Maya Seligman
Swarthmore College
English 95: Fictions of Consumption
Prof. Lisa Cohen
February 4, 1997

Shopping Journal #2

I fell asleep today in Swat's bookstore. I guess it just shows that the semester is finally in full swing since sleep is now the most appealing activity, no matter where I am. (This philosophy must be typical for Swatties; I saw five nappers today in McCabe.) I needed a few basic commodities, so I decided to make a quick trip to the bookstore this afternoon.
First I drop off a roll of film in the big box on the upper level. Then I head down to the section of bathroom items to pick out a new toothbrush. The one I had before has *medium* bristles, which just doesn't feel right on my gums. I pick out a beautiful seaweed-colored brush with "soft" bristles. The store is not very busy at this time, so I can be in my own consumer reality; no other students are there to pull me out of the focused mental state of my shopping trip. An album of Crosby, Stills & Nash is blasting out of the speakers, and I find myself humming along to the familiar tunes. Suddenly I feel very hot and realize that wearing my jacket is not comfortable for the temperature of the room. I feel much better once I take it off.
Next I head over to the shelf of fiction books. I cannot remember the last time I bought myself a non-academic book, but now I have the wonderful excuse of purchasing a pleasure read for the Reading & Study Skills course I am taking. We were asked to bring a light, fun book to class in order to record/test our reading rates for the next three weeks. The bookstore carries a bunch of yummy-looking fiction books. The slick, attractive publishing techniques lure and hook me as a consumer, inviting me to open up the glossy, colorful covers to see more. I find a new book of short stories that has an enticing photo on the front: a rowboat on a calm lake surrounded by trees. It occurs to me that this book could be a better choice than a novel since it would potentially lower the dangerous risk of getting my time sucked away by an addictively long plot. I then see an intriguing book on dreams, which instantly grabs me since I keep a regular dream journal (posted on my web page:
I want to page through these two choices, so I go sit down on an inconspicuous couch tucked away in the corner of the store, behind a bookshelf. The nook is pretty damn cozy. I take off my shoes and stretch out my legs, snuggling down into a big pile of squishy pillows. This is the kind of activity I would love to do if I had more time -- just go into bookstores and read new books in total comfort. I start thumbing through the dream book, which describes REM cycles and what our bodies do throughout the night. Reading this stuff makes me very sleepy. I close my eyes... Suddenly I wake up and look at my watch. Forty-five minutes of unexpected sleep! I ended up buying the book of short stories (as well as the new toothbrush). I think that was my first experience of a shopping-trip nap.

* * *

This week's reading certainly provoked some thinkin'. At one point, Foucault writes, "A meticulous observation of detail, and at the same time a political awareness of these small things, for the control and use of men, emerge through the classical age bearing with them a whole set of techniques..." (141). This focus on small details is reflected in the store displays of Ladies' Paradise, as the clerks know that visual details are key to the stimulation of customer's consumerism. The close reading we did last week in class is a clear illustration, describing the rich importance of a window display's many details. Speaking of details, it was interesting to read about Miller's look at the Bon Marche, a "dazzling and sensuous fantasy world." I was struck by the fact that the store's goods became so interwoven with perceptions of the bourgeois that buying some of the products there became the purchase of bourgeois status at the same time. One of the characteristics expected of the women who answered the written queries of the clientele was named as "a talent for suppressing their natural sense of humor" -- why? (Am I missing something obvious?)

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