Friday, December 28, 2012

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects : Mom and Me Review

Look inside at Amazon.  You can purchase a copy at
Indiebound as well.
You can't judge a book by its cover.  A cliched bromide in the extreme, yet often true.

Fashion writer Stephanie Lacava recently penned her first memoir, focused on her psychologically troubled childhood in France.  And its cover is gorgeously evocative, promising a textured, fine-penned, lucid, and elegant experience for readers.  Some may find that this book fulfills that promise.  We weren't so sure about that.

Mom said...
When I received my copy of this little book I thought: what a lovely and interesting way to announce yourself. I'm really excited to see what you have to share with me.  The binding with title and objects printed directly on it is beautiful and invites the book lover to pick it up and look inside: no bright look-at-me dust jacket needed.

And there are insights within of a young girl growing up in a strange place. Paris is the strange place, but I doubt that the locale actually makes a huge difference for Stephanie as she always feels different and knows that she's different. Insights include being the stranger, being lonely, being odd-person-out, not being part of the 'in' group.

Stephanie has a great relationship with her father. He seems to understand her well and tries very hard to encourage her but isn't always there due to his work. Her mother appears to recognize Stephanie's needs but seems to impact minimally on her daughter, who totally disregards mother's directives, particularly when she disappears at night without notice to anyone. Lots of teenagers have done the same thing so they would probably relate to many of the events.

I'm thinking that Stephanie is so different from me that I found it hard to relate to her.  And I found that the stories of the objects on the book's cover and those noted within chapters, though intriguing, became simply a distraction for me. The footnotes, offered in tiny print and sometimes extending over 2 pages, though integral to the narrative, just didn't do it for me.

I'm not sorry I read the book--I just felt disappointed. I think I didn't want to know as much about the 'objects' as the writer wanted me to learn. 

My take...
I suspect that we all feel - from time to time, and far more frequently during adolescence - that we are more acutely attuned to the world than our peers or even our family members, and that we don't fit in, aren't normal.  This is the central internal conflict for Lacava in this memoir as well.  As a result, most readers will find that aspect of this book provides an opportunity to reflect and to sympathize.  Young adults, particularly, might see themselves in this struggling teen adrift in a sea of affluent private-school children-of-celebrity, an angst-ridden version of the "American in Paris".

However, this memoir's title is a bit misleading, in my opinion.  The "theory" refers to Stephanie Lacava's lifelong interest in all manner of "things" - objects both natural and human made, as well as historical personages received as objects, that capture her attention and help her cope with her exceedingly sensitive and depression-prone nature.  The "theory", I suppose, is that objects can do that for people: help them make sense of - or at least cope with - the world.  But that seemed a rather obvious idea to me, and by the time I finished this memoir I had no more refined a sense of how or why that theory is extraordinary than I did when I started it.

Ms. Lacava's prose throughout is straight-forward, and the narrative pace reasonably quick. Yet I turned the last page thinking that I will remember An Extraordinary History of Objects primarily for its lovely illustrations (created by Matthew Nelson, who doesn't even receive a cover credit?), biographical information on eccentric women like Lee Miller and the Marchesa Casati, locations in France, and the physicality of the book itself rather than for any new insights this memoir might have provided about adolescence/coming-of-age or about how objects become "extraordinary".
Bottom Line: We both expected more from this memoir than we received, but each of us felt that perhaps we were too old to be its best audience.  Rather, young adults may see themselves in the teen Stephanie, finding hope in her ultimate success.  They might also pause to reflect on how the objects they connect to reflect their own inner conditions and conflicts. 

And we both applaud  Harper for investing in this book's aesthetic qualities, which will appeal to bibliophiles like us.

Many thanks to Trish and all at TLC Book Tours, as well as to Ms. Lacava and her publishers at Harper, for the opportunity to sample this unusual book.

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

1 comment:

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour. I always enjoy getting each of your perspectives!

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