Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Malled - Caitlin Kelly

This book is a great example of how something can look great on paper but be a huge disappointment in reality. Having done a couple stints in retail as a college-educated adult, the book's subtitle, My Unintentional Career in Retail, and the NetGalley description made this book seem like a perfect match for me and I very much looked forward to reading it.

Despite being written by a seasoned journalist, the book felt like a disjointed stream of consciousness conversation over drinks with an acquaintance who keeps repeating the same few complaints. The first half of the book was so repetitive and lacking any kind of point that it felt like a series of rough drafts for a single magazine article that had all been accidentally compiled and put into book form. In fact, the first half of the book wasn't much more than a 75+-page repetition of the author's qualifications and accomplishments as a journalist and as a human being, which were repeated so often I can list some of them here off the top of my head without having to consult the book: 

-she came from a wealthy family, which included a grandmother who went everywhere by limousine
-she attended boarding schools and summerlong camps
-she has been to 37 countries (mentioned at least 5 times)
-she is an accomplished journalist who has interviewed CEOs, celebrities, and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth (who is mentioned at least 3 times) and has written for countless prestigious publications, mentioned endlessly
-she is fluent in French and can speak Spanish (although her competency goes from passable to fluent and back to workable throughout the book)

In addition, her complaints about her workplace are rather petty and typical of a spoiled Baby Boomer, and are things she could have inferred without ever having worked retail, or could have found out in a 15-minute discussion with anyone who has ever worked retail:

-it's hard to stand on your feet for 8 hours
-customers can be mean, rude, and demanding
-the wages are low
-there's no privacy in the store
-the stockroom is too crowded and poorly lit
-she has nothing in common with her coworkers
-the managers/the corporate office don't specifically thank the workers for doing their jobs

On top if it all, the title and the publisher's description make it sound as if this book is about someone who lost her well paying full time job and ended up in retail as a full time career - but in reality, the author only worked one shift per week and continued to write and edit as a freelancer as a full time job. As someone who has had no choice but to work 40 hours a week in retail jobs in the past I cannot possibly take seriously any complaints coming from someone who was clearly doing the retail job specifically for a book the entire time, as opposed to someone who would have had no choice but to work full time to bring home any paycheck just to make ends meet. Someone whose fiance surprises her with a trip to Paris, who describes buying clothing/items at places like Saks (although she's quick to add that it's a splurge, but it happens a few times during the book so that seems contradictory), and who couldn't possibly be making enough money working one shift per week to make the retail job worthwhile, is not someone who is hurting for money and working retail for survival in a bad economy.

One thing I did learn from this book was the true definition of the "show, don't tell" writing maxim. As an example, the author endlessly repeats the fact that she was one of the top salespeople in the store, but never shows us an example of how she met this goal so easily. Were there instances where she was able to persuade someone to buy things they otherwise might not have purchased? Did she gain an ability to size up customers who seemed ready to buy and those who needed a push, and if so, how did she get them to buy? Did she develop specific techniques that helped her to sell? We don't know, we weren't shown, only told. As a college student I briefly had a telemarketing job selling orchestra tickets, and although that was many years ago, I can recall several instances where I was able to sell people tickets when they might otherwise have hung up on me. If I were writing a book, I'd be sure to include details like that to illustrate my points.

All in all a very disappointing book. 

No comments:

Post a Comment