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Like the characters in Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, we are all inveterate list makersrolling out streams of opinions on the best, the worst, the essential, the top five, top 10, top 100. And when we’re not making lists, we furiously consume lists other people have made for usthe canon of great books, the list of great books that should have been in the canon, the anti-canon of (canonical) books.
Into this anxiety-inducing, list-making industry steps Steven Brill, the man who would straighten out the media through his magazine, Brill’s Content. Now, Brill’s Web site, Contentville, wants to do something similar for anything that can be considered content. The idea is to bring the best of traditional and new-media content together on the Web by way of expert choice and commentary. And then sell it. As the voice of Brill Media Holdings L.P. says in The Contentville Reader, the preview book published to mark the launch of the site, Contentville is “the place where content is king…Readers rejoice!”
Steve Shuman, owner of longtime Capitol Hill institution the Trover Shop, serves as Brill’s expert source in the District. Shuman says he was called “out of the blue” to report on what’s in, what’s out, and what’s buzzing in political content. “Now our customers are relaxing with some lighter reading,” he writes in The Contentville Reader. “From This Day Forward, by Steve and Cokie Roberts, is selling well.”
Trover is just one among a battalion of independent bookstores offering lists of all-time top-10 best sellers, reviews, and previews of future Contentville content for money and links. Unfortunately, a lot of Contentville’s “product” doesn’t appear to be particularly expertly chosen or described. Readers interested in religion will surely be relieved to know that Contentvilleby way of the Boulder Bookstoreconsiders the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad-Gita “indispensable.”
The literature top 10 is equally obviousSense and Sensibility, anyone?and the philosophy picks strain understanding in a different way: The Satanic Bible and Being and Nothingness. Well, that’s Austin, Texas, for you.
Worse, if you key “philosophy” into Contentville’s Web search engine, the results include Inside Kung Fu magazine, a book by Sister Souljah, an article on romance writer Barbara Cartland from the Economist, and someone’s Ph.D. dissertation on Noam Chomsky.
“Readers rejoice?” Contentville is Amazon for absurdists. Trevor Butterworth