THE THING ITSELF by Richard Todd


On the Search for Authenticity
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In his first book, magazine journalist Todd (Creative Writing/Goucher Coll.) investigates what it means to be “real” in a world that feels increasingly fabricated, polished and marketed.

Duped into buying an antique New England box that turns out to be an (excellent) fake, the author anchors his essays in the disappointment he felt and his bemused interest in that disappointment. The topic of “authenticity” and why we cherish it is impossibly broad, but Todd acknowledges this fact. In brief, meditative chapters, he is by turns thoughtful, self-mocking, irascible and insightful, all the while steering the reader not toward an answer, but through a series of questions nested like Russian dolls. Why are we offended by painted reproductions of famous paintings but not by posters of them? Why do tourists buy guidebooks promising an authentic—i.e., non-tourist—experience? Where does this pervasive sense of unreality come from, and why do we care about it? Why do we consume so much so feverishly and yet denigrate that which we consume as “only things?” The meandering queries are given form by scenes from the author’s life. He draws on his past as a middle-class child in one of the wealthiest suburbs in America, on his failed attempt to create a working farm, on his restoration (or is it reproduction?) of a late-18th-century Cape house, on a trip to Disney World and Epcot, and even on what appears to be a constant, furious, private dialogue with the evening news.

An elegant, affectionate and sometimes cranky depiction of a very confused state of affairs.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59448-851-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2008