Magazine article The New Yorker

TRADING PLACES INK Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

TRADING PLACES INK Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

Among the many night tables upon which sits a copy of "Trading Up," the new novel by Candace Bushnell that chronicles the aspirational manners and consumer preferences of contemporary New Yorkers, is that of Michael J. Silverstein, a retail analyst at the Boston Consulting Group and a soon-to-be-published author. Silverstein's book, which will come out next month, also chronicles the aspirational manners and consumer preferences of contemporary Americans, and it, too, bears the title "Trading Up."

The coincidence, Silverstein explained the other day from his office in Chicago, is one of those weird prepublication happenstances that, not having been avoided, can only be embraced. He had been calling his book "Trading Up" for the three years of its gestation and only discovered last spring that he had a rival, one that recently spent eight weeks on the Times best-seller list. "In the movie business you can lock in a title, but in the book business you cannot," he explained. He added gamely, "We are competing in good company."

The books are in fact very different, as is suggested by their covers, which bear images unlikely to draw would-be readers astray: a graphic of an arrow pointing upward (Silverstein); a pair of long, bestockinged legs in stiletto heels (Bushnell). Unlike Bushnell's confection, which deliberately invites comparisons to "The House of Mirth" (her leading man is named after that novel's hero), Silverstein's nonfiction work, which bears the subtitle "The New American Luxury," is more Wharton School than Wharton, Edith. The book, which he co-wrote with Neil Fiske, a former colleague, is an upbeat survey of a range of consumer brands--Whirlpool, Belvedere, Williams-Sonoma--which, the authors argue, are successful because they appeal not just to the material needs of consumers but to their emotional desires. In Silverstein's lexicon, "trading up" is what consumers do when they choose Nutro pet food over the cheaper Alpo, or Bath & Body Works lotion over Vaseline Intensive Care. Meanwhile, to Bushnell, "trading up" means replacing one's first, pitifully limited husband with a second spouse found at a higher social elevation.

Should a reader pick up the nonfictional "Trading Up" in error, he or she will not be disappointed: the book, which draws on interviews with covetous consumers, provides an even juicier read than its fictional counterpart. …

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