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Monday, August 6, 2007
Taking Things Seriously
On August 5, the New York Times Book Review and LA Times Book Review both praised "Taking Things Seriously," a book of photos and essays about "75 Objects with Unexpected Significance" that I've co-edited with my friend Carol Hayes.
These reviews came as a surprise, because the book wasn't scheduled to publish until November. It's an odd coincidence that these two reviews jumped the gun, but it's always good to get reviews, right? The publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, will now rush "Taking Things Seriously" to bookstores by September 5. It's distributed by Chronicle Books.
Here's an excerpt from the LA Times review:
Why do certain things charm us so? In their new book, "Taking Things Seriously," Boston Globe columnist Joshua Glenn and designer Carol Hayes delve into this "human drive and capacity to invest inanimate objects with meaning." They asked artists, designers, writers and thinkers to contribute photos of their precious belongings and explain their significance.... The result is a wonderfully eccentric collection of "things" and thought-provoking essays that underscore French philosopher Bruno Latour's challenge to regard objects as more than merely matters of fact but, Glenn writes in his introduction, as "an association, a network, a gathering" of meaning and ideas.
PS: On July 6, Mark Frauenfelder (of Boing Boing and Make Magazine) posted a sneak preview of the book to Boing Boing. Thanks, Mark! Excerpt:
My friend Joshua Glenn was the founder of one of my favorite zines, The Hermenaut. He edited a new book called "Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance," which can be pre-ordered via Amazon. I've read some samples from the book and they're wonderful.
Bookmark this blog entry if you're interested in keeping tabs on the book. I will update periodically with new reviews and blog mentions, bookstore events and launch parties.
UPDATE: Princeton Architectural Press announced that the official publication date of "Things" is now September 5, and the on-sale date is NOW!
UPDATE: Thanks for the mention, Toronto Globe & Mail. On August 18, the Globe & Mail's John Allemang wrote: "In 'Taking Things Seriously,' 75 items of otherwise lowly ambition are given the respect they deserve -- a couch arm-rest, stained with burns, where a belated mother used to rest her cigarette-smoking hand, a defunct film-editing machine that carries memories of a philosophy classmate gone round the bend, a pious sampler with one simple needle-pointed command: THOUGHTS."
UPDATE: On August 19, the Toronto Star featured "Taking Things Seriously" in its Ideas section. Ryan Bigge wrote an essay about the book as part of a regular series titled A Picture And A Thousand Words. Here's an excerpt:
The mundane items of Taking Things Seriously are transformed into the extraordinary through the explanations of their owners. Call it narrative alchemy.... A million bucks worth of sentiment courses through the pages. An empty, yellow, two-pound box of Velveeta symbolizes father-daughter stubbornness. A box of hairpins serves as an erotic memento of an emotionally draining affair. A yellow "sugar egg" marks a childhood friendship that ended too soon. A one-eyed frog soap dish is born of divorce and miscommunication. A burnt bagel from New York's TriBakery (an eatery created by Robert De Niro) is transformed into a collectible because it was inexpertly carbonized by guest chef Christopher Walken.... The book also functions as a grown-up version of show and tell. Many of the book's contributors were involved with Hermenaut, a philosophy and pop-culture journal that Glenn edited and published from 1992 until 2000. Perhaps as a result of their shared history, the stories are emotionally generous, detailing divorces, death and lost love.
UPDATE: On August 20, the Core77 Design Blog praised "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt: "Just because an object wasn't birthed from the creative loins of a Starck, Hadid, or Rashid doesn't mean it lacks importance. ['Taking Things Seriously'] shares intimate accounts of 'things' you might normally scoff at like a pine cone, pile of dirt, or a bagel Christopher Walken burned during his days as short-order cook."
Consider the contributor list just from the world of comics: Tony Millionaire, Bill Griffith, James Kochalka, Mark Newgarden, and (yet another talented designer) Helene Silverman (of the Fantagraphics' "Jimbo" series and the flocked covers of "We All Die Alone"). These are busy people and I love when busy people make time for emotionally generous stories.
UPDATE: On August 31, business-and-anthropology guru Rob Walker, who writes The New York Times Magazine's "Consumed" column, blogged about "Taking Things Seriously," which he hasn't actually seen yet. Walker says that the book "sounds like a thoughtful take on on material culture (which is, of course, my beat, so I'm a little biased about why I think this project is such a good idea)." Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Walker!
UPDATE: The September/October 2007 issue of Canadian Interiors calls "Taking Things Seriously" a "delightfully offbeat and entertaining" book. I haven't seen the actual article, but I think it's at least a half-page.
UPDATE: On September 1, Maisonneuve, a magazine dedicated to "eclectic curiosity," described "Taking Things Seriously" as "a funny, fascinating and touching book documenting the stories behind seventy-five weird and wonderful objects people treasure," and launched a Significant Objects contest. The best entries will win copies of the book. Good idea!
UPDATE: On September 3, the Montreal Gazette published a very nice essay titled "Some Objects Are Worth Their Weight In Memories." Excerpt:
For Sina Najafi, a striped towel speaks of disappointment. He and his wife hosted a friend, a European artist he calls B, and her boyfriend for a week. They'd had a great time -- or so Najafi thought. B forgot a towel. A year later, Najafi encountered a friend who knew B, too. The friend asked if the couple had seen B, who'd just spent a month in New York. But she had never called. "Like everyone else, I've lost friends over the years, but almost all of the other breakups were explicable, even justified: people grow apart, like trees," Najafi observes in his contribution to this lovely book, edited by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes. "But B stands for those friends whose friendships I've lost without knowing why and this towel stands for B."
UPDATE: On September 4, the Raincoast Books blog had the following to say about "Taking Things Seriously":
Artists, writers, designers, musicians, among many others, contribute their objects and try to explain their significance in the book. From everyday objects like a cocktail glass or a cigar box, to the more surprising such as a dirt pile or a one-hundred-pound practice bomb, it is a truly fascinating insight into the things that inspire and motivate our creativity.
A surprising number of the things celebrated in the book are either foods or food-related. There is the Zippy soda bottle Bill Griffith claims to have magically found one day, which supplied the logo for his beloved "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip. There is a bagel incompetently cooked by Christopher Walken at Robert De Niro's Tribakery and saved by the actor's biggest fan. There is a single ancient artichoke and a whole collection of preserved cupcakes. And they all matter, because each one comes with a highly personal story, boiled down to its bare essentials.
UPDATE: On September 7, the always engaging blog Book By Its Cover profiled "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt: "All of these stories about the objects were so engaging- once I started reading one, I had to read them all. Some of the photos of the objects make you smile before even reading their story -- like the sampler with the word Thoughts in needlepoint on it or the rubber yellow pig toy." Also: "How beautiful is that cover?"
UPDATE: On September 7, at the blog Guybrarian, David Wright had some nice things to say about the book. Excerpt: "This collection of mabeldoodads, dinguses, jiggers, gizmos, widgets, dealie-bobs and whatsits -- each imbued with meaning by its owner, saver, collector -- is a treasure, and a delightful object in itself, handsomely constructed. (I enjoyed it more than, say, Paul Auster's 'I Thought My Father Was God,' which flowed to similar ends in many regards), and the book had me musing on my own uneasy relationship with things."
UPDATE: Also on September 7, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Alex Bozikovic enthuses that the editors of "Taking Things Seriously" deliver "a fascinating set of personal stories and bold images that reveal just how powerful a leftover towel, a dried artichoke or a cheap ceramic frog can be."
UPDATE: On September 9, Michael Surtees blogged about "Taking Things Seriously" at his DesignNotes blog: "Some pieces of inspiration are quite funny while others are moving for more somber reasons. If anything, it will make you look around your own surroundings and make you ask yourself what inspires you?" Surtees also posted spreads from the book to his Flickr account.
UPDATE: On September 10, Paul Lukas -- who writes the "Uni Watch" column for ESPN, blogged about "Taking Things Seriously": "Although the book isn't the least bit sports-related, its emphasis on finding big pleasure in small details resonates in a very Uni Watch-ish sort of way. The entries, which include contributions from such geniuses as Tony Millionaire, Luc Sante, and Bill Griffith, are consistently wonderful, and I'm proud to be in their company. Highly recommended, and not just because I was involved with the project."
UPDATE: On September 15, designer Tina Roth Eisenberg posted a review of "Taking Things Seriously" to her blog, swissmiss:
We all have something in our lives or something in our homes that, while not obviously valuable, is displayed as though it were a precious and irreplacable artifact. In 'Taking Things Seriously' the owners of 75 objects convey their excitement in short, often poignant essays that invite readers to participate in the enjoyable act of interpreting things. It has been a while since a book has mesmerized me this much! One of my new favorites!
UPDATE: On September 16, the great Patrick Cates (expat British writer, provocateur, photographer, blogger) was spotted in LA, reading "Taking Things Seriously" while wearing one of the objects from the book:
UPDATE: On September 16, the website Scrubbles.net had some kind words to say about "Taking Things Seriously":
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.
UPDATE: On September 17, ephemera scholar Marty Weil wrote on his blog, ephemera, that Carol and I asked the owners of "movie posters, ephemera, and other objects ... to convey their excitement about the thingamajigs in short essays.... 'Taking Things Seriously' is good fun. And it'd make an excellent stocking stuffer for your favorite ephemera lover this upcoming holiday season."
UPDATE: On September 17, the five and a half online store's blog, five and a half, got it just right: "'Taking Things Seriously' is a process, an experience in looking and interpreting, reminding us to take a good look at all the ordinary things around and to realize that they are each far more just that."
UPDATE: On September 17, I found a nice review of "Taking Things Seriously" on the Dwell website. Not sure if the review is online-only, or if it appeared in the October issue of the magazine:
For those who've reached their saturation point with over-designed objects devoid of meaning, Joshua Glenn's new book is a celebration of mundane objects that were never intended to mean anything, but took on a life of their own. From a soda bottle that inspired a comic strip to a "hairdo machine" that's a ladies' magnet, each object comes with the story of why one person can't let it go. Deftly designed by Carol Hayes, the paperback serves as a cabinet of curiosities.
UPDATE: On September 17, Lynn Peril (author of "Pink Think" and "College Girls," and a contributor to "Taking Things Seriously," blogged about the book: "It's a collection of essays about and photographs of objects imbued with personal meaning by their owners: a stick chewed by beavers, a tiny little pinecone, a box of nail clippings. The items are tangible yet mysterious, and the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. I'm so happy to have been part of this project."
UPDATE: On September 19, Paul McMorrow of Boston's Weekly Dig posted an interview with me about "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt:
"For years, my entire adult life, whenever I'd go to somebody's office, their study, their studio, their workspace, office, living room, whatever, I always gravitate towards that one object they've got on their shelf or the mantelpiece that's an unusual thing," [Glenn] says. "It might be a rock or a stick or a tarnished little statuette or a bent or broken or burned old toy. Somebody of an older generation would've put something nice there, like a Ming vase or something, but somebody of my generation has this weird half-destroyed toy from the '50s or '60s, and it's displayed like a precious artifact. And I always ask about it, and there's always an amazing story connected to it, and you get insight into that person that you couldn't get otherwise."
Yeah, sounds like me, for better or worse!
Glenn, a long-time Globe "Ideas" section columnist and former Hermenaut zine mastermind, conceived the project as "like show-and-tell, or a wonder cabinet" of the everyday things we attach significance to. He encourages partygoers to bring their own objects of unexpected significance, so gather up your weird and your wonderful crap -- after all, everyone loves show-and-tell.
Hope to see you there, readers.
UPDATE: In the Boston Phoenix's Fall Literary Supplement (September 24), Caitlin E. Curran reviews "Taking Things Seriously," in depth and with great perspicacity. Excerpt:
For Glenn and Hayes, who specifically designed their book to be aesthetically pleasing, from its thick, smooth paper to the artful snapshots of each object, it’s "a pleasurable object. . . . We wanted the experience of looking at it to be like show-and-tell, or a wonder cabinet," says Glenn. "You want to pick it up. The point of it is to have the same experience that I enjoy when I’m at someone's house, looking through someone's junk."
Thank you, Ms. Curran, for describing me as "a longtime columnist for the Boston Globe's "Ideas" section, mastermind behind the fantastically philosophical, sadly defunct Hermenaut zine, and instigator of writerly gatherings in Boston."
UPDATE: On September 25, the blog Bookburger reviewed "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt: "This lovely little book from Princeton Architectural Press helped us understand that, in fact, our inexplicable attachment to a dirty white plush duck and the rhinestone horseshoe ring given to us by a boy named Seth in eighth grade is just part of the 'human drive and capacity to invest inanimate objects with meaning.' Our tschotschkes are no different from the ones so gorgeously shot for this book, the treasured objects of writers, artists, and other deep types."
UPDATE: On September 26, my favorite pet supplies store, Pet Cabaret (in Roslindale), posted a nice note on their blog: "Cool customer Josh Glenn has a new book out entitled 'Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance.' Find it at Pazzo Books in Roslindale Square. Buy it. It's cool."
UPDATE: On September 27, Lena Corwin posted some photos of "Taking Things Seriously" to her blog (named ~>O<~ ) and said some nice stuff about it: "Photographs and stories about small and odd things that have value and significance, like found objects, relics, and scraps. It made me look around my apartment and think about the odd little things that I cherish."
UPDATE: On September 28, Salon.com columnist Patrick "Ask the Pilot" Smith described his own contribution to the book (a pair of ceramic insulator pegs that he appropriated from the grounds of the former Birkenau concentration camp), and also wrote: "I've known Josh Glenn for more than 20 years, during which he has progressed from slacker Svengali to capo of the Boston literary mafia." Completely untrue. But it amuses me to think that if anyone ever searches Salon for my name, that's what they'll read about me.
UPDATE: On October 1, the blog Apartment Therapy said of "Taking Things Seriously" the following: "We can always use more of anything that helps foster appreciation for the little things."
UPDATE: On October 1, a Calgary bookstore called Uppercase posted a very nice review. Excerpt:
Is it possible to be in love with a book? Yes. "Taking Things Seriously" is the object of my affections. First of all, the cover photograph is stunning. The book's modest dimensions make the act of reading a very intimate affair. The perfect binding and crisp, precise page trim lend this little block of book importance and heft. The page design is simple and elegant and lets the personality of the objects be fully appreciated, elevating the most mundane to that of a museum artifact.... The contributors to this book are creative individuals (designers, writers, artists, architects) and all the entries are equally well-written, humourous, insightful and quirky. This book is something to treasure.
Thanks a million!
UPDATE: During the month of October, the great Harvard Book Store is featuring "Taking Things Seriously" as one of its "select seventy" new titles. Here's their review:
Boston Globe editor Glenn and award-winning Brooklyn artist Carol Hayes have constructed a wonder cabinet of seventy-five unlikely thingamajigs that have been invested with significance and transformed into totems, talismans, charms, relics, and fetishes: scraps of movie posters scavenged from New York City by Low Life author Luc Sante, the bagel burned by Christopher Walken while moonlighting as a short-order cook, and seventy-three other doodads. The possessors -- or possessed -- of these objects convey their excitement in short, often poignant essays.
This is a great honor, from one of my favorite bookstores anywhere.
UPDATE: On October 8, the blog Mighty Goods praised "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt: "When your copy arrives, head to your favorite coffee shop and settle in for a happy afternoon."
UPDATE: On October 15, Karen Templer, former Salon.com designer and proprietor of the blog Readerville included "Taking Things Seriously" on her list of Most Coveted Covers. Excerpt: "A book cover's one and only job is to make one eager to know what's inside, right? Well, I'm eager. All I've seen of Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance is this scan of the super pretty cover, so I can't tell you who designed it, nor can I satisfy my desperate need to crack it open and commence to oohing. Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes' clever title for their book is pretty compelling all by itself. The total package ... well, see Karen yearn." (For the record: Carol designed the book cover, and the rest of the book, too!)
UPDATE: On October 17, the Boston Globe reviewed "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt:
As the old sayings go, art is in the eye of the beholder and one person's junk is another person's treasure. "Taking Things Seriously" is a fun, off-center collection of objects and stories that will have you looking at the objects around you with fresh eyes and strange questions, like "Would Christopher Walken autograph my burned bagel?" or "Is it a good thing to get military ordnance for your birthday?"
Reviewer Chuck Leddy's use of the words "offbeat," "bizarre," "quirkiness," "bizarre" (again), and "off-center" indicates that he wouldn't want most of the contributors' objects in his own home. But he still praises the book! So: Many thanks, indeed.
UPDATE: Hey! "Taking Things Seriously" made "The Must List" in the October 26 issue of Entertainment Weekly, where it rubs elbows with the likes of "The Abstinence Teacher," "Survivor: China," "Desperate Housewives" newbie Dana Delany, and the David Lee Roth/Van Halen reunion. Excerpt: "Proving one man's trash is another's treasure, this collection of photos and essays shows how the unlikeliest things can provide inspiration." This made the publisher happy.
UPDATE: Wow, Entertainment Weekly and Inside Higher Ed, two of my favorite periodicals, in the same week? It's too much. On October 24, IHE's "Intellectual Affairs" columnist Scott McLemee published a Q&A with yours truly about "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt:
Q: My left shoe and the coffee table it is beneath are both undoubtedly objects, but neither has much of an aura of meaning or mystery. I value them. They are useful. Their absence would get my attention. But it probably wouldn’t be possible to write an essay about either one that would belong in your gallery. So what’s the difference between any old object and “things,” in your book?
A: I, too, value my left shoe and my coffee table! But I haven’t invested them with mental or emotional energy, with complex ideas or strong feelings. Contrariwise, these particular possessions of mine aren’t “notional,” in the Victorian sense of the term: they don’t demand my attention, they don’t fascinate me.
It might be tempting to argue that such commonplace items a priori cannot be “objects with unexpected significance,” to quote the book’s subtitle. But to do so would be a mistake. (After all, Heidegger found Van Gogh’s shoes endlessly evocative; and one of the significant objects in Taking Things Seriously is a coffee table of sorts rescued by Ingrid Schorr from a dead neighbor’s apartment.)
My interest in someone’s extraordinary object — a grandfather’s bayonet, a beloved pet’s cremains, a GI Joe whose kung-fu grip still works — is merely polite. What I find so charming about other people’s totems, fetishes, fossils, and talismans is precisely this: Somehow, a perfectly ordinary object has taken on extraordinary significance. How? Why? I never get tired of hearing the answer.
A thousand thanks to Scott McLemee. PS: If you want to see me get raked over the coals by individuals who seem to know a lot more than I do about material culture studies and philosophy, read the comments appended to the IHE interview!
UPDATE: On October 26, the blog Bookdwarf, which I've been reading regularly for a long time now, because it's published by one of the frontlist buyers at the amazing Harvard Book Store, posted a flattering item: "Local boy makes good. Scott McLemee interviews Joshua Glenn, co-author of Taking Things Seriously. Glenn writes for the Boston Globe’s Ideas section, one of the sections that still makes it worth subscribing to."
UPDATE: On Friday, November 2, from 8 pm until midnight, the journal n+1 and Princeton Architectural Press host a New York release party for "Taking Things Seriously." I hope that New York readers of Brainiac will join me there. Contributors William Drenttel, David Scher, Helene Silverman, John Kelly, Sina Najafi, Megan Cash, Josh Ozerksy, Richard Saja, Deb Wood, and Kevin Saunders have volunteered to bring their objects and read their essays. Another dozen or so contributors have also RSVP-ed, though, alas, not all of them will bring their objects. Click here for details about the party.
PS: The party was a success -- thanks to everyone involved! Contributors who showed up included Megan Cash, Lissi Erwin, Scott Hamrah, Carol Hayes, John Keen, John F. Kelly, Maria Kozic, Sina Najafi, Josh Ozersky, Richard Saja, Kevin Saunders, David Scher, Hank Scollard (the only contributor who attended both the Boston and New York parties), Helene Silverman, Chip Wass, and Deb Wood. It was funny to see the contributors hovering nervously around the shelf where their significant objects were on display; in fact, some contributors wouldn't even put their object on the shelf.
UPDATE: On November 5, playwright Jason Grote talked up "Taking Things Seriously" on a website dedicated to making the arts affordable for teens.
Here are the 75 contributors and their objects:
HENRY SCOLLARD hairdo machine
UPDATE: Thanks for mentioning the book, Boing Boing, Mental Floss, ArchivesNext, GoGoAbigail, Your Mileage May Vary, FreshArrival, Liasynthis, The Inauguration of the Jason Grote Dome, Outside the Lines, Snap Judgment, Super Punch, Raincoast Books, cr.unchy, murketing, The Morning News: Book Digest, Beatrice.com, ~>O<~, The Book Design Review, Freshly Blended, MoCo Loco, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, Lena Corwin, nottene, Happy Mundane, Abstract Random, Camilla Engman, Kim Cooper's 1947project, Uni Watch Blog, Paintspace Sketchbook, Beginning to See the Light, Historically Inaccurate, L'esprit ro-to-no, Newton Library, Literary Lotus, Book of Joe, FLOG, Kanlaon, papressblog, and Pazzo!
The book is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And Borders and Springer. Oh, wow: And Wal-Mart and Target. If you're in Boston, please consider supporting Brookline Booksmith, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Harvard Book Store, or Porter Square Books, all of which carry "Taking Things Seriously." Canadians: Chapters carries the book.