Tag Archives: Elizabeth McNeill

Thoughts on Shopping and Lost History

This afternoon I was reading Elizabeth McNeill’s Nine and a Half Weeks, and of course I found the depiction of her relationship fascinating, but something else that struck me was her description of the various shops she and her lover visit on the weekends. The book takes place in the mid-1970s, and they go to all sorts of (generally high-end) businesses, most of which no longer exist.

I’ve thought about this before in thinking about how cities and towns change (when I lived in DeKalb, Illinois, the only business in photographs from thirty years ago that was still around was the town’s adult bookstore), and every time I think about it, it makes me a little sad, and it fills me with questions. What happened to these businesses and the people who ran them? Did they retire and simply close the business, feeling satisfied that it had run its course? Did the shifting economy claim the store as a victim, leaving its proprietors bereft? My guess is that this was primarily the case with the various department stores which McNeill names.

Change is inevitable, but the amount of history that gets lost as the memory of all of these mostly small shops fades is terrifying. The human element of our purchases often gets forgotten in light of the excitement surrounding the objects that we’ve bought. Thinking about this is a good reminder for me of the importance of shopping at local businesses rather than at faceless chain stores.

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Filed under Literature, Miscellaneous

Books Acquired Recently

Kane, Daniel. All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.

I am a major fan of the New York School of Poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, et al.) and its descendants. Kane’s book covers both groups, so I bought it to read for fun.

McNeill, Elizabeth. Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair. 1978. New York: Harper, 2005.

I recently learned about this book when a friend posted an article about it on Facebook which mentions that the author went to my alma mater/my friend’s former employer, Goshen College. This fact was not enough for me to buy the book, but its subject matter–bondage, a scholarly interest of mine–was.

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. A Few Figs From Thistles. 1922. Fayetteville: Juniper Grove, 2008.

I enjoy poetry, but have read very little of Millay’s work. I read about this collection in an essay on Greenwich Village in the 1920s that made the book sound delightfully scandalous, and since I hadn’t bought any poetry in a while I decided to buy it.

Both this and McNeill’s book bear a note on the final page that they were printed on 2 December 2012 in San Bernardino, California. This has also been the case with other lesser-known books that I’ve ordered from amazon.com (Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa immediately comes to mind). On the one hand, it is wonderful that publishing technology has advanced to the point where books are able to stay “in print” even when they have not actually been printed yet because more books are able to remain available to readers, which is a good, important thing. But it also helps large retailers such as amazon, who have the facilities to print the books on-site, save on warehousing costs, which gives them a competitive advantage over brick-and-mortar bookstores. This is a bad thing.

All books bought via amazon.com.

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Filed under Literature