on October 30, 2012
I assigned this book in a seminar and was pleased with how well it worked. The clear, descriptive prose, the rich descriptions of people's homes and the clarity about how the study was done got my students excited about thinking about objects in new ways....exactly what I had hoped for from the book. It is refreshingly jargon free, which counts a lot with undergraduate readers who do not necessarily aspire to be anthropologist but who do want to see ways in which even the most esoteric of anthropological studies can be meaningfully applied to their understandings of their own lives. (I wish more anthropologists would opt to write in such a clear and unpretentious fashion--this is the only way we will ever be able to reach a broader public). I agree with an earlier reviewer that some of the chapters seemed to telegraph more of the data and were not as convincing in their analysis as others. But for the most part, the chapters are engaging and compelling, and through the collage offered we get a good sense of the role of objects (or absence of objects) in shaping the texture and substance of people's lives. The book could be shorter by a third and still quite effective.
on January 30, 2015
Enjoyed the analytic parts (scrutiny of people's relationships to material objects), which I took to be the general the billing when I bought the book, but those parts are often overwhelmed by cloying sympathy for the micro-tragedies Miller reads into almost every home he examines. Also disappointed that the analysis often strays from material themes and veers into psycho-social ones. There's a lot of talk about people's parents, childhoods, and sexual preferences, and it's easy to lose track of what the "things" are. I've gotten a lot of education out of Miller's other books, but this one feels more like a personal project written for the author, not the reader.
on August 6, 2010
I got halfway through this book when I decided I had to abandon it... It was interesting and the detail and language of the writing was very rich. I loved the concept and the purpose of the book, but it didn't leave me hungry to read more. If you enjoy research and a bit of psychology, this book is a great read. Unfortunatly, in my case, this book was perfect to read before bed, as it put me right to sleep :)
I've told many people about this book! I appreciate the peronal accounts that make up each chapter, but I needed to move on to something more fast-paced.
on October 15, 2012
This book is an interesting one almost throughout, Miller's questions and conclusions are pertinent ones, and I've little doubt that his study was conducted with the rigour and discipline that are not always displayed in his presentation of it.
One of the editorial reviews refers to 'beautiful' writing. My eye beholds otherwise. Clauses that don't refer, reading them, aren't all that comely. Sentences that aren't quite. Dickinsenian use of--dashes. These weird constructions and punctuations are only occasional but they do force one to stop and re-read a phrase or sentence to get the meaning. It struck me that Miller must have dictated the book--in speech the problems mightn't have been problems--and the tapes transcribed by someone not up to the job. When I read that 'wicker' was a version of witchcraft, I was certain I'd hit upon it. In the epilogue, Miller speaks of writing up his interviews, though, so perhaps the blame lies with him. (There are a couple of other wonderful howlers: that famous Irish patriot Michael Douglas is mentioned, and we're told that the Rosebud of Citizen Kane was a snowboard.)
There is also far too much Daniel Miller in the book. Miller is ostensibly observer not subject, and so why must he inform us that he's a bit of a romantic? I don't care what football team he supports, I really don't care what he thinks of Mark Rothko, and I really and truly don't care about his love of John Peel. Less obviously but even less forgivably he seems to want to force his own reactions to certain subjects upon the reader. He's all but fawning when discussing one family, and tells us of crying after interviewing a lonely man. I don't see that any of these things has a place in a quasi-academic book.
The last reservation I have about the book is that in the descriptions of the subjects and their belongings there's no clue as to the source of Miller's remarks. There's little direct quotation and no internal evidence as to whether a statement like 'the pet iguana's grin was a form of welcome' is an indirect quotation or paraphrase of the iguana's owner, an impression or speculation of Miller's, or a conclusion Miller drew from what he learned during the visit. This to me is the biggest problem with Miller's writing. There's a big difference between deciding to keep the writing casual and witholding necessary information from the reader.
I don't mean to suggest this is a bad book; it isn't. I've gone on at such length to let readers know what to expect; some of them might be hoping, as I was, for writing more scholarly than this. Perhaps this should have been published as two books: one outlining the study, reporting the possessions and interviews, and detailing conclusions in a much longer afterword; the other with a title something like Life is a Funny Old Thing: Musings from an Anthropologist, to be marketed to a different set of readers.