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The origin of the double dagger

From an email newsletter sent in 2013 to the newly-inaugurated Society of the Double Dagger:

If you keep an eye on the New York Times Best Seller list, every so often you’ll notice a little notation next to a book’s ranking, like this: †

It indicates that some booksellers have reported receiving bulk orders for the book in question. In other words, someone—some rich benefactor!—is buying whole boxes, almost certainly in an attempt to drive up the book’s ranking, secure it a top slot on the Times list.

First, I have to say: I love the use of the typographical dagger there. I know I’m projecting, but it seems to stand for sneakiness and skulduggery. Or maybe it sort of pricks the ranking itself; deflates it a bit.

Second, an aside, which I include because I learned it only recently and I think it’s interesting: the Times Best Seller list doesn’t reflect a straight tally of books sold. Rather, it’s based on a variety of sales reports, all balanced to divine some deeper signal: a sense of a book’s commercial vitality, its momentum. Interesting, right? We think of the Best Seller list as being quite old-school—and it is—but really, that approach isn’t so different from Google’s. It’s totally an algorithm; it just happens to be executed by humans.

Anyway: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had a nice run on the hardcover fiction list, peaking at around 22. But, I believe, in fairness to the other books on the list, Penumbra’s ranking should have carried a special notation of its own. A book gets the dagger when it benefits from the bulk orders of rich benefactors; what about when it benefits from the support of a secret society, assembled slowly over many years… such as the one receiving this email?

It’s hardly fair.

So, I propose a new notation, to be attached to books buoyed by such shadowy networks: the double dagger. It looks like this ‡ and oh I think it’s just perfect. The double dagger stands for the unexpected advantage. The most secret weapon.

Yeah, I don’t think the Times will go for it… but that doesn’t mean we can’t. From here on out, I’ll always put one in the subject line to remind you what we’re about. Watch for it: the sharp little ‡

January 2020, Oakland


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