Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did Trojans Wear Trojans? A Trip Inside the Corner Drugstore by Vince Staten

Don't be put off by the title, this was such a fun and informative book to read. Mr. Staten takes us on a delightful tour of the drugstore, pulling popular items from the shelves and telling us their history, as well as giving us the history of the drugstore or pharmacy itself from ancient times to modern, all in his fun, brisk and breezy style.

Along the way we learn the history of child-proof caps, which some adults even have trouble with (myself included). We also learn that Q-Tips, originally called Baby Gays, were born after the inventor watched his wife twist cotton around a toothpick to clean their baby's ears. We also follow the author step by step on his personal trial of Rogaine and find out if it works and if it is really worth the bother and expense. We also learn the evolution of hair dye from hallmark of harlot to respectability, and how shampoo began life as a spin-off of dishwashing detergent. We travel back in time to the day when Mabel Williams sat on her bed and applied a mixture of Vaseline and black dye to her eyelashes, giving her brother the idea for mass-market mascara, thus Maybelline Cosmetics was born. And Ivory Soap, "the soap that floats" was the result of a mistake--an employee in a hurry to get to lunch forgot to turn the mixer off. We also learn the history of condoms from ancient times to modern and the big battle between propriety versus need to get sanitary napkins onto store shelves, and that tampons were once denounced from church pulpits. Another fun little tidbit is that Vaseline got its name when the manufacturer ran out of storage space and had to put some of the petroleum jelly in his wife's vases until he could properly package it.

If there is a product you buy at the drugstore and you have ever wondered about its history, like toothpaste, or Tylenol, or even the old patent medicines like Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, that godsend for menstrual cramps before the advent of Midol, then chances are this book will have a chapter about it.

I love books like this. One of the problems I have been grappling with is that as a published author with deadlines to meet and research and writing to do on top of everything else, I don't have as much time to read for pleasure as I used to. It is hard for me to discipline myself to read for an hour or two then stop and go do my work or go to sleep because I get caught up in the story and characters, I want to know what happens next, and I can't very well focus on what I need to be doing if I am wondering how a situation in the novel I am currently reading turned out. That is why I love books like this, where even though there is a common theme, it is not one continuous dramatic story peopled by compelling characters, so I can pick it up and put it down easily, it feeds my need and desire to read and quenches my desire for knowledge without distracting me from work I need to do because, as interesting as I may find the history of condoms and mouthwash I am not going to lose sleep over it and it's not going to keep me from meeting a deadline.

Mr. Staten has also written a similar book about grocery stores which I have and hope to read and review soon.


librarypat said...

I am with you. I love this kind of book, filled with mostly useless but interesting information. I could sit all night and read them. I don't have publishing deadlines, but my house is suffering : )

Dianne K. Salerni said...

This sounds like the kind of book my husband would love! It also sounds like the kind of book you would read in small doses for amusement ... dare I say, you could leave it in the bathroom, or is that TMI? Probably not, for a book that discusses tampons and condoms! Thanks for the review!

Brandy Purdy said...

Good points Dianne, I think it would be perfect for bathroom reading or just anyone who wants a book they can put down and take up again without a plot to follow or characters' lives to get caught up in. I think the chapter on pads and tampons in particular is an interesting slice of Social History, today we are accustomed to seeing adverts for them splashed all over, but in the early days of the 20th century grown women who were married and had children were so embarrassed at the thought of buying a box of pads and having to face the male clerk that Kotex seemed a hopeless venture. They eventually hit on the idea of selling them via the Honor System, the store would set aside a discreet corner in the back of the store where the the women could pick them up in plain wrappers, bag them themselves without facing a clerk, and deposit payment in a money box.

A review of the companion book on grocery stores goes up next week.