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"Significant Objects" book tells love (and other) stories about thrift store junk

A few weeks back — in a post about how clutter can be as big an issue in relationships as money or sex — we mentioned a forthcoming book, Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Everything. Well, the book just came out yesterday! So we’d like to tell you a little more about it.

Significant Objects began its life on eBay, as a sort of literary and anthropological experiment: The editors (New York Times Magazine writer Rob Walker — you might remember his awesome “Consumed” column — and Em’s old friend Josh Glenn of HiLoBrow.com) wanted to see if attaching a fictional backstory to a thrift-store tchotchke would increase its value. Turns out it did — they split the proceeds between the writers and a number of charities.

The objects were divided into four categories of significance: fossils (“bears mute witness to a vanished way of life”), evidence (“implicated in a crime or public event”), totem (“offers wisdom from the natural world”), talisman (“magical, lucky, and/or alive”) and idol (“intense complication lends it an aura”). Bet you never thought of any of that last time you were in a Salvation Army store! The book also organizes the stories and objects into groups that will be more familiar to thrift-store shoppers, based on the items’ original intended use: novelty items, figurines, kitsch, toys, etc. The editors then crunched data to see how the categories affected the final price. You can read more about the process involved on their website.

Walker and Glenn ended up with more than 200 miniature stories and chose a hundred of their favorite to publish in a book. The writers range from bloggers to first-time authors to bigger names like Nicholson Baker, Jonathem Lethem, Neil LaBute, Curtis Sittenfeld, Matthew Sharpe and Luc Sante. And for the record, author fame didn’t necessarily result in a higher eBay profit. The book is a significant object in itself — it’s published by Fantagraphics and is gorgeously designed and organized.

Here are some quotes from a few of our favorite love-related stories in the book (though you can pretty much open the book at random and find an awesome story — it’s the most attractive bathroom book you’ll ever own):

“Again, it’s not that I’m unhappy, but I will say that when I open the drawer of the dressing table where I keep these little dogs, they’re such an unsettling reminder that sometimes just seeing them, my breath catches.” — Curtis Sittenfeld, writing about a spotted dog figurine and a woman who may or may not have married the wrong man.

“ALL AMERICAN NECKING TEAM, the pin read. It was hard to reconcile the words with my father.” — Susannah Breslin, writing about a button and a man trying to imagine a time before he was born and a father who may or may not have been just like his son.

“He is not the only person I have loved whose constitution was at war with his calling, but he handled it rather better than some.” — Shelley Jackson, writing about a crumb sweeper and werewolf who was allergic to dust, dander and dogs.

“After I bought them I walked home from the corner shop imagining the hot wax dripping onto my naked skin and Mark, who still owed me for the mayonnaise thing, peeling it off after it had dried.” — Scarlett Thomas, writing about birthday candles and a woman recalling her seventeenth birthday.

“I bought this chrome turtle from the first girl I ever loved, five years after I’d stopped.” — Bob Powers, writing about a yard sale purchase that leads to infidelity.

“I thought I was ugly, and she thought she was, but the truth is she was beautiful from every direction you could name, and in bed we made each other feel like astronauts.” — Kevin Brockmeier, writing about how a thrift store purchase of a rope and wood monkey began the process of a couple finding each other to be ordinary.

“Everything had a temperature in those days. Cheese was cold. Avocados were warm. My heart was a piece of hot meat pierced by love’s thermometer.” — Nicholson Baker, writing about a meat thermometer.

Significant Objects is on sale now. You can read more at SignificantObjects.com.

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