Think global, read local

There’s no Starbucks brewing, no plush toys for sale, no Brazilian jazz to provide a smooth soundtrack to browsing. Proudly intellectual, hidden in a basement, and member-owned since 1961, the Seminary Co-op is no mainstream bookstore. And when you compare the list of what sells best at the Co-op with popular titles around the country, quirks emerge.

There are specific differences—like the fact that Sean Hannity is No. 3 on but Howard Zinn occupies the same spot on the Co-op’s list. And that The Lost Symbol and The Lovely Bones have topped recent Chronicle of Higher Ed surveys of college book sales but fail to register with Co-op customers.

What distinguishes Seminary Co-op book-buyers? First, they favor volumes with UChicago connections, from the newest Baffler (brainchild of Thomas Frank, AM’89, PhD’94) to Superfreakonomics to Twitterature. Second, they like to get the reading done before lectures, or at least buy the book: works by Joseph Stiglitz, Martha Nussbaum, and Jonathan Cole sold briskly before their February and March campus appearances.

On the Co-op’s list, “there are always some national best-sellers, some books tied to the media, and some things of local interest,” says Jack Cella, X'73, general manager. “I always tell people the best bookstores are ones that are really local and fit well into the neighborhood, but I hadn’t thought about how the sales reflect the neighborhood as well.”

Here are the Seminary Co-op’s top ten sellers for the three weeks ending February 16. Because of ties, 19 books make the list.

  1. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, Michael Pollan

  2. The Baffler (Volume 2, No. 1), Baffler staff
    Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

  3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
    A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn

  4. From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law, Martha Nussbaum
    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University, Louis Menand

  5. Just Kids: From Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel, Patti Smith
    Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less, Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin

    36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, Rebecca Goldstein

  6. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, Joseph E. Stiglitz
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

  7. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
    The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

  8. Crescat Graffiti, Vita Excolatur: Confessions of the University of Chicago, Quinn Dombrowski
    Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder

  9. The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected, Jonathan Cole

  10. Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    Why Evolution is True, Jerry A. Coyne

Elizabeth Station


February 23, 2010