Color your world

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Can you paint with all the colors of the…pantone?

In my current job at an online eyewear company called Eyemusement, I often have minor assignments designing basic promotional materials–newsletters, postcards, press kits, etc. The founders of Eyemusement chose chocolate and turquoise as the main colors, which seem pretty straightforward. I’ve found out, though, that there are approximately 1 million shades of brown and 10 billion shades of turquoise (forget you, EL James–I’m sure there are at least 51 shades of gray!) I know this because I’ve spent many an afternoon trying to match one Hershey’s-chocolate brown logo to a Dove-chocolate brown box. Let’s not even get into the variations between “pool” and “Tiffany’s turquoise.”

Of course, this would all be easier if we chose one Pantone code for each of the two colors and stuck to it. Pantone is the bible of colorists and designers worldwide, offering color charts and palettes, forecasting which colors will be popular in a given year, even making up new colors. (Apparently, making up colors isn’t such a novel thing: a 19th-century British Prime Minister studied every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad and found no mentions of blue. In this Radiolab segment, a linguist and neuropsychologist discuss why, across cultures, blue is the last color to appear in human understanding).

While you or I might not associate 2009, for instance, with Palace Blue and Rose Dust (the colors forecasted that year), perhaps in some later year we’ll be able to see a pattern in the popular colors of the 2000s. I found a complete list of color-palette-by-decade since the 1880s, and there are some recognizable trends: the muted tones of the 1920s, the war-inspired colors of the 1940s, the neon-hued 1960s. And, of course, nothing is more iconic of the 1950s than Avocado and Harvest Gold. May they rest in peace.

After so much time spent matching colors, though, I was feeling pretty cocky. I thought I was pretty good at identifying when my chocolate brown needed just a little more red, or my turquoise needed a bit more yellow. And so, when I came across an online color challenge, I was sure I would get a great score. The challenge consists of 4 rows of 20 hues which you must arrange in order, from rose to turquoise to lavender and back. I lined them all up, checked my results…and found out I am terrible at distinguishing hues, except for in a few cases. I was shocked. But heck, even Monet got his colors off a little bit, especially near the end of his life. Maybe this test just signifies that I’m a genius.

Try it yourself.

What score did you get?

Monet: wrong? Or brilliantly right?

PS. Since everything relates back to books for me, here’s a list of 13 authors with corresponding color palettes. Lovely.

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Independents’ Day

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Common Good Books, where you can find "Good Poetry" and "Quality Trash"

Last Monday I imagined a business model in which Nobel Prize winning authors sell books. In fact, the idea of a famous author owning a bookstore is no fantasy–in my home cities alone there are two independent bookstores owned by best-selling writers. Louise Erdrich, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Guggenheim fellow, runs Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, which specializes in Native American literature (there’s a page on the Birchbark website devoted to the dogs of the store…swoon). In St. Paul, Garrison Keillor, host of the long-running Prairie Home Companion, is the proprietor of Common Good Books, aka my favorite bookstore.

We’re lucky in the Twin Cities. We have a multitude of wonderfully curated independent bookstores, and even a few dedicated to children’s literature. Some of them, like Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis, garner widespread praise for hosting upwards of 150 readings a year by both obscure and well-known talents. By this point you’ve probably heard of Tea Obreht, the incredibly gifted 26-year-old author of The Tiger’s Wife, who became the youngest woman ever to win the Orange Prize. You know where she started her reading tour? Yup, Magers and Quinn. Her book had barely been out a week when my boyfriend and I crammed into the reading area tight with bookshelves and overly-cologned middle-aged women.

Other cities are not so fortunate. One of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, brought the plight of Nashville to national attention this past November when she opened Parnassus Books. One local bookstore closed, and bankruptcy shuttered the Borders; as the New York Times put it, “A collective panic set in among Nashville’s reading faithful.” Patchett and Parnassus saved the literati.

I don’t know what I would do without a bookstore in my vicinity. This past Friday night when my boyfriend asked me what I wanted to do, I immediately replied “Let’s look at books!” He laughed–and then he realized I was serious. There was no reason to think I wasn’t, since we’ve spent a few Friday nights this way already pointing out books we’ve read, want to read, want to reread.

Actually, I do know what I would do if I moved somewhere without such a healthy literary community. I’d make like Louise and Garrison and Ann and open a shop myself. There’s just no way I could live without literature.

How to be a bookseller

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What you’ll need: a love of ISBNs and ARCs, a lot of time to read

Songlist: Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits

Further Reading: The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

Heaven

I have this business model in mind which is probably terrible in terms of financial prospects, but which would be totally cool.

Everyone loves food carts, right? Hot dogs on the streets of New York, mini donuts in Minneapolis, suspicious meats in a foreign country you probably don’t have the right bacteria to digest, and so on. So why not a book cart?

Can I offer you some Rushdie today, sir?

Here’s what I’m thinking: first I’m gonna become a super famous novelist (which is just one of the reasons this business plan might be a little tricky). That way, people will be much more interested in reading whatever I recommend. I’ll pick 3 books a week, one fiction, one non-fiction, and one miscellaneous–poetry, anthology, classic, young adult, etc–and sell them on the streets of Minneapolis. Businessmen and -women will start to trust my suggestions, and buy whatever I’m peddling. It can’t fail!

Oh sure, bookstores are closing right and left. But many of these are Barnes and Noble bookstores and, of course, Borders. The advantage of my bookcart (feel free to come up with potential names) is that inventory is always small and constantly being refreshed. Bookstores aren’t closing because people don’t read anymore–people just often don’t know what to read. Imagine their neighborhood Nobel Prize winning novelist (okay, I’m stretching here) stopping by every Monday with a fresh new recommendation.

Of course, I haven’t figured out any logistics of this, and it’s not a very franchiseable operation–I’d have to hire Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to fit in with the business model. I’m quite sure it wouldn’t make any money. But you don’t get into book selling if you want to make money. You do it because you love reading and talking about books–which I do. Like I said: can’t fail!

I feel pretty

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One of the most famous shopping scenes in cinematic history is Julia Roberts going from streetwalker to chic walker in Pretty Woman. It epitomizes the goal of every clothes-shopping experience: feeling special, feeling pretty. Any retailer who lets the customer feel less than beautiful is making, as Ms. Roberts would say, a BIG mistake.

In the black

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An Anthropologie storefront

As planned, I went to the new Anthropologie a block from my house yesterday. I hadn’t realized their 50% deal only lasted until 11 am and had started at 6 in the morning. And I was glad I hadn’t known–perhaps I would have woken up painfully early, fueled by the worry that everything might be gone later. When I arrived at 10, though, the store was still packed, with clothing and people. I waited 10 minutes in line to try on a few shirts and dresses, and then waited another 20 or so minutes to purchase them. And then I went home. All in all, I bought three items for about 25% of their original price and felt successful.

At home I read the status updates of my friends who had braved much more unpleasant conditions–Walmarts and Best Buys and Targets at 4 in the morning or midnight on Thanksgiving. All but one was sorry for having gone. Many bemoaned the fate of humanity after seeing the mad rush on electronics and toys. Many said they went for the experience and, having had it, would never seek it out again.

We all know of the 2008 death of a Walmart employee trampled by consumers. The stampede did not let up even for police officers trying to help the man; a pregnant woman was hospitalized due to the same event. Apparently, Black Friday has reached new levels of crazy every year in the past decade; before that, it was not quite as insane of an event. The term originated in the late 1960s when the Philadelphia police complained of the overwhelming traffic jams the day after Thanksgiving brought to the city center. Only in the past few years, though, has it been the expectation of major retailers to open their stores earlier and earlier. This year was the first that Walmart officially began their sale at 10 pm on Thanksgiving night. Who can say how early sales will be pushed, and to what level the insanity will rise until consumers have had enough?

There are always those Cassandras who can foretell tragedies; in the case of Black Friday violence I present Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger:

How to be in retail

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What you’ll need: patience, perma-smile

Songlist: Money Can’t Buy Me Love by the Beatles

Further reading: Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly, Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

As I was thinking about this week’s theme, I considered all the things that mean Thanksgiving to me–family, gratitude, travel, food. I’ve kind of done those all already, though. And then I remembered the other Great American Holiday happening this week: Black Friday.

I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday intentionally. One year we accidentally scheduled getting a family picture taken at the mall the day after Thanksgiving. Chaos. And last year my family from Wyoming was visiting, and we went looking for a wedding dress for my newly-engaged cousin on Black Friday. As she tried on gorgeous dresses, another bride-to-be was exclaiming on the lines she’d waited in at 3 am that morning in front of Best Buy. Madness.

Helping America, one boot at a time

But I can’t deny my consumerist instincts. Whenever I go to a mall I always feel better after I’ve bought something so I can walk around with the bag–proof of my economic influence. Not only did I just purchase a pair of leather boots, I helped America, man. And if I happen not to buy anything, I leave defeated, knowing I’ve let my country down.

I love beautiful clothing, but rarely have the money for it, and thus working retail at my favorite stores always held that employee discount allure. Sure, you end up spending way too much of the minimum wage you earn on clothes that are still expensive after the discount, but…at least you have the clothes? An Anthropologie store is opening just two blocks from my house this coming Friday and when the interview notices went up earlier this summer I considered, for the briefest of moments, quitting my two jobs to be a cashmere cashier.

Alas, I did not apply to Anthropologie. Because the truth, as far as I can tell, is that retail sucks. I’ve only worked at one store, a gay and lesbian bookshop in Provincetown. The only stressful part of that job was having to lie about which new lesbian spy thrillers I was excited about (“umm…all of them?”) Retail in general, though, sounds exhausting. One of my good friends, Elsie, has worked at J. Crew stores for the last 3 or 4 years, and used to regale us with stories–good and bad–from her days there.

Sometimes at the Mall of America store she acted as a moving clothes rack for foreign dignitaries’ wives–she said some women spent a few thousand dollars in a matter of minutes, piling cardigans and jumpers high in Elsie’s arms. Meanwhile, the visiting Japanese women never seemed to realize that they could lock their dressing room doors; Elsie walked in on at least one confused woman per day. And yet the women she had the most problems with were the bored suburban wives who had nothing better to do with themselves than see if there was anything new at J. Crew. She swore there were many mothers who’d come in to find clothing for their children without said children in tow, but would still ask Elsie, Would this look good on Billy? Inevitably, when Elsie asked about Billy’s size, the mother would just shrug.

While Elsie somehow maintains her energy for all these shoppers and looks good while doing it, I know it would kill me. So I probably won’t apply to any retail jobs in my future. And I probably won’t be waking up at 2 am this Friday to take part in one of the most bizarre of American traditions. But will I be making a trip to the newest Anthropologie at Grand and Milton this Friday? Oh yes, most definitely. And I’ll probably feel proud of myself if I leave with a shopping bag in hand.