How many passwords do we have to memorize these days? Or more likely, how many passwords must we regularly reset and later be reminded of, only to be again forgotten, lost, or discarded, seemingly ad infinitum? Martin Paul Eve’s book takes up the lively history and thingliness of passwords, showing them to be pressing down on us and far more than just neutral gateways or drab data points. Touching on identity theft, the ‘strength’ of passwords, and behavior conditioning, Eve’s book gets into the inner workings of this quasi-object, showing how passwords are at once integral and abject parts of modern life.
The questionnaire beckons as a mundane object rife with complexity. Evan Kindley’s book considers the questionnaire as both a scientific instrument and as a game, intriguingly and recursively pressing a question on his readers: Why do we fill out questionnaires? The questionnaire is one of those things that seems to exist equally as a virtual reality and as a simple routine—but which, the more one considers it, the more its objectness gets tacky and textured. Kindley draws from sources as diverse as canonical literature, occult paraphernalia, and online minutiae. Questionnaire will appeal the skeptic, the cynic, and the devotee alike, teaching all in turn lessons about the forms we fill out in anger, desire, or despair.
Shopping malls may be one of the more ubiquitous places of contemporary life in consumer culture—yet do we know what they really are? Matthew Newton takes his readers on a journey at once personal and cultural, architectural and fictive, exploring the quotidian marvels as well as the seedy underbelly of this paradigmatic site, the mall. Balancing memoir with cultural analysis, Newton considers shopping malls as vast spaces, existing in various forms, in so many different places. Arguably too big to count as a single object, the shopping mall nevertheless manages to stick together as a real thing that we encounter in everyday life as well as in cultural representations. The mall is a thing full of other things, a capacious object brimming with lessons.
Unraveling the sock’s history, construction, and necessity, Kim Adrian’s Sock reintroduces us to our own bodies—vulnerable, bipedal, and flawed—by examining this most common of objects, something we daily tug on and take off with hardly a thought. Sock reminds us that extraordinary secrets live in mundane material realities, and reveals how this floppy, often smelly, sometimes holey piece of clothing—whether machine made and ordered online or hand knit and given as a gift—can also serve as an anatomy lesson, a physics primer, a love letter, a weapon, a fetish, or a fashion statement. Consider the sock.
William Germano‘s Eye Chart is a meditation on the sharp, the fuzzy, and the invisible. It’s about that familiar thing we read with difficulty, and only partially. Reading the eye chart is an exercise in failure, since it only gets interesting when you can’t read any further. It’s the opposite of interpretative reading—to read the eye chart is to read it up the way we might use something up or eat it up. You can try to read the eye chart, but you know you can’t finish it. The eye chart—essential diagnostic tool, template, sign, toy—is a monument to un-reading and a guide to the absurdities of modern life.
In this book, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lindy Elkins-Tanton explore what happens when we think of the Earth as an object viewable from space. As a “blue marble,” “a blue pale dot,” a spaceship, an organism, or (as Chaucer described it) “this litel spot of erthe,” the solitary orb is a challenge to scale and to human self-importance. Beautiful and self-contained, the Earth suspended in cold blackness turns out to be far less knowable than it at first appears: its vast interior is after all an inferno of incandescent and yet solid rock and a reservoir of water vaster than the ocean, a world within the world. Viewing the Earth from space also invites both comparisons to its sister planets, and the subsequent dive into the abyss of scale: how can humans apprehend the distances, the temperatures, and the time scale on which planets are born, evolve, and die?