The Significant Objects project

Susannah Breslin is a guestblogger on Boing Boing. She is a freelance journalist who blogs at Reverse Cowgirl and is at work on a novel set in the adult movie industry.


A while back, I received an email from Rob Walker, a friend, the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, and the guy who writes the "Consumed" column for the New York Times Magazine. With a friend of his, Joshua Glenn, who wrote Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance, he was working on a new project: Significant Objects.

The idea is this:

A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!

Each writer, Rob explained, would choose from a variety of "junk" objects bought by the curators at garage sales and thrift stores. A smiling mug. A Sanka ashtray. A JFK bust. Then, we would write a short story about the object. Whatever we liked. A fiction. Thereby, at least as I saw it, imbuing this seeming "worthless" object with a greater value, sentimental or otherwise. The story and a photo of the object would be posted on the website and put up for auction on eBay. Readers would be invited to bid on the item. If they won the auction, they would win the object and a printout of the story. No one would be "deceived" into believing the stories about the objects were true, as their fictional relationship would be made clear, and the proceeds of the auction would go to the author, who would retain the rights to the story. Or, as Rob puts it: "Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a 'significant' object!"

I chose the All-American Official Necking Team button that you see here. The story I wrote about it has bits of truth and fiction mixed together. My paternal grandfather did die on the IRT and my father was a tall man, but I am not a boy and, so far as I know, my father was never on a "necking team."

After he had passed away, my mother and I had stood over the dining room table upon which sat a large box that contained what was left of him. Cremains, the man had called them. My father, I had longed to correct him. Thankfully, my mother had been willing to share what remained of him with me, his only son. My father was a skyscraper of a man — six-foot-five, Ozymandias hands, a brooding forehead — a great man, really — and so, he had left a great deal of himself behind.

Other writers with story objects include Luc Sante, Ben Greenman, Stewart O'Nan, Kurt Anderson, and there's one coming from Boing Boing's own Mark Frauenfelder.

Check out Significant Objects here, read about the project here, and see all the items on eBay here. You can read my story here and bid on it here. More coverage here: The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The New Yorker.