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Detail of an illustration created for the print version of this story (The Globe and Mail)
Detail of an illustration created for the print version of this story (The Globe and Mail)

REVIEW: BELLES LETTRES

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary Add to ...

  • Title The Book of Marvels
  • Author Lorna Crozier
  • Genre nonFiction
  • Publisher Greystone
  • Pages 131
  • Price $19.95
  • Year 2012

How many times have you walked into your kitchen and thought nothing of the fridge, the sink, the stove, the toaster, the fork, the spoons, the eggs, the bowl or the salt and pepper shakers? How many times have you got ready for the day ahead and thought nothing of the towel, the mirror, the bobby pins, the clothes hanger, the ironing board, the button, the hat, or the umbrella (save whether you need to take it or not)? Lorna Crozier has thought about all these things and more, and she delivers them to us now in her delightful new book, The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things.

The book contains 85 prose meditations on the mysteries of everyday life, ranging through a myriad of ordinary objects but not shying away either from those less tangible features of existence, such as Happiness, Heart, No, But and Darkness, Its Origin. It is, as the opening quote by Francis Ponge says, “a trip into the thickness of things,” told with that inimitable Crozier combination of mischief and exuberance, longing and grief.

The pieces are set in alphabetical order, a time-honoured arrangement that contains its own mystery: Why is it always so inherently appealing and so instinctively satisfying? The opening quote by Edouard Levé finally answers this question for me: “A dictionary resembles the world more than a novel does, because the world is not a coherent sequence of actions but a constellation of things perceived. … To portray your life in order would be absurd: I remember you at random.”

Cousin to both Neruda’s Odes to Common Things and Ponge’s Le parti pris des choses, The Book of Marvels is an irresistible invitation to sit up and take notice, to pay attention to every random thing, to never forget, “The chair seems immutable, but when the seasons shift, you sense a restlessness you recognize, a silent craving,” and that, “There are four qualifiers essential to a bowl’s condition: empty and full, whole and broken. These also apply to a human life.”

And the next time you pop a piece of gum into your mouth, don’t forget, “Americans masticate ten million pounds a year. Canadians chew much less. We also purchase fewer guns. No one, though gum can easily be mistaken for gun, has initiated the research that might prove a link.” As for that mouth into which you’ve just popped that piece of gum: “Does it need to be said – the mouth is the most obnoxious part of the body … unfamiliar with manners, with common sense or cool reflection.”

Choosing a favourite marvel from The Book of Marvels would be nigh unto impossible, but, if you twisted my arm, I would pick Doorknob, which begins, “Two things that need each other: The mouth and the ear, the left foot and the right, the wind and the listing hawk, the doorknob and the hand. Yet doorknobs dread the human touch. They have a phobia about germs, especially the knobs made of glass common in the 1940s, after the war, a sign of class in small stuccoed houses with big radios and ottomans of fake leather.”

My small stuccoed house was built in the 1940s just after the war and, although divested long ago of its radio and ottoman, it still contains 10 sets of those pretty glass doorknobs. I take good care of them because I was once told they were worth good money these days. So I’ve been polishing their brass settings and wondering how much I could get for them on eBay if someday it came to that. But now I’ll stop thinking of them as my eventual emergency fund and simply savour the feel of them in my hand a dozen times a day, heavy and cool every time, even on the hottest August afternoon.

It will take us much longer now to navigate one step after another through any ordinary day, given how much attention there is to be paid, how much marvelling to be done. From here on in, it will be impossible to be bored or take anything for granted ever again. And for that, we can be forever grateful to Lorna Crozier, as her final words in Feet continue to resonate in our heads: “But beware of their confidence, their persuasions. Don’t believe they can walk on water. Convince them you are content with the modest daily miracle of walking on the earth.”

Diane Schoemperlen has also written about everyday things in the story Innocent Objects in her Governor-General’s Award-winning collection Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures.

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