Observed at Wal-Mart

This afternoon, toiling my way through the aisles of the local Wal-Mart, I chanced upon the books aisle and began to browse. I didn’t need more reading material–I have enough of a backlog to last me until sometime in 2006–but it’s always interesting to see what Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, thinks of the reading habits of the American public.

Imagine my surprise to find a Philip K. Dick book there. In Wal-Mart.

Spielberg’s new film, Minority Report, opened on Friday, based on a short story by Dick. Hyperion reissued one of his story collections, the one containing “Minority Report,” a few months ago. Wal-Mart, doubtless to capitalize on the success of Minority Report, carries the book.

What surprises me so much about seeing Minority Report in Wal-Mart is that Philip K. Dick is not the kind of writer the typical Wal-Mart customer would read. Nightmarish dystopias about worlds where time runs amock, where people aren’t really people, where schizophrenia opens doors into the past, where god is the perpetrator of the greatest crime in human history, aren’t the kind of gooey, simple reading material that Wal-Mart usually carries. I can easily see someone picking up Minority Report, taking it home because they saw the newest Tom Cruise movie, sitting down to read, and throwing the book down because some of the ideas are just too weird for them.

On the other hand, Wal-Mart’s customers could probably do to have their minds blown, to have their complacency shaken. Philip K. Dick wouldn’t be a bad place for them to begin.

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