The Literary Clickbait Industrial Complex

Nobody buys books anymore. If you walk into a Barnes and Noble, the behemoth of bookselling, these days you’ll see that over half their store sells things that are distinctly not books—toys, board games, handheld tablet computers, DVDs, elegantly designed boxes of exotic Italian chocolates.

Why books are dying, however, isn’t a mystery. Books are laborious wastes of time. To complete a book often requires hours—if not dozens and dozens of hours—of careful, miserable concentration. To even enjoy a fragment of one, fleetingly, requires a person to stop, sit, and singularly focus for a period of time no less than fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Who has time for such things? In that time you could watch two Youtube videos telling you the truth of 9/11, scroll through six Facebook posts from people you hate smiling with their pets, glance at score of Tweets about last night’s Teen Wolf, and read an entire Weather Channel listicle about 6 awesome times when it snowed.

Now, a lot of the Ivy Tower 1% out there will say that even though you could do all those things, they aren’t as powerful, enlightening, or fulfilling as reading a book. To these patriarchal elitists I say this:  The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a book containing six volumes, each one containing approximately 600 tightly printed pages, requires—at least in audiobook form—120 hours and 29 minutes to read. The average listicle takes about 1 minute to read. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire may have more “meaningful information” and “insight into the condition of human civilization” than an average listicle, yes, but does it really have more than 7229 listicles’ worth of brilliance, power, joy, emotion, tears, and epiphanies about the inevitable stagnation of societies that lose their energy and virtue?

The notion is mathematically preposterous.

Thankfully, the Gutenbergs of the world are finally coming to their senses and starting to move beyond the overlong, overdense, overwrought books of the past and into the stronger, healthier, snappier, ADHD-positive book of the future—the booksticle. Part list, part book, all consumable.

Let’s look at what these intrepid pioneers of the literary arts have achieved:

1.The History of the World in 1000 Objects

The History of the World in 1000 Objects

Oh, the world, so wide, so tall, so teaming with life, legend, and a thousand civilizations each with their own broad history and culture. To study it all with even an inch of depth would require a dozen lifetimes – until now, that is! Thanks to this book you can grasp the entirety of human civilization just by cycling through 1000 different objects. Understand the collapse of the Tang dynasty when you see a sculpture of a horse. Grasp the crisis of modernity by examining a crank telephone. Die of dysentery at Antietam by touching a photographic representation of a bullet-riddled Union flag.

Still, though, 1000 things sure is a lot of stuff to look through…

2. The History of the World in 100 Objects

100 Objects 2

Oh thank god!

3. 13 Soldiers

13 Soldiers

When I used to work in a listicle factory, one of my bosses came back from an industry conference telling us that someone at Buzzfeed had said the ideal listicle was 13 items long because 13 was unlucky and therefore any listicle that had 13 items would only ever have 13 items because 13 was the perfect number for encapsulating whatever it was the listicle was about. They weren’t cutting it short. They weren’t dragging it out. 13. Perfect.

4. 30-Second Religion

30 Second Religion

Have you ever wanted to understand the spiritual forces that so sharply shape our world? To understand the Islam that drove both the tolerance and science of Harun al-Rashid and the lunacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Or that Christianity that inspired both Heaven is for Real and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead?  Or the Buddhism of that dude who lit himself on fire in Saigon or the Tibetans who bury their dead by feeding them to vultures? Or the Judaism of Marc Chagall who thought the only way to express the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust was to paint hundreds of portraits of Jesus on the cross?

Well, now you can – in the time it takes to watch a single Youtube unskippable pre-roll ad.

5. A History of America in 36 Postage Stamps

38 Postage Stamps

This is a masterpiece of the booksticle: a list of objects that are also really small. Looking at that Tang dynasty horse sculpture almost made my eyes fall out, it was so big. Gazing across a whole page, I felt like a wanderer in the Sahara.

But these objects are so tiny! You barely have to look at them at all to have looked at them. That decreases the “looking” involved in learning the History of America—the country that brought you the Moon Landings, Chattel Slavery, and Watergate—by almost 75%!

Amazon Bestseller List here we come!

Speaking of chattel slavery though…

6. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

This book is a disaster. 12 years? Are you insane!? The whole point of the listicle is to make things shorter, but years are looooooooooooooong. No one will read this.

Also, we get it. Slavery was the brutal and institutional exploitation of millions of people over hundreds of years, from which my ancestors profited immensely and the victims of which have never been compensated one penny and whose descendants continue to live under poverty, discrimination, and derision. Get some original content already!

7. 1000 Events that Shaped the World

1000 Events

This one is even worse than the “1000 Objects” book. As there are definitely more than 1000 objects in the world, that book at least felt like it was trimming everything down to “just the essential bits.” This one feels like the opposite—no way has there been 1000 events that shaped the world. I certainly can’t think up 1000 of them. I bet if you read this list, 90% of the events in here are just crap the authors made up to fill space.

That’s terrible listicle writing. Never waste your audience’s time with anything but the essentials. Commercial failure is assured.

8. 100 Battles: Decisive Conflicts that Shaped the World

100 Battles

I know I let a book get away with 100 items earlier, but I’ve changed my mind. It’s just too many. Won’t click.

9. Fifty Thinkers Who Shaped the Modern World

Fifty Thinkers

Come on, if you can’t boil the world down into a list less than 50 items long, you really have no business writing a book in this day and age. Get it together!

10. A History of the World in 12 Maps

12 Maps

Now we’re talking! 12 is a much smaller, gentler, easier number than 1000, or 100, or 50, and because it’s “maps” and not “events” or “battles” or “thinkers,”I can rest assured that most of my reading will actually involve merely looking at colorful drawings. God do I miss preschool.

A+ booksticle.

11. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

 

Ripped straight from the headlines of Business Insider, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is a masterpiece of alpha male pick-up artist reverse psychology listicle clickbaiting. You see this book, and you think, Wait a minute! I’m a strong minded person! Am I doing these things in the book? I’D BETTER FIND OUT.

Better not require much thinking though.

12. 5 Ways to Fall

5 Ways to Fall

First and foremost, pocketless jeans are a monstrosity and if you’re wearing them right now, I want you to shut off the computer, turn on the oven, and stick your head in it until you either bake yourself to death, carbon monoxide yourself to death, or just starve to death. It’s what you deserve for wearing such hideous pants. NO I’M NOT OVERREACTING. YOU’RE UNDERREACTING. Wait, what am I talking about?

13. One Hundred Years of Solitude

100 Years of Solitude

Oh my god, this is even worse than that asinine 12 Weeks a Stove book.  100 years is more than the average human life span. To even look at this book is to remember your own mortality, the smallness of your life, the vacuousness of everything you’re stuffing into that life in the desperate hope that if you just keep clicking and clicking and clicking you’ll never die.

But you will die. We will all die and all of this will be nothing. Look at your beautiful children. Maggots will crawl out their eyes. Look at your beautiful money. Starving dogs will devour it for sustenance. Look at your mountain of accomplishments. Eventually, even protons and neutrons—the building blocks of atoms—will evaporate into void.

I predict commercial failure.

14. 15 Seconds


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Wait, what if that last booksticle was wright. What if one day I am going to die? What if fifteen seconds is all I have left? What if the end really is rapidly approaching? What if a semi is careening towards my house? What a plane is falling from the sky? Why if Ebola is sneaking its way into the Midwest?

15. 3 Good Things

3 Good Things

Are there good things in the face of death?

16. 5 Love Languages Registered Trademark (For Men)

5 Love Languages

Does even love count for anything in the face of death?

17. The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity

The 5 Choices

Yes. Yes! We have to make a choice. We have to choose between the empty and the full, between creation and evaporation. Time is fleeting. Our lives are diminishing. The sun is diminishing. Our civilization is diminishing. Instead of filling time, we have to use time. We have to create something. Something that is, of course, no less transient than ourselves, but is at least beyond ourselves. Fleeting proof of our existence. Fleeting creations of our hands. Fleeting feelings of something other than numbness and boredom and waiting.

But what? What shall I do? What shall I create? What achievement could possibly make what few years I have left not a complete waste?

Revolution!

(Did you enjoy this venture into the existential unknown of the booksticle? Then share it! We’ll love you forever if you do.)