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That Might Be Useful: Exploring America's Secondhand Culture
Synopses & Reviews
Several years ago, author Naton Leslie decided to opt out of America's dizzying array of retail goods and buy used necessities whenever possible. What he discovered in his meanderings was a characteristically American secondhand culture, replete with a cast of fascinating characters, goods, and venues ranging from the sublime to the bizarre. In the humorous and eminently readable manner of Tony Horwitz and Jonathan Raban, That Might Be Useful recounts Leslie's varied journey from well-heeled auction houses dealing exclusively with the estates of the famous, where he finds a desiccated mummy's hand under glass, to suburban tag sales, antique stores, and a rural auction house where the motormouthing auctioneer relies heavily on humor and brevity to move objects he is at a loss for words to describe.
While retailers have moved out of downtowns and into malls, and then out into big-box stores, secondhand commerce has remained in communities and off the radar screens of giant corporations. Sales tax records from antique stores, auctions, and eBay might give some measure of the billions of dollars engaged in this commerce of broken farm tractors, American primitive art, and nineteenth-century French bronzes. But the many transactions made under the table through yard sales, flea markets, and other less visible settings are unquantifiable.
It is a facet of American culture that pays scant attention to new retail advertising, and that mocks mainstream megacapitalism by thriving on the American tradition of reuse rooted in practicality, frugality, and ingenuity. That Might Be Useful will appeal to antiques collectors, junk pickers, tool collectors, lovers of PBS's Antiques Roadshow, and all who like entertaining stories about people passionate for the buying and selling of items from our distant and recent past.
Book News Annotation:
The world of the second-hand is populated by people of all sizes, shapes, and conditions who share the conviction that the word "retail" is an obscenity. Leslie (English, Siena College) has embraced the secondhand lifestyle and writes happily of the people who are conceived, born, married and buried together in flea markets and charity shops.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A humorous, trenchant, and entertaining journey to discover the American culture and its relationship to secondhand goods.
About the Author
Naton Leslie is the author of six books and the recipient of writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He hunts for cast-off treasures in upstate New York, where he teaches English at Siena College.
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