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Pickle Me This

August 20, 2012

The Book of Marvels by Lorna Crozier

The most disappointing book I ever received was a book of household tips containing such wisdom as how to clean decanters and select bathroom soaps, and poet Lorna Crozier’s new book The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everday Things is that disappointing book’s most polar opposite. Fitting for a book that renders ordinary objects extraordinary, Crozier’s book itself is an extraordinary object, one of the few books I’ve ever encountered that dazzles you when its dust jacket falls off: the book is argyle. Its design is splendid, and the contents will not disappoint, guaranteed to appeal to anyone who loves words, and stories, and the thingy-ness of things.

Arranged in alphabetical order, The Book of Marvels is a dictionary of sorts, each definition illuminating the extraordinary lives of objects that we rarely look at twice. Sometimes Crozier will regard a familiar object from an unusual point of view (“Bed: Solid. Immovable. It does little more than take up space in the room it gives its name to, but at night the bed could be any kind of boat…”), use it to tell a story (“The shoe the old dog dropped on the step at dusk… It’s a man’s shoe, black, with a built up sole, as if the owner is a 1950s’ child of polio. Perhaps he’s not lame, just short, and the partner of this show is also heightened…”), invent mythologies (“The first rake was a hand. The older the better, rachitic fingers permanently bent, a scraping tool of bone and flesh…”),or uncover the hidden life within (“All doorknobs are twins, joined at the centre by a bolt narrow as a pencil, inflexible, unvertabraed. Though they move as one, they never get to see each other. They are like siblings separated at birth by a war, by a wall of stone and razor wire”).

I can tell you that I delighted in reading this book on the bus last week, in being the woman seen reading an argyle book called The Book of Marvels, in nearly falling down every time the bus lurched because I’d let go of the hanging strap in order to frantically underline all the best bits. Sometimes the underlines were because the idea was so right, so perfect: “Flashlight: It feels neglected. Too often it’s merely a case for carrying dead batteries.”Or: “The mop lacks the mystery of the broom. No one thinks of it steering through the stars.”

Or the writing: “Shovel:… You’d swear it is a noun but it’s a verb, in stasis, waiting in the shed for a shift of circumstance or season.” And there is this: “Snail: It sails without sails in the garden, so slow, if it were a ship, there’d be no wind.”

The one I went around reading to everybody on Friday was from Fork: “It’s the only kitchen noun, turned adjective, attached to lightning.”

And oh, how I loved: “Whatever it’s called, its country of origin, in a past life the umbrella must have harmed the wind–the wind, without doubt, plots its undoing.”

The Book of Marvels was the title of Marco Polo’s travel writings, and also those of traveller/adventurer Richard Halliburton, and is a title that would set up high expectations for any book, even without the allusions. Lorna Crozier not only meets these expectations, however, she exceeds them, in her excellent argyle book which affirms with delectable language that the world’s wonders are all around us.

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