Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

What Book Is Hugo Chávez Reading?

By Makenna Goodman

It’s four days before Christmas. If you’re like the other snowed-in 40-something percent of consumers this year, you’re probably way behind on gifts. If so, you may want to give the (last-minute) gift of…the book that Hugo Chávez is reading.

Let me back up a minute. When browsing for books, are you the kind of person who goes to the “New Nonfiction” tables at Borders? Perhaps you get genius ideas from the New York Times Top Ten lists? The Holiday Book Review? For a gift, do opt for a classic, or the new Sue Grafton? Something people will actually read, or a book that will make you feel well-read, as you hand it to your whatever-in-law? The queries could go on, but quite frankly, book giving is rife with politics and projection. So when you stop and think about it (even if only for a moment), your best bet may be to look at what a President is reading — he/she runs the country for crying out loud, so you know the book on his or her nightstand is worth the time.

Because let’s face it; consumers by and large base their choices on other “more important” people’s choices. Whether it’s book reviewers, the people who choose what’s featured on the front tables at B&N, and last but not least…celebrities. The stars who are photographed up the wazoo (along with their accessories), and worshiped more than most spiritual leaders.

We’re not above this game. The book business is partly based on this paparazzi-fiendish, adolescent idolatry of celebrity. If you can get Oprah to hold up your book on her show, or it’s found in Tiger Woods’ crashed car, or perhaps falls out of Angelina Jolie’s bag on her way to Darfur–hell, if you can get Posh Spice herself to tote it around in her Birkin bag–you’re golden. And so, people in publishing spend weeks figuring out ways to get the book into the right person’s hands. And with good reason–when it works, it seriously works. Look at what happened when Obama named Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals as one of his favorites. Boom. Bestseller list.

But what about the indie publisher? How are we, Chelsea Green–a small group of folks working in an old Vermont factory–supposed to get our books into the hands of the leaders of nations? The leaders who, in many cases, support the corporate model, and therefore corporatized titles from large-scale houses who have a much heftier budget than we do? How can we get our soy-inked books into the Birkin bags of Us Weekly’s pages? Into the carry-on bags of the worldly and influential? Into the Oval Office…even better.

How, for example, did one of our books get into the hands of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez?

At the international climate talks in Copenhagen last week, Hugo Chávez railed against capitalism. According to him, in order to reverse the downward spiral of our climate, we need to change the system itself. He pointed out the product driven capitalist system that commodifies true democracy, and results in a global hegemony ruled by a few rich and powerful nations, who perpetuate the top-down model of iron-fisted rule.

President Chávez then held up a copy of How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (Spanish language edition), which was given to him personally by author Hervé Kempf in Copenhagen, and proceeded to read from the author preface:

To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware– “Think globally; act locally”–we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: “Consume less; share better.”

Watch the video here.

A best seller in France–and already translated into English, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Korean–Hervé Kempf’s How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth describes the invincibility that many of the world’s wealthy feel in the face of global warming, and how their unchecked privilege is thwarting action on the single most vexing problem facing our world. And Hugo Chávez–yes, Hugo Chávez!–held the dang thing up in the air, pointing directly at the title, describing why it was the book everyone needs to read, and all but gave ordering information and advice on gift wrap.

So as we think about where our company is going in 2010…we’re incorporating sleeping bags into the budget. For our authors. To camp out on Presidents’ lawns. World leaders, man. They sell books.

 
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.


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