A book about record collecting?

We checked this book out of the library last week, and while this space is usually for record reviews, we couldn’t resist sharing our opinion on it after we both finished reading. The title of this book, Record Collecting for Girls, almost assures it some number of sales. Vinyl records are coming back, after all. This book includes some Soundscan statistic to that very effect, but you probably already learned this after an elderly friend of your parents saved you a clipping from the USA Today about the “vinyl resurgence.” Its sweet and sort of funny, but that person probably knows more about why people, male or female, collector records than the author of this shockingly juvenile book.

Most of the widespread criticism of the book is that the author, a former MTV programmer, has more to say about dating than record collecting. There are sections in Record Collecting for Girls on “make-out music,” and songs for a break-up mix, but nothing remotely empowering. The author has more to say about boys (note: boys not men) than why women listen to, make or collect music. You’ll find a long list of well-thought critiques along these lines, nearly all written by women, on Goodreads here. We’ll leave it to one writer, Lesile, who put it pretty succinctly:

Too much energy was dedicated to the intersection of music and “boys,” or “crushes.” Maybe I’d respond to this if I were a moody adolescent, or if music were the only way I could connect with a guy (hey, we like the same bands! let’s make out!). Or if my designs as a music lover were to get indie rock guys to take me home to their dirty apartments and write songs about me in my cute glasses and ugly sweaters. But that hasn’t been my experience, and I was disappointed that “The Guide” would assume I’m more interested in music’s role in my love life than in the music itself.

Actually we have to quote one more one-star review from Goodreads before we offer our own thoughts on the book. Alyx summed the book up perfectly with one word:

Sigh.

The most remarkably stupid thing about Record Collecting for Girls is that it contains basically no information about record collecting, and hardly any about records at all. In one of the most alarming passages of Record Collecting for Girls, author Courtney Smith admits “I’m beginning to doubt that I’ve listened to more than a handful of full albums straight through since 2004.” This comes in the middle of an absurd chapter titled “The Death of the Record Collector” in which the author’s entire research is to listen to three records on a turntable.

Earlier she asks why she keeps ten boxes of CDs and insists its “no joke that her CD collection has been nearly packed in boxes for more than two years.” The author of Record Collecting for Girls apparently has a collection that consists of three albums, one of which is her parent’s warped copy of the “White Album.” If you wanted to learn anything about records — how they’re made, how one pressing may vary from another, or how to care for them — you will be sorely disappointed by this book. When Smith boldly listens to albums on her turntable three quarters of the way through this book, she admits being afraid to use the turntable for the risk of damaging the record or needle — so don’t expect any help on caring for your record player either!

In fact, Smith simply perpetuates the idea that record stores and record collecting are a “boys club,” because it seems as though that’s the only reason she’s even interested. Our own experience, here at a neighborhood record shop which is jointly run by a married couple, is that we see both men and women in our shop all day. And some women are afraid to ask basic questions about their turntable or for help to find the records they’re listening to, in part because of an atmosphere encouraged by the stereotype presented in Smith’s book.

Record collecting can be fun for everyone. We hope someday someone will publish another book with the same title and take the subject seriously. Until then thanks for reading, and for visiting our shop, and never hesitate to ask a question no matter who you are.

 

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