Author: Cynthia Overbeck Bix
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner Publishing Group)
Publication Date: November 1st, 2013
Read: September 2013
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Rating: 3 Shopping Bags
I decided to request this book about the history of American shopping from NetGalley because I’d recently been watching the ITV/PBS show Mr Selfridge. I found the show fascinating, thanks to its depictions of both the advent of shopping as a pastime rather than a necessity and Harry Selfridge’s marketing techniques in a time when marketing hadn’t really be invented yet. (The soapy character drama was good, too.) I thought this book would be a fun way to get more of the same. And it was, for the most part—not an academic, exhaustive reference text sort of thing, but a book clearly researched and able to satisfy a casual interest in the topic.
The book appears to be geared to teenage girls, but barring the first page of text with talk of the reader heading to the mall with friends when they want to go shopping and desires for tablets and skinny jeans, there isn’t anything that’s really AHHH IN YOUR FACE TEENAGER. I had wondered if the book would be a simplistic treatment of the topic, but I was pleased to find a lot of interesting information. It covers the evolution of shopping in America from the time of general stores and traveling salesmen, up through the rise of big city department stores, five-and-dimes, big box stores, the birth of the mall, and internet shopping bursting onto the scene. A lot of basic stuff is covered (like, “What is a chain store?”) but there was a ton of trivia and info that was new to me. For example, did you know L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a window decorator in Chicago and founded the National Association of Window Trimmers? I did not! Now I will forever picture him in my head as the attractive French window trimmer from Mr Selfridge…
The book touched on a few topics related to the “dark side” of shopping, such as credit card debt, shopping addiction, and big box stores pushing the mom and pop shops out of business, but didn’t discuss things like sweatshops and environmental pollution that result from rampant consumerism. I guess I would’ve liked a bit about that, since I feel it’s an important thing to address with regards to shopping in this day and age, but I guess that topic could be a whole ‘nother book unto itself. I was also surprised that in the chapter about e-commerce the popularity of online flash sales didn’t come up!
Overall, an interesting book. I can see it being useful in libraries at school and elsewhere for kids writing papers, and for teenagers who enjoy their shopping. I don’t think it’s limited to that group, though. If you’re writing your dissertation on the history of shopping it might not be the one for you, but if you have some interest in the topic, I think this is a good bet— the tone is informative without being dry, it covers the basics and broad strokes while also delving into some interesting trivia, and at a slim 88 pages it’s a quick read. The quotes about shopping sometimes seemed a little random or haphazard in their placement in the text, but the black and white photos, etchings, and doodle-illustrations made up for them. A bibliography, index, and further reading section in the back are also useful additions for students and those readers interested in more information.
But my single favorite thing I took away from this book? DeadMalls.com. Just the existence of a website dedicated the topic delights me. I checked and am not familiar with any of the dead malls listed for my state, but there are definitely a few around here heading in that direction…
What are your tastes in non-fiction? Are you interested in the history of shopping enough to read a book about it? If not, have you watched Mr Selfridge yet?
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.