A few days ago, forbes.com published a list of the "Most Obese Cities in America," and the city I live near—Milwaukee—placed 17th. (I was glad, but surprised, that we weren't in the top ten.) One of the interesting theories about the cause of the obesity epidemic in America was advanced by Morgan Spurlock (of the movie Supersize Me) in his book version of the film, which is called Don't Eat This Book. Spurlock's contention is that one of the many reasons we eat too much of the calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient foods that are killing us is because we can't resist a deal. When a fast-food joint offers to "supersize" something—essentially, double the amount for a small added cost—it's a powerful incentive to buy for people whose money is scarce and needs to be stretched. Milwaukee also suffers from a high number of occupants living below the poverty line—26%, double the U.S. national average of 13%.
I catch myself falling for the same ruse sometimes when it comes to buying both music and books. The value of music is not measurable in terms of the minutes per dollar it costs, and I fully understand that...in my head. But I still balk at paying, say, full price for a 26-minute CD, no matter how fine the music, and I am susceptible to the bargain implicit in a particularly high minute-per-dollar ratio—this fine jazz CD, for instance, that I reviewed here, which offers the most great music for the lowest price of any CD I've purchased in at least a year. It's a splendid program and has a superlative minutes-per-dollar ratio.
I'm also susceptible to a bargain when it comes to photo books, too—even by the crude measure of weight per dollar. Consider this recent near-novelty title—actually a presentation of a serious photography collector's dog snapshots from last century. Granted, this is aimed at pet lovers, not people who are into photography (and has the cutesy little quotes in faux cursive script to prove it), but I love this little book flagrantly and unconditionally, if somewhat thoughtlessly—rather like my dog's love for me and my son, actually—despite its fundamentally unserious nature. I love dogs and I love old snapshot photographs—and I appreciate a bargain: hey, a sturdy hardback, an inch thick, decently printed, with a distinctive, decorative cover, for $10.17? Can't beat that with a rolled-up newspaper.
Into the Slipstream
So here's my dilemma. I very much like the work of Patrick O'Hare, especially the pictures from the "Slipstream" project, and I recently realized, compliments of the 5B4 Photography and Books website, that there is a book of the Slipstream pictures (here is the 5B4 review). But...ouch, $65 for 20 pictures. Well, yes, I love the work. Yes, I would love to own the book. But here's a situation where my "Scots gene" activates to nag at me...it seems a lot, for a guy who lives in a city where one in four people lives in poverty.
But here's the thing. With photography, you can't always buy by the pound. It's best to buy what you want, isn't it? To be on the lookout for bargains, sure, but not be "supersize foolish." Better to have twenty pictures you really like and know you'll appreciate (as I know I'd appreciate having Slipstream) than forego it to turn to the false bargain of something merely more voluminous, but less interesting.
I don't know. What would you do?
UPDATE: I did end up buying Patrick's book, with some help from a kind reader who left a nice tip in the contribution jar. I'll give you my impressions once I receive it.