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Park Slope Bookstore Worker Releases Book on His Blog About Books

By Leslie Albrecht | September 6, 2012 11:29am

PARK SLOPE — Most bloggers who score book deals might be tempted to quit their day job, but it's just the opposite for Dan Wilbur.

Like many 20-somethings with liberal arts degrees, Wilbur toils in retail to help pay the bills. But his job just happens to be at The Community Bookstore on Seventh Avenue, which has devoted its entire window display to his recently released book, "How Not To Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life."

The book, which was officially released Sept. 4, is also prominently displayed at the cash register, on Wilbur's shelf in the employee recommendations section, and in the new paperback releases area labeled with a humorous handwritten sign, "Best Book in Store. Very local author."

So far the store has sold 48 copies, Wilbur said Wednesday, an impressive run for a first-time author whose name recognition is limited mostly to bookstore regulars.

The book grew out of a blog he started in June 2010 called "Better Book Titles," where he posts Photoshopped versions of well-known book covers with joke titles that sum up the work in a pithy, sometimes profane way.

For example, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is succinctly retitled, "White People Ruin Everything." The wildly popular "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" became "This is the First Book I've Read in Six Years."

A stand-up comedian who's written for the website College Humor, Wilbur was inspired to start "Better Book Titles" as he played the video game "Assassin's Creed II," which involves killing the Pope. It occurred to Wilbur that a better name for the game would be, "Kill the Pope." Wilbur knew the idea could work as a funny blog, but he didn't want to devote his time to writing about video games. So the former Bard College classics major applied the concept to books.

"Let's be down to earth about our titles," Wilbur said Wednesday. "Let's not call it, 'Are You There God, It's Me Margaret,' let's call it, 'Atheists Can't Grow Boobs,' because that's the truth," Wilbur joked about the Judy Blume classic.

A literary agent suggested Wilbur pitch the blog as a book a few months after he started it. Instead of repurposing the entire blog's content into print, Wilbur expanded the work into a mock self-help book on why people shouldn't read, adding essays on topics such as how to survive a book club. He also wrote a chapter that sums up the entire history of reading.

"It's basically the Western Canon explained in 24 pages," said Wilbur, who's currently reading "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn and loves to recommend the novel "Skippy Dies" by Paul Murray.

Wilbur jokes that he's hoping readers of "How Not to Read" will walk away with the idea that he is "the funniest human being."

But there's a serious side to the book, too, he said. Between his 9-to-5 job and nightly comedy gigs, Wilbur says he gets anxious about the fact that he has little time for writing — an essential chore for comics — and even less time for reading. His book is meant as a response to that anxiety, he said.

"To stress yourself out about what you do in your leisure time is very annoying," Wilbur said. "You shouldn't feel bad about yourself for not reading, so this book is empowering people to not read because of that. It's OK to play video games and watch TV. But you should still buy books at the Community Bookstore, even if you don't read them."

See Dan Wilbur perform at Park Slope's Union Hall on Sept. 19 for a show called "Comedians with Books" that's part of the Brooklyn Book Festival's Bookend Events line-up.