Thursday, July 30, 2009

Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World, ed. by Davy Rothbart

The title of this book is so long I had to abbreviate the word "edited" in the title of the post. If you want to read the story about how I "found" this book, click here.

This is the book that introduced me to Found magazine, which is a publication devoted to stories, both fictional and nonfictional, of items that people randomly find--on the streets, in garbage cans, in the pages of a random book, wherever. Click here to go to the official website of Found Magazine.

And in a weird coincidence, Jenners commented that she has two books called "FOUND," which she says are photos of items that people have found in different places. The back of the book lists two such anthologies, and I think these are the very same ones that Jenners owns.

Requiem for a Paper Bag is an anthology that features such contributors as Seth Rogen, Andy Samberg, Dave Eggers, Chuck D, and Damon Wayans. There are also many lesser-known authors, musicians, and celebrities adding their tales to this book. Each short story is unique and recalls different experiences, some real, others created, but all of them based on objects that the authors found.

For example, one reader of Found Magazine found a report from the Michigan Employment Security Commission, which denies a man's unemployment claim based on such incidents as "set fire to reports...wrote abscene (sic) graffiti on the paper work...pouring ammonia on dry ice in the back room which caused the dry ice to explode." (p. 152) Writer Nelly Reifler took this report and created a hilarious backstory as to what really happened at the office that led the Michigan Employment Security Commission to deny the claim.

Comedian Patton Oswalt contributes a story of how he found a wallet in Sherman Oaks, and decides to do the noble thing by contacting the wallet's owner...and how the owner put his own little spin on what happened.

Andy Samberg tells the story of how he once found $5,000 extra dollars in his bank account one day, and the back-and-forth inner dialogue as to whether or not he should notify the bank of the error.

The best stories in the anthology, however, stem from random notes that readers have found along the way. Take this note, for instance:

Dear Alex,
If you don't give me your brain right now then bring $20 to the front desk Now!!! don't include th
e Police.

It's always interesting to
use your imagination to figure out who wrote such notes, and why they did. In the case of this note, Aimee Bender, a creative writing teacher at the University of Southern California, writes the backstory that details the circumstances behind this note. It's surreal, clever, and very funny.

Other such notes make the contributors reflect on past instances in their lives. Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, writes a story inspired by a marriage proposal written on a piece of paper doctors use for prescribing medicine. He recalls how he married a woman that he barely knew for one night; she proposed, he accepted, and they were very quickly wed.

I really enjoy quirky stories, and Requiem for a Paper Bag is full of them. I never thought much about the backstories behind random items I find on the street, but this book has got me thinking about what the stories are behind these objects. This sounds like a good prompt for a future Writers Workshop: "Write about an item you found randomly." I think I'll post about that sometime...but I have to find the right random object first.

This is the latest entry in my 2009 100+ Reading Challenge, my 2009 Read Your Own Books Challenge, as well as my 2009 Take a Chance Challenge. As always, click the buttons in the sidebar on the right for archived lists of all of my reads!


RunninL8 said...

This looks so unique, interesting and a blast to read! Thanks for this-it'll be a fun change from the "serious" stuff I've been reading as of late...

Vickie said...

Interesting book! Sounds like a fast read. Sometimes I am in the mood for short stories.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like something I'd like!

How are you doing? I'm worried about you...

Kerri said...

This looks like such a fun read. I got 'keep' as my word - I had a similar experience surfing for books - like 'how to find a rich man and keep him', etc. I've ordered one so we'll see if I'm as lucky as you were with the choice.

septembermom said...

I really love getting into short stories. I used to read them all the time when I took the train into the city. This sounds like a good collection for me. I like the quirkiness that you describe.

blueviolet said...

It sounds so great! I'll have to pick that one up.

Jenners said...

This sounds so much better than the ones I have, which are just the photos of the found items. And it is the same guy --- I have the boring version and you have the cool version! Maybe we can swap!!!