As much as I adore books - mysteries, historical fiction, thrillers, dramas, adventures, poetry, essays, short stories, everything from Edgar Allan Poe to Eoin Colfer - it is rare for me to seek out particular new ones to read, unless they have been recommended by someone in whose literary judgment I have great faith. I generally prefer to stumble upon my favorites. The best books always seem to be the ones tucked in the corners of my parents' bookshelves, piled on the floor in my grandmother's closet, borrowed from a friend, or that just catch my eye at Borders (although that last one doesn't always work out as well as the others, as in the case of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. Did not live up to The Secret Life of Bees).
Occasionally, however, I fall for the promotions and click a book ad and get stuck on it. The most recent example of such is Taking Things Seriously, by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes. The book sponsors a fascinating website called Significant Objects, which is where I was drawn to the thumbnail of its cover.
If you've ever read any of the pieces on Significant Objects (which I recommend if you haven't), you may agree with me that although the project is very clever and interesting, it isn't entirely successful. The stories are usually great, but often the object feels like a jumping-off point that is relatively unimportant to the final piece, rather than injected with a new and vibrant meaning. (This is certainly not true for all of them, however. I really enjoyed this recently posted story.) This book, though, showcases the truly beautiful reality that SignificObs - the site's Twitterized title - attempts to fictionalize. It is a collection of essays from many highly respected authors, artists, etc, about the various strange little objects that for some very specific reason they hold close to their hearts. Whatever their position and history, everyone in the world has the capacity to be inexplicably fond of something material. I myself have this capacity to a pretty high degree - okay, make that a problematically (is that a word?) high degree. That's why this book looks so interesting to me. This personal relationship with the inanimate is something with which I am very familiar and in my mind is, although perhaps not positive, perfectly justifiable, so I am very excited to hear from people who seem to feel the same (albeit maybe not for every single object they own, like myself).
Personally, I am a packrat, a trait that I inherited from the women on my mother's side of the family, along with many of their possessions that are now hidden in various places so that I don't ever have to get rid of them. Though this can make for some serious clutter, this attachment to "stuff" is not just because we're too lazy or stubborn to throw anything away. I think, if we are honest with ourselves, it's because we are afraid we'll forget. In fact, I believe the fear of uncertainty is a trait shared by that same line of very strong women, but that would be an entirely different blog entry. As far as these objects however, this fear comes from an "out of sight, out of mind" personality. Objects, places, even people - to that kind of brain, if it isn't visible, it isn't there. (That's why I love photos so much, too, and consequently why my hard drive is consistently telling me that it's about to throw up.) We remain attached to things because we choose to attach ourselves to them in the first place. Though this may be conscious or unconscious, when we come into possession of an item - whether it was bought, given, found, stolen, earned or fought for - the memory of its acquisition and the surrounding circumstances are eternally molded to the item itself, and we are afraid that if we lose that item we will lose the little part of our lives that came with it. For people like us, every joy and sorrow and hope is represented by some material thing. Our emotional baggage carried in our physical baggage, so to speak.
This tendency itself isn't exactly a good thing. Though it is natural and admirable that we desire to remember, we have to learn to remember on our own. I know from personal experience that it can take a lot of convincing to make oneself believe that the event will still have happened once the souvenir is gone, but by some magic I always seem to remember even when I do finally dispose of it. However, there is a very beautiful element to this clinging-on - it represents what I think is a highly imaginative ability to intertwine the physical with the mental. I would apply the term "synesthesia," a word my professor used frequently in teaching us Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wall-paper," which itself describes a woman becoming so invested in a literal wall that she descends into insanity. Though luckily no one I know has become so attached to an object as to go crazy, the concept of synesthesia - which refers to the overlapping of senses, such as believing one can "hear" or "smell" a color - is well represented in the packrat spirit, which makes inseparable the visual, kinetic, and emotional, and not infrequently the aural and olfactory as well.
And so you see, all this thinking has sprung simply from reading the introduction to Taking Things Seriously on Amazon (something else I recommend you do), which is why I feel that it is entirely tenable to add this book to my own collection of things and probably never get rid of it. However, since I am a virtually penniless college student and it is not QUITE so tenable to spend money on anything but food at the moment, this book is now on my lifelong, ever-growing wishlist. If you would like to support that endeavor, feel free to buy it for me. I'm not at all opposed. Or at the very least, buy it for yourself - maybe it will make you feel better about your packrat-ness, or maybe turn you into a packrat. Or maybe it will just be some thoroughly enjoyable reading, even though I saw it in an advertisement.