The secret origin of
the Double Dagger

Le Secret, François-André Vincent, 1975
Le Secret, François-André Vincent, 1975

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

The dag­ger indi­cates that sell­ers have reported receiv­ing bulk orders for the book in question. In other words, someone — a 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: the Times Best Sellers list doesn’t reflect a straight tally of books sold. Rather, it’s based on a vari­ety of sales reports, all bal­anced to detect some deeper signal; a sense of a book’s com­mer­cial vitality, its momentum. Interesting, right? Peo­ple often think of the Best Sell­ers list as being quite old-school, and it is, but/and that approach isn’t so dif­fer­ent from Google’s. Divinations!

Anyway: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had a nice run on the hard­cover fic­tion list, peak­ing at around 22. But I believe that Penumbra’s rank­ing should have car­ried a spe­cial nota­tion of its own. A book gets the dag­ger when it is buoyed by rich benefactors; what about when that sup­port comes from 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 I think it’s perfect. It stands for the unex­pected asset; the unsanc­tioned strategy; the Kobayashi Maru.

The Times won’t go for it, of course … 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 ‡

Sent in 2013 to the newly-inaugurated Society of the Double Dagger