Citizen Reading: 8 August 2016
Citizen Reading: 15 August 2016

Alison Stewart's "Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff."

Welcome to yet another review of a book that I got from the library after I heard about it...somewhere. I really need to start making notes on where I hear about books. But right now that seems about 231 steps more organized than I am ever going to be.

JunkSo the book in question is Junk: Digging through America's Love Affair with Stuff, by Alison Stewart. I think I heard about it on NPR, maybe? It's exactly what the subtitle promises: an examination of exactly how much junk Americans have. What we call "junk" and why. How we get stuck living with our junk because we think it's important. And, perhaps most tellingly, how we deal with our junk when it gets out of control.

I read a lot of books about stuff, and consumption, and household management, simply because for some reason I find those topics interesting. (I am such a nerd that the other day I noticed there is a street near me named Veblen Way--I'm guessing after Thorstein Veblen, father of the concept of "conspicuous consumption"--and I thought, I should ask someone how that street got named.) Ironically, although I have a paper/books clutter problem (about which Mr. CR and my former roommate, my brother, have both complained, those darlings who are always complete angels to live with themselves), I am not a junk person. My favorite thing to do is go through closets and my basement and get rid of stuff. I have fond memories of my Grandma's house; she always had completely clean kitchen counters, very few knick-knacks, and a completely empty basement. What a woman.

Anyway. I enjoyed reading this book and I like Stewart's writing; it's good basic reporting with a twist of style. Take this opening paragraph:

"Agnes. Irene. Bertha. These three ladies are large, in good shape, and looking for some action. Agnes is the youngest and a fine choice to be a guide for a day of junk removal, Austin style. She's revved up and ready to roll by 7:00 a.m. with two handsome young men, Scott and James, along for the ride.

Agnes is a cab-over style truck that can hold eighteen cubic yards of whatever can fit in her..." (p. 59.)

So that's fun.However, it's not a perfect book. I feel that it definitely needed some editing in terms of flow--I don't really need my nonfiction to be narrative, but I do like to see that it is thoughtfully organized.* This book seems to go from the subject of hoarding, to junk removal companies, to definitions of what "junk" is (including some strange, but not uninteresting, forays into definitions of thinks like space "junk" and "junk" mail), back to different junk removal companies, to question-and-answer sessions with junk artists. See? Kind of all over the place. Several interviews are also presented simply in question-and-answer format, and it's not my favorite thing to read straight interviews in books. I don't mind that in a short magazine or Internet feature; but in a book I find it distracting.

Last but not least: there were so many typos in this book that it started to bother me. Although I have worked as a copyeditor and proofreader, I'm usually quite lenient about these things, because I know publishers are not spending a lot of money any more to get things proof-read, and even if an author has been through their work a million times, they're still going to miss some stuff (hence the need for proofreading). But there are just so MANY of them here, which surprised me. I'm a fan of the Chicago Review Press (the publisher here) and have never noticed this problem in their books before.

But I still read the whole thing and enjoyed many parts of it, particularly the chapters exploring different junk removal companies and how they operate in different communities. I'd class this one as kind of a nice, informative, lighter nonfiction read. Not a bad nonfiction book for the beach, all told.

*Stewart has organized this book: the sections are headed, respectively, "What Is It?", "Who Has It? And Why?", "When Did It Become Big Business?", "Where Should It Go?", and "How Can You Use It, Fix It, or Love It?" But within those sections it sometimes seemed like she repeated herself.