Monday, June 25, 2007

Garage Sale America: Your Field Guide to Pop Anthropology

It's a good thing that I read this book thoroughly when I first received it, like, weeks and weeks ago, because someone stole it. Probably my sister, because she loves garage sales with a passionate intensity akin only, I think, to that felt by little old church ladies for bake sales (weak in the knees for a good shortbread, these women. I know it.) Anyway, to report that the book was stolen is really to give it the highest recommendation possible: she wanted that book bad. Which is totally understandable, because if you like garage sales and you like smart and funny and aesthetically delightful books, Bruce Greenfield's Garage Sale America is totally for you.

I like garage sales. Not as much as my sister, but enough to have accompanied my sister on umpteen gazillion garage sale hunting expeditions over the years. (For the record, I do not like hosting garage sales, or yard sales, or anything of that ilk. I am allergic to selling things. I break out in a cold sweat and a rash.)

For me, though, the whole point of a garage sale is not to buy things (though I have done that, for sure - have I ever told you about the time that I found a set of perfectly preserved, art deco New York postcards? Complete with personal messages to Mildred in Salem on the back? Awesome.) The whole point of a garage sale expedition is to conduct social sciences research. It's to engage in sociological analysis. It's field work in cultural studies. It's anthropology in action.

This is what Bruce Littlefield, author of Garage Sale America, gets, and this is why I love his book and his website. Garage sale enthusiasts are not (just) junk junkies, not (just) Bargain Betties - they're anthropological warriors. They are burrowing deep into the soil of North American (I'm adding the 'North', because Canada has garage sales, too) culture and digging up artifacts and reflecting upon the evolution of a living civilization.

Remember when people wore roller skates, rather than blades? (I do, because I once found a pair of lightly scuffed 70's vintage white roller skates with red wheels that transported me back to Xanadu and doing turns in my suburban driveway to My Sharona and pretending that I was Olivia Newton John.) Remember Super-8 movie cameras? (My husband and I have three, along with a vintage Super-8 compatible projector, on which we have screened our Super-8 short films, because, yes, you can still buy Super-8 film and is anything more unbearably hipster than shooting Super-8 films and screening them for your unbearably hipster friends?) Remember polyester pantsuits? Polyester shorts pantsuits?

Polyester shorts pantsuits for children?

If you find a polyster shorts pantsuit for children, you can buy it, and put it on your child, and take pictures. For the purposes of anthropological analysis, of course. Just take care to not allow your child out into sunlight, lest the outfit burst into flame.

If I could find a pair of tiny vintage white roller skates and The Knack on vinyl, I could have WonderBaby re-enact entire scenes from my childhood, which I could film on Super-8 and screen at dinner parties where I'd serve Kraft Dinner and Wonderbread with Hawaiian Punch and make everybody discuss whether it's better to be able to roller skate to music or to crunk to it and whether we have indeed come a long way, baby. It'd be a super-awesome anthropo-po-mo-pop-culture salon, and it'd rock.

And I'd totally invite Bruce Littlefield. Because if I can find those skates and that vinyl, it'll be entirely due to the inspiration derived from his field guide to pop anthropology. (I'll be getting my tips and assistance from his website - which is almost as much fun as the book, and has the added advantage of an anthropological warrior blog - until my sister sends the book back. But I'm not holding my breath.)

What are/were your best finds? Tell me in the comments!

(This review is part of the Parent Blogger Network's Garage Sale America tour.)


An Austrian Dyspeptic without a blog -- but I'm sure to get one soon said...

Yes! The tidbits of Civilization -- remember when fondue sets populated many a garage sale table?

Now they're hip again.

Go figure.

Yes, the shiny polyester. Nice togs on WonderBaby. Better than lederhosen any day. (I guess that I have issues.)

I got a set of Wagner records once in mint condition.

You rock, Catherine!

Susanne said...

Sorry, I'm allergic to garage sales (and to selling things though I might be able to overcome that to get rid of the huge amount of baby stuff in my house), but I had to tell you that I once owned roller skates too and pretended to be Olivia Newton John in Xanadu. I still have the record.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I freaking LOVED his book. Yard sales? Yes please.

The Xanadu reference made me spit out my iced coffee - loved it - but the jumpsuit scared me just a bit.

Phoenix said...

Oh poor wonder baby. She looks like she's going to make you pay for that.

I like to look at garage sales but I just can't buy used things. I have issues with it. But I do like to look at the things people sell. And ask the price and pretend to buy and then put it down and leave. I'm a garage sale tease, I guess.