Pin the hope on the meerkat: It’s Christmas 2011 and this is apparently where we’re at

The Guardian’s piece on the ‘quirky’ titles expected to make a dent in this year’s Christmas bestsellers list makes for a sobering read. Less than ten years ago, the titles that came out of nowhere to dominate the celeb autobios and cookbooks were the likes of Schott’s Miscellany and Eats, Shoots & Leaves; books which dealt with occasionally esoteric or off-putting subject matter in a populist, accessible manner that struck a chord with the reading public; books which, though light-hearted, still on some level strove to improve their readers. Then there’s this year, when publishers have seemingly turned on a TV, giggled uncontrollably and, in an attempt to make themselves feel better for having done so, unleashed 16 separate books about (well, ‘about’) meerkats upon the marketplace.

Now, now, let’s not all rush to judge. This flurry of meerkat excitement may have its roots in something fairly noble and aspirational. I didn’t see all of Frozen Planet, so maybe I missed the episode where a charmingly disoriented meerkat somehow found its way to the Arctic Circle and taught the polar bears to love, and NOPE SORRY CAN’T KEEP THIS UP – of course it’s all because of those bloody insurance adverts, because that’s just how easy we are to entertain, seemingly.

Hoping to replicate the bolt from the blue success of last Christmas’ A Simples Life (eugh), publishers of these 16 Genuine Merecat Products® have missed a crucial point: people don’t love real meerkats. If they did, stockings across the land would be stuffed with certificates of adoption from WWF. People, for [insert deity] only knows what reason, love this one, particular, mildly xenophobic but, crucially, non-existent huckster meerkat, largely because he thinks he’s people, with the talking and the dressing and the business-owning and pluralising of words that shouldn’t be plural, silly meerkat! Who’s the cutest bundle of polygons on the server!

You don’t, to borrow the parlance of another medium, go viral by copying someone else’s idea and hoping enough people aren’t sick of it yet to make it stick. That’s a lesson these publishers will have to learn the hard way, with the only one of those 16 slabs of hot meerkat action to make the charts Where’s the Meerkat?, which has succeeded largely by ripping off something that suckered money out of you longer than a year ago, namely the Where’s Wally? series. Davids don’t speed up bestseller lists simply by copying last year’s Goliaths. There’s still something to be said for innovation, even if it is driven by nothing more than an urge to sell car insurance.

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