Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buying the Book: Sask Trip Part IV

We're still in the midst of the "shopping" story portion of the Sask trip home. According to de Certeau, shopping is one of the every day activities through which consumers express their independent paths through state spaces. Of course, it also demonstrates that we're all stuck in state spaces. For today's act of shopping, I went to buy a ball glove. Long, long story short, and 16km later, I've got a ball glove. Despite everything I've said about my baseballian aptitude, I still maintain it's an investment in the future. I'll probably play again at some point, right?

The reason I bring this up now (besides the fact that it happened about three hours ago) is that, in a sense, part of the value people associate with things is how difficult they were to come by--although it's not a straightforward relationship. If it takes you a few seconds find a prized item you've been searching for, all fine and good, but a truly epic hunting makes a much better story. And if the trip to the local grocery store to buy milk takes several hours because you forgot to wear socks, you may get a good story out of it, but you're not going to feel too happy about that milk afterwards. This glove took the better half of a day and a very long bike trip, so it was slightly more difficult than I expected. Will that translate into a greater appreciation of it? Well, no; in the case of something like a ball glove, the difficulty of procurement in terms of calculating overall value is overshadowed by utility: if it works well in the ball game on Friday, that's much more important than any other measure I can think of.

Still with me? Good. The third part of my shopping trip on Thursday, June 5th, was to buy a book for my middle brother as a belated birthday present. How does gift giving fit into the discussion above? Well, the story of how you got the gift is largely unimportant; if you tell it, you run the risk of making it more about yourself than about the person you're giving it to, which slants the gift-giving towards personal indulgence over actual giving. (And yes, I realise that that's exactly what I'm doing now.) A wise man once noted the other peril in giving a book:"buying a book as a gift can become an overthinker's nightmare--you have to consider not only what the intended receiver means to you, but what you mean to them, what the book means to you, and what the book will potentially mean to them." Well, I said that. Right here. Still true though. So, as far as shopping for gifts go, you're in a double-bind. On the one hand, you want to limit the amount of time spent getting the gift as much as possible. But on the other hand, you want something that is meaningful and expressive. My brother asked specifically for a book because he wanted something to read during his big cross-country trip at the end of the month, and, supposedly, I know books.

My first choice was George Packer's "Village of Waiting." It came up in my postcolonial class; essentially, it's Packer's account of his time in Togo in the 80s, working as an English teacher for an African school. I thought (and still think) my brother would like it; it's thought-provoking, humorous, and just contentious enough that you can have fun picking apart Packer's arguments. But I couldn't give him my copy, since I needed it for the class, and assumed I could easily find a copy in Someplace Else.

I assumed wrong.

My other brother and I searched two separate bookstores, and came up blank. So we searched for a new book. I wanted something nonfiction and with a political edge. Of course, since I don't read a lot of that type, it was hard sluffing. We finally found a book (or at least my little brother did) called... I honestly don't remember. I remember it was hardcover, which I approved of, since it made it closer to the amount I spent on the younger brother's last birthday present, and that it was signed, which the middle brother would approve of, since it meant the book had value beyond being, you know, a book. So, with absolutely no ceremony, I handed him the book. He thanked me, but not without a wince that he quickly covered up. It was at that point that it hit me. Someone going on a long cross-country trip was looking for one primary factor in a book: that it didn't take up a lot of space. So the hardcover? Bad choice.

Moral: Gift-giving is best left to professionals.

This turned out to be much longer than I thought. There's probably a metaphor to be drawn between the post and the discussion regarding ease in shopping, but I'll let you decide whether it's worth the effort to retrieve it.

Later Days.

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