Susanne Dunlap

Black Friday

In Books I have read, Historical Fiction, Random thoughts, The writing life on November 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

For weeks, we’ve all been barraged by notifications of unbelievable bargains available if only we get up early enough the day after Thanksgiving and schlepp out to the nearest big-box megastore. One particular commercial has been disturbing me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I was researching a possible idea for my next YA historical novel.

The commercial is for Target’s Black Friday sale, and a ridiculous woman is getting into physical shape for the shopping spree ahead, lifting shopping baskets full of weights, dragging carts full of cinder blocks, etc. It’s very well done, and she’s suitably insane. I hope the team that created it were aware of the irony of their imagery. Possibly—or probably—not.

Because Black Friday was actually the name given to quite a number of devastating days in history, marking everything from floods and revolutions to air raids and strikes. But the one that struck me as most called up by the image of hordes of women (note the gender) mobbing retail outlets for bargains was the 1910 Black Friday when hundreds of women stormed the houses of Parliament in London when a bill that would have given a restricted number of women the right to vote was not enacted.

That day is largely seen as the beginning of the militant phase of the Women’s Suffrage movement in Britain. 100 women were arrested, and the police did not hold back in their violent response. Not long after, the conflict turned very ugly, with the suffragettes burning down houses and throwing bricks, and going to jail. In jail, they mounted hunger strikes, which resulted in force-feeding and sometimes death.

I’m probably reading too much into what is, after all, a day that can be a lifeline for retailers in difficult economic times. But I kind of refuse to be one of those “women” who battle for bargains and conjure up other scenes where the concerns of women and their civil rights were a real battleground.

That said, I of course open the emails on my computer that promise savings and incredible deals today. My budget is tight, too, and I’d like to score some bargains for holiday gifts.

Naturally I’m thinking books as gifts a lot of the time. Yet books are so personal. I don’t always think I can choose well for others.

And so here’s the really revealing thing I learned about myself today: Whatever I claim to believe about reviews in the New York Times and other vaunted venues where books are made or not, I not only read, I respond to reviews. I, too, have bought into the idea that the anointed few can guide the reading public to the “right” choices in a sea of novels, memoirs, and non-fiction. Face it, there are so many books published every month that it’s daunting. I want to know that my six to 24 or more hours will be well spent in the world of a book. So I check out the reviews, reading not only the NYT and others, but always looking at what Publisher’s Weekly and/or Kirkus and Booklist have said when I go to Amazon or another online outlet to purchase.

And then, (she admits, sheepishly), I had to scan this morning’s list of Michiko Kakutani’s and Janet Maslin’s 10 Best Books of 2010 just to see if somehow my publisher goofed and forgot to tell me mine was among them…OK, we all have our fantasies.

This all boils down to my random thoughts on the way we make labels and use imagery. I probably won’t write about the British suffragettes this year or next, but I was happy to do a little digging and be reminded of how vicious—and how comparatively recent—it was. Just in time for the marathon run to the end of the year, when I try to conjure up gifts and goodies and make sense of everything that has passed in the previous twelve months.

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