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Kai Ryssdal: No matter what the global economy’s doing, summer can be a good time to catch up on your reading, whether you’re relaxing at the beach or lazing around closer to home. In that spirit, we’ve got some suggestions for you again this year.
Our annual series Marketplace Beach Reads is back this week with nominations from some of our regular commentators.
Today, writer Karrie Jacobs introduces us to one of her favorite characters of fiction, one who’s job it is to navigate the brand-obsessed world of market research.
Karrie Jacobs: I read William Gibson’s 2003 novel “Pattern Recognition” when it first came out. Its heroine, Cayce Pollard, got stuck in my head like an old Bee Gees song. Years later, roaring down Sheikh Zayed Road in a Dubai taxi or wandering the neon saturated streets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku, I find myself wondering what Cayce Pollard would think if she were here.
Cayce is a professional cool-hunter. She’s hired by a Machiavellian advertising mogul to search for the origins of some mysterious film snippets that are released one by one on the Internet. Trouble ensues.
But what actually drives the narrative is Cayce’s acute sensitivity to corporate identity. She’s literally allergic to certain logos. The Michelin Man, for example, makes her physically ill. The result is the most finely observed and entertaining text on branding that’s ever been written.
Here’s Cayce in Harvey Nichols, the fashionable London department store:
“My God, don’t they know? This stuff is simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A diluted tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row. But Tommy surely is the null point, the black hole. There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source and more devoid of soul.”
“Pattern Recognition’s” Cayce lives every day, as most of us do, in a world of pure media. I still keep her in my head because she’s an excellent tour guide. She leads me with eyes wide open through the present moment, in which there’s no escaping the simulacra of simulacra of simulacra.
Ryssdal: Karrie Jacobs is a writer. She lives in Brooklyn.
Brenna Bychowski lives in Carol Stream, Illinois. She recommends “A History of the World in Six Glasses.” It’s from Economist Magazine’s technology editor, Tom Standage. It charts the history of our favorite drinks, everything from the ancient origins of wine to modern-day coffeehouses.
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