David Owen has a penchant for offbeat Americana. For his first book, HIGH SCHOOL: UNDERCOVER WITH THE CLASS OF ’80, he disguised himself as a high school senior and reported on the anxieties bred in those proverbial locker-lined halls. NONE OF THE ABOVE: BEHIND THE MYTH OF SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE disputed the efficacy of the Scholastic Aptitude Test as a measurement of academic ability. With this collection, Owen once again cuts to the heart of American life.
The essays collected in THE MAN WHO INVENTED SATURDAY MORNING--all were first published in either HARPER’S or THE ATLANTIC--are witty tales of salesmanship. Subjects range from the development of the first Xerox machine to little-known but lucrative trade magazines (for example, “CHAIN SAW AGE, not be to be confused with CHAIN STORE AGE”). In “Rest in Pieces,” Owen considers the equally grim options of donating his body to a medical school versus a conventional burial, outlining with incisive black humor the business sense behind each alternative. “Meet Me in St. Louis” tells of a convention of convention planners, where a meeting is both a regular meeting and “an example of a regular meeting, a sort of metameeting.”
Taken from an essay on the controversial relationship between children’s television and the toy industry, Owen’s title conveys well the tone of this collection. While the book is playful, it is not without substance. Owen explains clearly the processes behind complex inventions and the characters who first envisioned them. His focus is not on money but on product appeal. Between the lines of these essays one gleans a sense of what Americans want: cheese-flavored cat food, satellite television, youth pills. They also want to dream. Clearly, Owen believes that we are what we buy--and sell.