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Catherine's Pick: Meet Me By the Fountain by Alexandra Lange

An entertaining and evocative stroll through the rise, fall, and ongoing reinvention of malls, which proved to be a powerful draw for creative thinkers including Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, and George Romero, chronicles how the design of these marketplaces played an integral role in cultural ascent.

Let’s go to the mall. Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall by Alexandra Lange tells the story of that coveted yet maligned institution where architecture meets urban planning. While the first mall as we know it today opened in the 1950s, Lange charts their development starting with the rise of the department store in the nineteenth-century and continuing through the booms and busts that many have forgotten, if they had ever given them any thought at all, wrapping up with our current “dead mall” fascination and a discussion of how such spaces are being revitalized in the U.S. and used vibrantly elsewhere in the world.

I was certainly surprised to discover that the first discussion of malls as a dying concept dates back to 1982, a year I would have expected to be a boom time for them, which gives me a hope that some of the echoing empty halls I have walked through in recent years may see new life again.

The structure of the book is more thematic than strictly chronological, creating something of a looping timeline that can be a bit disorienting at times, but likely less disorienting than it would be to read about the trend of “festival marketplaces” followed immediately by a discussion of George Romero’s mall-centered zombie movie Dawn of the Dead just because they both happened in the late 1970s. Perhaps the home of both teenage mall rats and elderly mall walkers, a public space owned by private real estate companies, is simply too multi-faceted a subject to be handled in a strictly linear fashion.

The book makes for an interesting read all around for those who enjoy thinking about the forces that shape the spaces we spend our lives in. - Catherine, Cataloging Associate


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