Who's writing about shopping malls?
September 21, 2022 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Seeking entertaining, thought-provoking essays about or related to mall culture, primarily in the 1980s, 1990s, and early '00s.

I can think of a lot of great writing appreciating middle-brow and/or nostalgic eating establishments and cultural artifacts, but I want that for shopping. Is there an Express or Hot Topic equivalent of Helen Rosner's ode to Olive Garden, Caity Weaver's TGI Friday's stunt, or Jaya Saxena on Margaritaville? Or, to come at it from a different direction, Rax King on Meat Loaf but instead it's about Sam Goody?

Specifically, I want:
- Just really good writing
- About something connected to mall culture—specific store, food court, experience of shopping, experience of hanging out, even TV or movie scenes focusing on malls
- Can be personal, analytical, or a combination, but I'm looking for something essayistic rather than a piece of reporting

In a pinch I will take recommendations for writers who work in this broad subject matter (shopping, culture) and general mode (essay), even if they don't have a specific mall piece you can recommend.

I feel like I should be able to rattle off several of these but my mental bookmarks for great writing are on the fritz.
posted by babelfish to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Recently listened to this Decoder Ring podcast with architecture writer Alexandra Lange, and she has a lot of insights into why malls happened and why this dissipated after the early 00s. Here's her book (which I haven't read...)

posted by bendybendy at 9:50 AM on September 21

Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall by Alexandra Lange.

I have not read it myself, but I heard the author interviewed on the Longform podcast and it sounded like a really fascinating combination of design, history, and cultural commentary on the past and future roll of malls in America.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 9:53 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Sorry to make an early answer something of a tangent, but just because it's canonical to the genre, I have to mention Joan Didion's 1975 essay "On the Mall." It appears in her collection "The White Album," which is thorny but does have excellent writing.
posted by kensington314 at 9:54 AM on September 21

I'm about a quarter of the way through, and I'm really enjoying the above-mentioned Meet Me by the Fountain. It's very wide-ranging, covering everything from architecture and urban planning to the relation between early mall development and post-war suburbanization and segregation. The author also includes some personal reminiscences. Lots of good photos too!
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:20 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Probably the Deleted Scenes blog will have some mall musings.
posted by scratch at 10:51 AM on September 21

I recently learned that Paco Underhill wrote a book about malls, back in the '00s: Call of the Mall. I haven't read it so don't know if it touches on culture at all, but it might be worth a look; Why We Buy was certainly a good read.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:56 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Seconding Lange, who I have also not read yet.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:12 PM on September 21

I watched a great documentary film about the Roosevelt Field Mall from 1983. It's not an analytical film, but more of a slice-of-life piece. It's on YouTube.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:14 PM on September 21

The Betwixt the Sheets podcast had an episode on Sex and Shopping a couple months ago and talked about mall culture.
posted by pised at 4:16 PM on September 21

I read Call of the Mall after it came out in 2004. I don't remember much about it except that it was a good and easy read (though a book, not an essay) and I wrote a review of it at the time which might help you figure out if it's the type of thing you'd like to read.
posted by jessamyn at 4:18 PM on September 21

Jon Bois' memories of working at Radio Shack are horribly funny

David Sedaris' reflections on his stint as a mall elf are an annual read for me

Waydowntown is a Canadian film about friends who compete to see who can avoid going outside the longest, so they stay in the mall-path system attached to their Calgary office workplace for weeks and go nuts.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:37 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I haven't read Alexandra Lange's book but I listened to her on Decoder Ring as mentioned above, and also 99 Percent Invisible and both were interesting.
posted by radioamy at 6:19 PM on September 22

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