Library Column–February ’05

We’re all familiar with the concept of product placement in movies. A character is swigging a soft drink: and the logo on the can is clearly visible. The soft drink company paid a substantial amount of money for that moment of product visibility. Is this advertising, or something else?

I’ve begun to wonder about product placement in books. You are happily reading along in a popular new novel and suddenly notice that an amazing number of objects are "branded." The cars, kitchen appliances, clothes, medications, music, household cleaners may have particular brand names attached. Are authors getting paid to mention stuff by brand name or is there something else going on?

Leap back to the Victorian age. I recently read Great Expectations, by Dickens and I’m currently wending my way through Middlemarch by George Eliot. Both books have a lot to say about social status, money, ownership and self awareness. But all of these topics are covered without the authors ever mentioning any product by brand.

I’m wondering (and I’d love feedback on this), if the use of brand name products in books is necessary for revealing important human qualities of particular characters. Does it work as a literary device? What are the possible shortfalls? What are the advantages?

Two stories. Many years ago a good friend of mine was living in rural Missouri. She and her husband had purchased a house and were remodeling it. They were temporarily dependent on an outhouse. My friend was from an affluent Philadelphia family, a musician, had a degree in classics and was not the roughing it sort. I asked her how she was managing. "I buy the most luxurious toilet paper available," she said.

A friend of mine in Chicago was preparing for the arrival of a baby. She was telling me about shopping for cloth diapers at one of the fancier department stores in downtown Chicago. I pointed out that a couple of blocks away was a popular discount store that also carried cloth diapers at one-third the price and similar quality. Nope, she had to have the ones from the expensive store because she was unable to bring herself to enter the discount store.

Both of these stories tell a lot about the personalities and background of the two ladies. Would the stories tell more if I mentioned the brand name of the toilet paper and the names of the two stores? Brands are very important to the companies that market them. They spend a lot of money trying to convince us that the choice of one product over another actually expresses something important in our character and our life. Are we really what we buy? Should literature reflect this great truth?

Library Updates

Don’t forget that Chris Bohjalian will be speaking at the Warren Public Library at 2 pm on Sunday, March 6th.

I finally got the website up-to-date (sorry for the delay) and you can now find current program info; a complete list of our video collection; lists of our audio collection (broken down by category and media) and the lists of new books..

The "paperback exchange" out in the hall has been transformed into a "paperback collection." The new collection is divided into many categories, including fiction, non-fiction, health, self-help, environment, short stories, biography, classics, military, fantasy, science fiction, juvenile and a few more. You can take as many books as you want for as long as you want.

See you at the library!

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