. Luke, I normally think your posts are spot on. But today I MUST take exception.
    Walking into a bookstore stupid really doesn’t put you at risk because 90+%
    of the titles in there are even MORE stupid than the average Joe.
    True, there are exceptions, but when the Bristol Palins of the world keep hitting
    the best seller list, there’s little to fear that your STUPID will get fixed in
    a brick and mortar OR digital book store these days.
    FIxing your sobriety in liquor store…now that’s a sure thing!

    • have to agree with you about the Palin book. Or the Ann Coulter books. Or the Glen Beck stuff and all the crap out there.

      But c’mon……YOU know what I meant. 🙂

  4. I think you meant “Gladwell.”

    • Hey Seth: You are very right. Brain malfunction. Thanks for the correction. Will be watching with great interest as you start publishing exclusively via digital.

      • Also, by way of thank you, I changed copy from “Gotta git me the new Franzen book” to “Gotta git me the new Seth Godin book.” It’s been bugging me that I used a fiction writer’s name like Franzen. Godin’s a better name to use there.

  5. I have more than 4,000 books in my basement. I have another 43 spread across my Kindle and iBooks apps.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if in 20 years many people have those ratios reversed.

  6. Please make my decisions easier.
    I’m a true short attention span reader but I seem to be able to digest books via audio: driving, at the gym and sometimes when I can’t sleep. I’ve been well listened since 2001 and own the same mp3 player that holds only 2 titles at a time. Occasionally I wish it would hold twice that many but I still don’t pick up my iPhone when I want to curl up with a good listen even though it could hold thousands of titles.

  7. I have the reverse problem with bookstores. I walk in stupid. See hundreds of titles. Then I walk out without reading a single one.

    Nowadays I pick up books based on a pretty cover. Yes, I know. Not very effective.

    Nonetheless, I wish they’d launch Kindle in Malaysia.

  8. Kind of ruins the “If you could only take 3 books whilst stranded on a desert island, what would they be?”

    Well, let’s see. Just my Kindle DX with 3500 titles. Oh wait. A kindle only takes the space for one book, so I get two more. OK, PJ O Rourke’s Holidays In Hell and Clifton Fadiman’s Little Brown Book of Anecdotes.

    Perhaps the question now is, ‘If you could only take three PDAs whilst stranded on a desert Isle, what would they be?”


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.