At left is a photo from Turnrow's best-seller shelf, updated every other week or so. We like to proclaim our list of bestsellers is "Not Like the Rest," although looking from left to right, in order of top-selling, that claim doesn't hold this week.
Until you get to #5, Adam Levin's The Instructions. It's not your typical bestseller. First, it's as big as all three Fifty Shades books put together, though the page count hasn't deterred many from buying it. Also, it's about a Jewish grade school student who thinks he's the Messiah. Not a hot topic in the Deep South. In addition the book has already been out for a year in paperback and hasn't enjoyed the benefit of a book club, class reading, sexed-up hype machine, or an author event ... though the author has expressed his interest in coming to Mississippi.
So how do we account for The Instructions' popularity in Greenwood, Mississippi? Grassroots reader enthusiasm. A good story, however large, however strange, need only be told well and fall on willing ears to find a home. The book might never have made its way into our modest burg had not one of our booksellers been trying to make a point while on a recent vacation. Ben describes his experience herein:
"There was once a time when a book was dangerous because of the words found beneath the covers. Recently, I found the physical book is also very dangerous. I recently had to travel and decided to silently protest e-readers. I searched my bookshelf for the perfect book which would say, 'This is a book! Look at it! A real Book! Deal with it!' I chose The Instructions by Adam Levin. It's a massive tome, even in paperback, weighing in around 1100 pages and four inches thick. This was the book that would make e-readers seem inferior. Suck it Amazon! For the next four days, The Instructions would become a constant source of controversy.
"I arrived at the first security check point at 5:30 a.m., ready to protest. I was immediately held and all of my belongings were searched because Homeland Security found the book I was trying take on the plane to be, 'unusually large.' They even had a dog. Once on the plane, people kept staring at me as I read. It felt good to make them uncomfortable as they tapped away on their toys. The one thing I forgot in all of my protest preparation is that I would actually have to read this giant book. Lucky for me, it was one of the most entertaining books I have read in a long time.
"The Instructions is the story of four days in the life of Gurion Maccabee, a ten-year-old genius/trouble maker, who has been relegated to an in-school suspension known as the Cage after trying to start a revolution, during which he proclaimed himself a messiah. Separated from his followers, he begins to write a manifesto called 'The Instructions,' which once disseminated to his followers will allow his revolution to begin anew. This book is a cross between David Foster Wallace and Philip Roth and even more hilarious. Sure, the book is gigantic, but the story and voice of this novel will have you turning pages faster than most books you'll read this summer. It took me two relatively short flights to finish this book. But back to the protest…
"Traveling home, I was once again detained by Homeland Security when I had trouble answering an officer who asked me what these 'Instructions' were for. I stammered a reply, and then she wanded me and let me pass. On the plane ride home, a flight attendant made a spectacle of my 'nerdy' reading habits and said that she could never read a book this large. It felt like the entire plane was staring at me. I loved it. I noticed a woman two rows up from me reading a paperback copy of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. She nodded and I thought for a moment I might take this protest to a new level. I could be a messiah just like Gurion. A redeemer of books, but ... you know, Homeland Security and all..."
The Instructions has since been enjoyed by other staff members and is one of the best-selling titles on this summer's Turnrow 20 list. There's still time to claim your copy and make it a summer reading project. Be brave and carry it on the plane. Heave it proud.