Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly

I thought maybe I was being harsh when I first wrote this, but then I read the reviews on Amazon. Plenty of other readers were equally disappointed by this book for similar reasons.

For me, the most important revelation in this book has nothing to do with working retail. Kelly writes a lot (too much) about her decades of experience as a journalist. Assuming her portrayal is accurate, I would have fucking hated being a journalist. That's a big deal because I was on that career path when I started college.* At least I had a lucrative 10-year run in computers; I never would have lasted that long in journalism.

I didn't like this book. Let's start with the subtitle. Can you really call 27 months a career, especially when you only work one day a week (with an extra shift or two in the holiday season)? That's maybe 130-150 days of work, about half a year if she had been a full-timer. Let's move on to the basic theme: working retail sucks and pays poorly. Did I need to read a book to learn that? I was hoping for some interesting and/or amusing stories, but there are few.**

I don't like the author's attitude. She tells us over and over how she wouldn't normally associate with her fellow, um, associates (Kelly repeats herself often—yet another book in need of a decent editor). She acts like she's the greatest employee, master of the sales floor. She brags about the new skills she is learning but still has the air of one who feels the work is beneath her. She brags even more about her glorious past as a journalist. I would love to hear what her coworkers really thought of her.

Then she gets upset when she is passed over for a promotion, but again, she's only working one freaking day a week. I worked retail for a few years in high school, and I quickly learned there is a big difference between the full-timers and the part-timers. Apparently this is lost on Kelly, who after all has elevated her single day a week into a "career". At least other people who have written about doing crappy jobs (most prominently, Barbara Ehrenreich) have fully immersed themselves.

Kelly throws in some interviewing and reporting—she is a journalist, as she constantly reminds us—but it doesn't add up to much. She should have stuck to her experiences at work. And if that wasn't enough to fill a book, well, that kind of says it all, doesn't it?

* I was editor of the high school newspaper for three years and quickly became an editor on the college paper as well. Career counselors say to envision yourself in the job you want, but I could never imagine being a journalist in "real life" even though I wrote and edited stories in school. I took that as a sign that I should do something else. I switched to computer science before the start of sophomore year.

** I hope another book I have called Retail Hell by Freeman Hall will provide that.


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