Review: The Book of Marvels

End of term assignments and dismal weather getting you down? Lorna Crozier’s collection of “prose meditations,” The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things, might remind you that there is beauty in everyday objects and experiences.

Crozier goes through the alphabet, from air and apple to zipper, writing stream of consciousness musings about the use and meaning of each thing. Sometimes there is only one entry per letter, and sometimes as many as 12, as with S. Although there is the structure of the alphabet which somewhat directs the flow of the book, she is free to choose how long to dwell on each letter. Her entries themselves are otherwise free of restraint, some stretching over a few pages and some only a few sentences long.

While some of the almost poetic meditations can touch on dark topics, her tone always stays light. Each entry causes you to consider objects in a different, and often deeper, way, but Crozier doesn’t encourage the reader to think of some objects as inherently sad or inherently cheerful. Even while Crozier describes a flashlight as “neglected … Too often it’s only a case for carrying dead batteries,” she doesn’t let the reader slip into despair at the terrible treatment of innocent flashlights, but rather marvel at the possibility that a flashlight can have interiority, and a desire for a different life.

Crozier paints exquisite pictures with her words, such as the entry for Snow, where she describes “the woman who, sensing the hush of the first snowfall, gets out of bed in the early light of morning and lifts a man’s loafers from the back of the closet.” She goes on to describe more of this woman’s routine in the morning, but even with just this line the reader can imagine this woman, bathed in that special kind of light that exists only on winter mornings with fresh snow. With only a few words she can evoke images and emotions, which, despite their specificity, manage to be comprehensible and relatable to an average reader.

One of my favourite entries, bobby pins, tells us not just to consider the bobby pin itself, but to “look at what they do - expose a woman’s neck, modestly reveal the delectable whorl of an ear.” To me, this description is as vivid as a close-up photograph, and Crozier calls this feeling to mind with only a brief description.

Some of the entries even teach the reader about the history of the object. For example, I learned a surprising amount of the invention of gum and that chewing gum is banned in Singapore. Other entries, such as “spoon”, do not dwell so much on how the object came to be, but how it looks and its uses. The one thing that all of these entries have in common is their ability to cause the reader to dwell on how the simplest objects or phrases can tell us about ourselves, our own histories and desires even as they hint at lives and histories of their own.

For anybody that enjoyed A History of the World in 100 Objects, a project by Neil MacGregor, the curator of the British Museum, to tell the stories of objects and the human histories they can reveal, Crozier’s Book of Marvels does essentially the same thing using the everyday museum of the home. With carefully chosen words and compelling stories for each object or everyday moment, Crozier not only rethinks the way we see our lives, but writes a more compelling dictionary, with entries that show rather than tell. There may even be enough to make me smile despite the never ending winter and impending exam period.

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