Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taking Things Seriously by Joshua Glenn

It took me almost a week into the new year before I finally finished a book. I gave up on Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X. It was good. I just wasn't in the mood for it. Then I requested a bunch of books and so I found myself in the middle of nine different books as they gradually came in and I would begin reading the newest.

Not surprisingly, the first book I finished was a small one. Taking Things Seriously has been on my to-read list for about four years. It's not easy to find because it's a tad different. I requested it via Interlibrary Loan (thanks Lower Macungie Library!) with three other books (the library system "only" allows 25 ILL requests a year and so I thought I would get mine in before the end of the year.

Glenn's concept is intriguing. He finds that people attach significance to ordinary objects. He asks around, gets his friends to do so, and compiles 75 of these objects. Each object is pictured along with a one page essay on the importance of this item to the person. It's a strangely fascinating book. The objects range from ordinary (a seashell) to ordinary but odd (an empty Velveeta box) to unusual (a bagel made and burnt by Christopher Walken) to weird (a possibly ceramic head pockmarked with holes or someones fingernail clipping collection). But all of them mean something to the folks who own them. It's a neat project and I can see it being fun going around to your friends and family and learning the stories behind their oddball items.

At least I thought so. Then I thought about myself and what objects I own that have some significant attachment to. There's the clipboard I wrote about previously. And, well....I have to say that I don't think there's a lot of things I've been lugging around for years because they have some special meaning to me. Maybe I'm being too strict. Maybe the rock I use as a bookend for my cookbooks would qualify. There's the harness bag from Winbak Farm that is in my attic. It has a story....just not a very interesting one. Which is largely why it is in the attic. I don't really count my baseball items. My Mister Rogers postcard. That might be worthwhile. I don't know. I guess I don't attach a lot of significance to objects.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that virtually all of the people Glenn uses in the book are creative types. Running through the list of the people, I count over 60 listed as designers, artists or authors. Perhaps there is something to that. Maybe people who make a living creating objects attach themselves to objects more frequently. Maybe my lack of significant object stems from being more of an information/data/research guy. That's why I have tons of books but not much in the way of knickknacks. Just a theory.

I enjoyed the book a lot and am glad I finally got around to checking it out. It makes you think about how we make things important to us and why.


Hackenbush said...

Sounds good. It puts me in mind of two things. The first is a novel I read a few years ago that I came across in the Sulzer Libary in Chicago, "Observatory Mansions" by Edward Carey. In it the main character calls himself the "attendant of a museum...of significant objects." The second is the psychology of collecting. I'm intrigued by the idea itself and then the many variations in peoples collecting habits.

JJ said...

Can I see this before you send it back? I know you were talking about it the other day, but I hijacked the conversation to talk about myself and forgot to ask more about this book.