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One of the more charming books I’ve come across recently is pictured at left. I suppose Home-Made (Fuel Publishing) would qualify as a coffee-table book (if your coffee-table is about eight inches square). Assembled by contemporary Russian artist Vladimir Arkhipov, the book is a devotional text in honor of the human need to invent–in this case to invent things that already exist. Thrift is the motivator behind such redundancy: if you can’t afford a new television antenna, why not make one out of forks?
Home-Made is a distillation of over a thousand such objects that Arkhipov has collected over the years into what he calls “The People’s Museum of Home-Made Objects,” some two hundred peculiar pieces of human industry. “In 1994,” Arkhipov writes, “I saw, at an acquaintance’s dacha, an unusual hook on which clothes were hanging. It was made from an old toothbrush, without bristles, and had been obviously bent over a fire. There was something strange in that moment of recognition. I immediately saw the light, as it were, and recalled similar things that I knew, belonging to my relatives, friends, acquaintances.”
Each of the objects in the book is named (“BOOT HANGER”), then followed by the name of the inventor (“VASILII BOBROV”), then by the inventor’s first-person narration of the invention (“It’s just an absolutely primitive boot hanger… I just bent mine out of odd bits of wire that came to hand”), and finally, of course, a photo of the object (this one looks like a pair of enormous spectacles mated with a question-mark). The book is crammed with hockey sticks, aerials, toy locomotives, back massagers, and stories. Whimsical without trying to be and inspiring in its way, Home-Made makes you wonder not so much why you’d buy anything as why you wouldn’t first try to make it out of a plastic jug, a bicycle wheel, a peach pit, a tennis ball cut in half, and an old abacus. And while some of the devices seem a bit dodgy (there’s a sort of razor in there I’d run from) the stories of their inventors are solidly involving.
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”