July 2, 2015

If you could mail a book to 2,000 teens, which book would it be?


new-cover-751x1024I’m a pretty standard news consumer, in that I love reading stories about things that are familiar and relatable to me, particularly in a professional sense. And if it’s a tale of attempted book marketing by a nonprofessional, that interests me even more!

Which is why I find this recent story out of Mountain Brook, AL so delightful. Via AL.com:

Mountain Brook resident Tracie Heller Bryson opened her mailbox earlier this month and found something unexpected: a book about teenage sex culture and a note from a concerned parent.

Bryson’s copy was one of around 2,000 found in the mailboxes of every parent of a Mountain Brook junior high or high school student in early June. A Mountain Brook businessman purchased the copies of “Sex At First Sight: Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture” by Richard Simmons and mailed them, Simmons told AL.com Tuesday.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s a different Richard Simmons. Meanwhile, the note accompanying Sex At First Sight left little ambiguity as for the cause of the unsolicited mailing:

The message in this book is important. Hopefully, it will equip you as a parent to be better prepared to talk to your children about today’s culture. This is a sensitive subject, but unfortunately, a harsh reality that our children are facing. We are asking that you read this book and arm your children so they will be prepared when they leave for college.

Simmons, a graduate of Mountain View High, has claimed to have zero knowledge of the mystery mailer’s identity.

“We had a businessman from Mountain Brook read the book, and he was deeply disturbed and moved,” Simmons said Tuesday. “He said, ‘I want to be proactive in my community,’ and he ordered 2,000 copies, provided us a list of the addresses and we mailed them.”

The issue, of course, is how this person obtained the addresses of an entire school district’s worth of parents. The Mountain View Parent-Teacher Organization vehemently denies having provided them, describing the anonymous mailer as “a couple who has children in the system”, which would possibly explain this person’s access to students’ addresses via the school directory.

But let’s push aside any notion of educational jiggery-pokery, and get to the heart of the issue. Some concerned parent read the book (or at least skimmed it), secured some sort of premium discount, bought 2,000 copies, and had them mailed out—a calculated risk, assuming this person believed that this book would ultimately be read and absorbed by its intended audience (college-bound teens). Assuming parents don’t simply throw the book out (and I hope they don’t!), does that seem likely? Simmons spoke with Mountain Brook’s local paper about Sex At First Sight to explain his motives for writing it.

In his book, Simmons explains four forces at the root of the hookup culture. First, pornography has changed the attitude of the role women should play in a sexual relationship. The easy accessibility of porn today exacerbates the problem, enabling commitment-free sexual gratification that is easy to hide. Simmons couples this issue with how college students are drinking alcohol to the point of extreme intoxication.

I’m skeptical about whether a bulk mailing is the smartest marketing tool for a book like this. Seems like a better idea, albeit one with larger political implications, would be aggressively pursuing the academic side of sales; if a teenager is assigned this material, they can’t escape it.

But since I’m not a book marketer who specializes in Biblically-inspired sex instruction manuals for teens, perhaps I can best speak to the mechanism rather than the object. A direct mailing of 2,000 free books to a specific school district is risky, but inspired. Hasn’t everyone out there read a book and thought “wouldn’t it be great if every college-bound teenager in a small town got a copy of this for free?”

I could certainly suggest a few.

What about you, readers? Which book would you choose? Email me at [email protected] with your selections!

Meanwhile, the last word on this story should go to someone who’s closer to the material. A recent reviewer of Sex At First Sight on Amazon sums up their experience with the book thusly:

For a book subtitled “Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture,” Mr. Simmons’ foray is surprisingly shallow. I got the punchline from his so called explorations into sexuality from the back cover. I don’t want to bash the obvious religious overtones, but when you go into an examination already knowing what you’re going to prove, then there is no point really examining. Of course all of the facts point back to religious tenets when you go in seeking to tie everything to God. But in a society which has encountered a great wealth of ideas since the first draft of the Old Testament, maybe we should attempt to legitimately address these questions. Having read through this book, I can say I only learned that Mr. Simmons believes in the Bible. Again, speaking as a millennial in the throes of all the existential angst of youth and attempting to find my way in the world, I do want to know these answers. I want to know what is good, beautiful, meaningful. Mr. Simmon’s trite fundamentalism is about as deep as the water reserves in California currently. Luckily, I have the Socratic will to pursue these answers for myself and come to terms with it.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.