A jump scare awaited me at my local Barnes & Noble. Inside, nestled among the Churchill biographies, the former Trump appointee tell-alls, and the hardcovers about “wokeness,” lurked an eldritch altar to Prince Harry’s debut memoir, Spare. You probably do not need me to tell you that Spare will go down as, by far, one of the most successful books ever written. (According to the publisher, it moved 1.43 million copies in its first day on store shelves in early January, as global citizens devoured the former prince’s mild complaints about a charmed royal life.) But no amount of popularity or marketability could ever justify this Barnes & Noble’s attempt to practically tile one of its showcase displays with Harry’s icy visage. Dozens of copies of Spare, arranged in a hellish wreath, stared outward at innocent shoppers. Some vaunted book-knowers have praised the composition of the cover, but clearly they didn’t predict how it would look when 20 identical Prince Harrys are stacked right next to each other. The spectacle exudes a haunting, Orwellian aura, the effect akin to that produced by viewing the exterior of Mussolini’s headquarters, or a biblically accurate angel. It needs to be seen to be believed, so I posted the horrible sight on Twitter.
Just look at that thing! I hate it! For a variety of reasons! Most tangibly, it is depressing to know that the modern publishing industry, much like the film industry, is buoyed by a few megaton releases each year, and therefore retailers need to order an ungodly number of Spares—truly the Ant-Man of books—to stay above water. But also, given Harry’s dour, menacing expression on the cover, it is impossible for shopkeepers to organize all of those books in a way that does not evoke a nauseating dread in anyone who catches a glimpse of its terrible majesty. You know how looking directly at Cthulhu is supposed to make you go insane? That was my reaction to the Spare pillar. Seriously, would it kill Prince Harry to smile?
My tweet ended up going semi-viral, racking up about 4.3 million views according to Twitter’s data tracking metrics, as Barnes & Noble’s grim monument to Prince Harry reduced my followers to a gibbering mess. I was proud of my work, because I generally use my Twitter account to share things that I find distressing or annoying. But alas, as the replies piled up, I made another revolting discovery. The Spare obelisk I discovered is not an isolated incident. As the rules of book promotion dictate, more and more are popping up around the country—gracing malls, airports, and train stations alike. I give you exhibits A, B, C, and D.
(That last one is my favorite, because I love how there is one Spare audiobook in the center, like a little dimple on the chin of the beast.)
We can’t go on like this! I’ve lived through previous periods when one bestseller dominated Hudson News, but nothing—not Bossypants, or Trick Mirror, or that Jennette McCurdy memoir, or those books that are called, like, “How To Stop Giving A F*ck”—could ever match the overwhelming ubiquity of Prince Harry’s new empire. Seriously, there is no way demand is high enough to be cordoning off entire branches of your store to be, effectively, the “Spare section.” Our retailers seem to be operating under the assumption that every man, woman, and child in the world is desperate to read all 87 chapters (87 chapters!) about how one extremely rich guy was annoyed at his brother and dad. Sanity must be restored before it is too late.
Thankfully, I do believe there are a few signs that the Spare bubble might be bursting. Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that, on the books in the display in my original tweet, a sticker has been plastered across Prince Harry’s forehead. It reads: “30 percent off.” Maybe that’s evidence that Barnes & Noble flew too close to the sun, and here, at the beginning of March, when ordinary people are preoccupied with taxes, rent, and the frailties of life, Harry might be hitting his media ceiling. The prince is destined for the clearance section, folks. Let us topple these Spare monoliths and read something else. I hear Stephen A. Smith just put out a memoir. I bet that’s pretty good.