Let's start with novels. I don't read many. So, no Fifty Shades of Grey recommendations here. My beach read this summer was Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence. It's one of the Turkish author's more accessible reads, and I found it quite compelling.
But my reading bailiwick is non-fiction. So, let me offer up a trilogy of nifty and witty books on economics...and no, that's not an oxymoron.
The next two books are apropos in this, the 50th anniversary year of Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target. First, there's Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. Now, no one loves a bargain more than I do. But as the author points out, cheap often comes at a price. Here is Amazon's book description:
(The) pervasive yet little examined obsession with bargains is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time, having fueled an excess of consumerism that blights our landscapes, escalates personal debt, lowers our standard of living...Spotlighting the peculiar forces that drove Americans away from quality, durability, and craftsmanship and towards quantity, quantity, and more quantity, Ellen Ruppel Shell traces the rise of the bargain through our current big-box profusion to expose the astronomically high cost of cheap.
Whew. Cheap sounds deep. But while the premise is heavy, the writing is easy and breezy, making the book an entertaining and educational read.
If you like Cheap, you'll love Free by Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail). The book discusses the paradox of the digital economy, whereby giving away information for free is the key to making money. "Say what," say you? You'll have to read it to get the full explanation, as I am not a worthy book reviewer. Don't worry--it's a quick read, weighing in at less than 300 pages.
On the other end of the spectrum is Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. The book demystifies the fashion industry and the psychology behind the purchase of a $10,000 Birkin bag or a $40 tube of Chanel lipstick. A review from Publisher's Weekly:
Thomas skillfully narrates European fashion houses' evolution from exclusive ateliers to marketing juggernauts. Telling the story through characters like the French mogul Bernard Arnault, she details how the perfection of old-time manufacturing, still seen in Hermès handbags, has bowed to sweatshops and wild profits on mediocre merchandise.
The book also addresses the impact of mass merchandising and piracy on deluxe brands. Basically, this is Fast Food Nation for fashionistas, albeit without the blood and guts.
While on the topic of entertaining books about economics, which this blog post seems to have devolved into, let me also add Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational to the reading list. From Amazon:
Why do our headaches persist after we take a one-cent aspirin but disappear when we take a fifty-cent aspirin? Why do we splurge on a lavish meal but cut coupons to save twenty-five cents on a can of soup? When it comes to making decisions in our lives, we think we're making smart, rational choices. But are we? Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They're systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.
The topic of my next reading list will be easier to digest, I promise. I will satisfy your hunger for fall reading with a full menu of books about food.