Book Review: Taking Things Seriously
Back when I worked at the local newspaper, one of the things I confiscated for myself was this ancient metal Swingline stapler which appeared to date from the Kennedy/Johnson era. Streamlined in design, heavy as a rock, painted Industrial Tan and covered in years of grime and scotch tape detritus, the stapler was so out of its element in that modernized office that I just had to adopt it as my own. I proudly kept it on my desk — and when I subsequently had to leave that job it got smuggled home, where it still sits on my desk. Though I rarely have the need for a stapler (much less an ungainly brick like the Swingline), I like to have it around to imagine the chain smoking, rumpled Broderick Crawford type who undoubtedly owned the hell out of it when it was new.
The stapler is a prime example of how we tend to bestow meaning and history onto the most banal and seemingly worthless of objects. With Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance, Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes took the idea one step further by asking several semi-known folks (mostly fringe writers and artists) about their favorite objects. The stories they collected are as diverse as the objects themselves: a bath towel, an antique wooden horse, a pine cone, a glass jar, a light bulb, worn plastic toys and mummified food. Although some of the contributors’ stories have a purely nostalgic bent, many of the people chose items that they associate with deeper things like the power of social ties or the utter randomness of life. Some of the stories are funny, others are unexpectedly touching. Admittedly it’s a strange idea to build a book around, but ultimately the project is beautifully executed in boxy paperback form. This would make a good gift for everyone’s favorite oddball.