McDonald’s and E-Books: The Parallels between Health Promotion and Book Buying

My professional background has its beginnings in public health.  I spent a lot of time studying, observing and implementing plans for health improvement via behavioral change.  Along the way, I learned more about the tsetse fly than I thought was knowable, and I learned more about the spread and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases than I cared to know.  The take-home message was that there is no one-size-fits-all method to make people change, even if the change is good for them.

One of the challenges in motivating a major change in behavior is that behavior is embedded in race, culture, socioeconomic status, educational level and age.  I can convince a senior citizen to take a pill, because it will take away the swelling and pain of arthritis, for example.  I can convince a girl in her teens not to smoke, because smoking will make her face yellow and wrinkle.  Some people prefer the advice of a pastor while others prefer the physician’s prescription. 

While pondering my professional past, I wondered, what motivates people to buy a book?  Are there any common denominators between health promotion theory and (successful) book promotion?  It occurred to me through this pondering that I haven’t actually purchased a novel for myself in years.  Non-fiction, yes; fiction, no.  Every work of fiction that I’ve read for a long time has been tossed at me or given to me as a gift.  I’ve kind of experienced arranged marriages for reading material:  there has already been some external party that has previewed the book and determined it has qualities that have a high probability of appealing to me. 

On the other hand, I’ve taken loads of risks purchasing non-fiction, especially how-to types of books.  My vast collection of Martha Stewart craft volumes and my cookbook collection including gluten-free vegan cooking prove this point (despite the fact that I am neither gluten-free nor vegan and despite the fact that I have no free time to fold, cut, polish or entertain a small, well-dressed army).  Why do I willingly spend a lot of money on books I will probably never use? There’s really not the burden to complete the book.  I can be satisfied with one good recipe or simply the pretty pictures of the latest hand-embossed pop-out greeting card Martha has invented.  When would I actually buy a book to read? 

Surprisingly, the motivators for me to buy a novel are very similar to the motivators for me to change my health behaviors.  Here are a few that are most applicable to my life:

1.  Legislation.  Make me do it.   Seat belt, bicycle/motorcycle helmet and car seat use skyrocketed with the enactment of public safety laws.  Similarly, here lie the required reading lists in college, and the prey of the university press.  I blood let university bookstore prices, because I have to.  I may or may not actually read the book.  I will probably sell the book back to the university bookstore at the end of the term. (Unless it is non-fiction in which case it will sit on my desk, then in a box in my closet for all eternity.)

2.  Social group identification.  Have a spokesperson from a specific demographic. My kids’ pediatrician complains that her Indian friends adhere to Dr. Oz as much as they do Hinduism.  Imagine what would happen to our middle class juvenile society if the cast of Twilight became vegan (oh the conflict with playing a vampire, but I gleefully digress).  My husband (USNA ’94) likewise purchases any novel connected to the Naval Academy, the largest fraternity in the world. I’ll buy Lydia Netzer’s upcoming book by the case:  she’s a well-educated mom not willing to fill the soccer-mom mold.  I can relate to that. 

3.  Familiarity.  If I have achieved a certain level of comfort with one behavior change, such as dropping from full fat to 2% milk, I’m more likely to try similar health changes, like buying fresh fruit instead of canned.  If I buy organic milk, the purchase of organic eggs is not a stretch.  Now, I’ve admitted to not having bought a novel (*for myself*) since probably college.  But, after reading The Book of Jonas, The Right Hand Shore and Luminarium, I will definitely be on pre-order lists for their authors’ next contributions.  Dau challenged my world-view, Tilghman connected to my Chesapeake Bay roots and Shakar appealed to my math brain.  These novels had the same effect on me that Rick Riordan has had on my kids; I am pining for the next volume.

4.  Fear.  You will die.  Try selling a house with asbestos tile in the bathroom.  Even though asbestos tile is stable, has airborne particles only if ground to bits and is very resistant to wear, that tile has to go:  it COULD result in asbestosis.  Imagine the social consequences of being that kid who has not read J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter volume come school the day after its release.  You could be completely shut out of socializing for a day.  The marketing of this series has been brilliant:  the release will be big, and you can’t miss it. Personally, I threw my kids in the backyard with tray full of food and orders:  DO NOT TALK TO MOM.  I was afraid, yes, afraid, that I would overhear the ending before I found out, firsthand, what happened to Dumbledore. 

5.  Convenience.  The apple slices at McDonald’s and the blood pressure monitors at Wal-Mart speak to changes made when the effort is minimal and access is high.  While you’re here, you can throw milk into that kid’s meal or have a weight check.  Ta Da!  E-books to the rescue of the harried mom!  Ninety percent of the books I purchase are for the Kindle.  I can have it now, and there’s no clutter.  (There has to be some way around the Amazon choke hold, but that’s for another post.)  “Customers who bought this book also bought…”

Of the above, convenience probably ranks highest for me.  That’s the stage of life I’m in.  I’d like to go to a bookstore and wander through the stacks, but I doubt the owners would appreciate my five year old ninja.  Familiarity ranks highest with my kids.  Thank the heavens for e-books; otherwise I would have no shelf space.

April Indie Next List

Two books tossed at me are on the April Indie Next List.

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Blue Rider Press

No surprise here.  I firmly expect this culture clash (West/Middle East) salvation story to be in every freshman college lit program in a few years.  Again, I will call it a modern classic.  The timelessness of the issues Dau explores (cultural differences, fluidity of memory, faith and guilt) makes this novel a must have in hardback.

See my full review here:

The Book of Madness and Cures:  A Novel by Regina O’Melveney
Little, Brown & Company

What could possible be more interesting than a novel about the exploration of madness in Renaissance Europe?  The tapestry of this novel is woven with the lush setting across two continents, a brilliant woman’s navigation through patriarchal society and a journey in search of a missing father lost in a mental abyss.  Each of these elements gives The Book of Madness and Cures wide appeal.

My complete thoughts:

The Book of Jonas

Three voices speak in The Book of Jonas.  The pbookjonasrimary voice is that of Jonas, once Younis, the Muslim teen orphaned by an American military unit blitzing an unknown Middle Eastern village.  As told through his personal notes, the second voice belongs to Christopher, an American soldier Missing in Action from the same unit.  Christopher’s mother, Rose, offers the final voice of the grieving mother searching for the truth about her son’s disappearance.

This novel is not an indictment of the American military presence in the Middle East, nor is it a comparison of Christianity and Islam.  Dau deftly avoids these politics in two ways.  Jonas’ homeland is anonymous,  so the reader is unaware of whether the region is extreme in its religious politics or on the brink of Western modernity.  Furthermore, religious experiences and impressions are enumerated, not emotionally interpreted.  Jonas’ host family, for example, is quoted as attempting to save Jonas through Jesus, but the offensiveness of such attempt is not expressed.  Dau keeps the novel factual, as factual as memory will allow, and circumvents a book centered on the emotions of the Middle Eastern conflicts.

Instead, this novel focuses on the three voices’ search for truth and salvation.  What each finds is that the very traditional construct of salvation, religious faith, fails them all. Dau rocks the notion that proclaiming faith in God, whatever the religion, will lead a traumatized soul to peace.  Salvation occurs through choice and action, not through proclamation.

I can physically feel the restraint Dau required to write this novel.  The temptation to write an emotionally charged bestseller (and perhaps one hit wonder) must have been unreal.  How easy it would be to play on the current politics — and how timely it’s release would have been with Staff Sgt. Bales’ coincident breakdown.  Perhaps the first modern classic, The Book of Jonas takes a modern setting and keeps it in the background in order to present a good bit of timeless philosophy.

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

Penguin Books 2102

Now available in paperback.