Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

22 Jul 2002, 10:44 a.m.

Yesterday, my most interesting inquiry from a bookstore customer: "Where do…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Yesterday, my most interesting inquiry from a bookstore customer: "Where do you keep the pseudohistory?"

"Do you mean the history that you and I think is bogus, or the history that even the author knows is bogus?"

The customer elucidated that he wanted wacked-out conspiracy theories on the history of civilization, preferably involving the Holy Grail ("you should have a woo-woo section"), so I led him towards our occult/conspiracy/UFOs/astrology/earth-based spirituality section, as opposed to alternative histories (e.g., Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt) in sci-fi/fantasy.

In the Porn Clerk Diaries, our narrator recounts a strange moment in which she asks herself why, approaching her thirtieth birthday, she is on her knees restocking incredibly degrading porn. Yesterday I realized: the only part of my job that I really mind is reshelving and organizing hokum. I don't want to make it easier for people to find How the Aliens Saved Civilization (not a real title) (I hope) or Sydney Omarr's astrology bunk. So I exert my meager influence to highlight and face-out worthwhile titles such as Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy instead.

But not all of astrology is hokum. And I don't even mean to say something like "maybe the movements of the stars don't control us, but reflect some deeper force that actually does," which is a whole nuther can of worms of a different color.

My parents are astrologers. My father learned BASIC and wrote a program to calculate horoscopes. Parts of their house are littered with star charts. My mother read my palm when I was younger, and tells me that the influence of Mars (I think) will obstruct my professional successes for two more years. And years before I even began to doubt my Hindu upbringing, I outspokenly believed that astrology qua astrology was nonsense -- a bunch of Taurus, as the joke goes -- and I still believe this.

But my parents aren't hucksters. I'm not sure to what extent they actually believe that the stars control our fate. But I do know that my mom, at least, mixes her horoscope readings with common sense and good advice. And they're not alone. I've read at least one account of a 900-number psychic who tried to use her influence to give callers useful advice. And Neal Stephenson in In the Beginning Was the Command Line points out that benevolent memery, e.g., environmentalist messages, in Disney parks and movies positively influences the hoi polloi more effectively than do, say, books and New York Times Review of Books concerned editorials.

I applaud all efforts to use influence benevolently. And I don't begrudge good advice its soapbox. But I do wish it wouldn't come wrapped in bunk and tackiness and surrounded by genre flim-flammery.

In cat news: If I want to be alone, I can drive the cats away by bowleggedly running towards them and muttering "booga booga" ominously.

In "my dad is hilarious" news: he cc'ed my sister and me on an email to a friend of his in which he bragged about his children's accomplishments. Near the end of the email: "Please pray for my sake, for you in India it is Local Call..."