Bookish News: Opportunistic or Timely? — Comments by Chris

I love reading historical fiction and non-fiction. I love the odd thriller, even creepy ones.

What I don't like is opportunism.

Publisher Henry Holt has offered biologist Nathan Wolfe a six-figure deal for his book on viruses — during the frenzy of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now calling the H1N1 flu. We all have been calling it the "swine flu."

Unless you live under a rock, no one within earshot of a television or radio could have missed the breathless reports about this virus. If you missed that, your government was ready to direct you to their own sources, including flyers from Children's Hospital about how to talk to your children about this disease.

I received a briefing from my organization's infectious disease officer, who assured my co-workers and me that the H1N1 flu is less virulent and deadly than the viruses that circulate every winter. Stripped of the hype, and with added information that the healthiest people are the ones showing the highest exposure to it (without fatality) and the vaccine is plentiful and ready if needed, I wondered why the excitement.

Then the CDC confirmed the first reported death from the virus, and any hope of sanity was wiped from the horizon.

I don't doubt people need to be educated. Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer if you must, sneeze into a handkerchief or your elbow — you know, all the things we all should do to prevent infection from all airborne viruses.

However, I'm a little ill from the profiteering by publishers during a catastrophe. I'm sure that without the hype, the biologist's book would have experienced a modest success, much like Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic and The Great Influenza: the story of the greatest pandemic in history. I read the former when it was first published a decade ago, and I enjoyed it greatly. However, it wasn't purchased, edited and set to be published while people were panicking about a disease the media had convinced them was oozing under their bolted door.

I suffered through the last few elections that saw the proliferation of insta-books littering the bookstores. Both parties tried to "swift-boat" the other with books that more often than not touted not how fabulous their candidate was, but why the other candidate was not fit for the job.

I'm exhausted from hype. I fear that since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, the media and government are trying to make up for missing one of the biggest stories of our generation — and over-hyping every event for the foreseeable future might buy them absolution.

Tonight, AP News announced that the number of reported cases in the originating country is slowing, and no other countries can match those numbers. I'm grateful for that news.

However, I am not grateful for the opportunistic media. We readers deserve better.

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