A few of my fellow Civil War bloggers have commented on the poor offerings of Civil War titles at their local stores. Most of us browse either our local Barnes and Noble or Borders and have noticed a difference in the quality of the overall selection. Since I worked for Borders from 1994 to 1998 I can comment on the difference. I worked at the Borders in Rockville, Maryland, which as many of you who live in that area know is one of the larger stores in the chain. I was in charge of the magazine section, but given my growing interest in the Civil War at the time was also responsible for the Civil War section. Those of you who have commented on the selection between these two competitors have rightfully pointed out that Borders seems to offer more. At least when I worked for the company I had the option of ordering any title that I thought would enrich the section. I took full advantage of this opportunity.
As I worked at the Rockville store before the company went "corporate" the place had a sincere intellectual feel about it. I worked with some very thoughtful people who were passionate about reading and engaging customers. I organized my own Civil War reading group and we welcomed a number of local Civil War historians to join us to discuss their own recently released books. In 1997 I organized a day long event which included historians such as William Matter, James Kegel, Ed Fischel, and Craig Symonds. Brian Pohanka dropped by at the end of the day in full uniform to wrap up the event. He was a pleasure to meet. Participants presented formal presentations about their books and stayed to talk to customers and sign books. Needless to say it was a great day.
There is no doubt that the selection of Civil War titles has diminished in the major chain stores. There is no conspiracy however; it is a simple question of how best to utilize limited space. If you want large selections of books than I suggest you find religion or engage in a little self-reflection to uncover your short-comings and any other psychological malfunction that could be helped by browsing the Self-Help section. I suspect that many people are buying on-line where there are some excellent discounts available. I’ve recently moved in this direction, but I still enjoy browsing a well-stocked store. Amazon typically offers up to a 36% discount on newly-released titles. Small press titles are probably suffering more than those published by the university presses, and the reason is that the latter will be bought by both colleges and university libraries. Perhaps that is why they can get away with charging higher prices as they don’t need to print as many. As I’ve said before, most Civil War enthusiasts don’t read books. And most of the people who attend Civil War Roundtable meetings are senior citizens which suggests that unless new blood is discovered the Civil War section will be even more difficult to find in your local store.
Finally, I wanted to say something about the recent rally of the Ku Klux Klan in Sharpsburg this past weekend. The story is quite popular over at Google News with right around 200 references. Of course this organization has the right to exercise their First Amendment privileges and at the same time we should not tolerate the kind of racist nonsense that they spew. That said, I was struck by the number of people who when asked why they decided to protest the Klan’s presence on the battlefield responded by trying to distance the men who fought the Civil War from any racial considerations. In the end I wonder who does more damage to our understanding of the past. Is it the Klan who claim to be the "ghosts of our Confederate brothers" or is it those of us who continue to push a racially sanitized view of the Civil War? Just a thought.