- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374175306
- ISBN-13: 978-0374175306
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 7.9 x 235 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry 1st Edition
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2009: What is love? Artist Leanne Shapton may be the first person to answer this age-old question so persuasively, if not damn-near definitively. Her vision of love--that famously immaterial virtue--finds its best expression in the stuff of our daily lives. Which, of course, may not be as filled with the serendipitous charm that marks the courtship of her fictional lovers, but that doesn't make Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry feel any less universal. We meet Lenore and Hal after their relationship has ended; that the relics of their life--spent in fits and starts of togetherness--are presented in a Valentine's Day auction catalog has the potential to strike a bitter chord. What comes across instead is that these items, ranging widely from gifts, postcards, and photos to conspiratorial notes and precious evidence of daily rituals, deserve to be cherished for the love they still so clearly honour. --Anne Bartholomew
“Taken together, the item descriptions provide a running, cumulative portrait of one couple's glorious rise and deflating fall. . . For people who have ever thought that the little gestures, tokens and inside jokes of their relationships were unique to them, Ms. Shapton's book comes as a poignant, jarring reminder of the sameness of the steps that so many couples retrace. . . Despite the mist of melancholy that floats amid this photographic record, there is also humor, caprice, knowingness and the implicit suggestion that changing feelings and fading possessions can't rob a true romance of the value it had at its height. As Lenore and Hal's remembrances show, a love affair is worth more than its trappings could fetch at a jumble sale.” ―Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times
“Important Artifacts . . . from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris may look like an everyday auction catalog. But the auction itself is a literary conceit: What this book-type object really does is show us the trajectory of a failed four-year relationship ― by showing us the physical detritus that two (fictional) lovers leaver in their wake.
Conceived and executed by the art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page, Leanne Shapton, the story concerns Lenore Doolan (a food writer for the Times) and Hal Morris (a photographer). Doolan appears to have been a clever and adoring girlfriend, who showered the often-absent Morris with confetti-packed envelopes (LOT 1126) and lavender pajamas (LOT 1061). Morris, who had commitment issues and a drinking problem, expressed himself via mixtapes (LOTS 1276 and 1044). What finally drove them apart? Each of the 331 lots provides another piece of the puzzle. Yes, breaking up is hard to do, but reading about it has never been so pleasurable.” ―Very Short List
“[Shapton's] book tells the story of a hopeful young New York couple and their four-year relationship almost completely through their things, many of which end up unceremoniously, and improbably, under the gavel: books, pajamas, bedside lamps, a stuffed squirrel, an astrakhan coat, the winning half of a wishbone and lots of notes, inscriptions and e-mail messages that start out giddy and become slowly more complicated, angry and sorrowful.
If there were a real failed-relationship auction house named Strachan & Quinn, where the sale is supposed to take place on Valentine's Day, the event might actually draw a modest crowd, if only because the fictional Hal Morris, a globe-trotting photographer in his early 40s, and Lenore Doolan, who is presented as a late-20s cake columnist for The Times's Dining section, are generally more meticulous than conspicuous in their consumption.” ―Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
“The task is daunting: How to render the dissolution of a relationship in a new way? Leanne Shapton succeeds against all odds with this wildly romantic and erudite book.” ―Dave Eggers, What is the What
“Leanne Shapton's splendid book is completely sensational and over-the-top great. I am nuts about it. This is the stuff of life, literally. Oh, love. Oh, despair. Oh, stolen salt shakers.” ―Maira Kalman, The Principles of Uncertainty
“Whenever I come across something of Leanne Shapton's--an illustration in The New York Times, or the wooden books she makes--I feel like I have found a hidden treasure. What a great idea--to create a fake auction catalog. It's so original, and the items are perfect and brilliantly displayed. Shapton thought of every detail. I truly am jealous.” ―Amy Sedaris, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence
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Some lots speak for themselves - letters exchanged by the couple, notes sent to friends, but the subtle nuances, the underlying evidence examines the psychology of a relationship. What the couple tells one another is contrasted and contradicted by letters sent (and, more poignantly, unsent) to friends, appointments made on the sly, possible betrayals (for example, Lenore makes a date with an ex-boyfriend, and later in the catalog we see Harold carrying an umbrella we are told belongs to the ex-boyfriend, left in Lenore's apartment - when was it left? did she cheat? we don't know). In notes to themselves, private musings, Harold and Lenore are ambivalent, doubt, make lists of pros and cons, visit therapists. But all the while, for a couple of years anyway, they present a loving, happy face to one another. Only later does the relationship collapse on itself, weighed down by the crushing force of incompatibility too long ignored. Harold reminiscences about ex-girlfriends, travels too frequently, gives Lenore gifts of things that belonged to other women in his life, resents Lenore's burgeoning career as a columnist. Lenore has a short temper, is much younger than Harold, cannot decide what she wants out of life, tries to daub the cracks in their love life with thoughtful gifts and food. Like most real world relationships, it ends not with a bang, but a whimper: trips ending in tears and indecision, a pregnancy scare, indifference, and finally a break that turns into a break-up.
One of the strengths of the novel is that the author has created a couple that puts on such a convincing show of functionality and appeal. If you knew them, you'd admire them. They seem so together and fun - they travel, fill their apartment with bizarre kitsch, dress in beautiful vintage clothing, photograph well, and in all respects put on the mask of perfection you so often see in couples with whom you're acquainted and wish you could be like. Perhaps the message is that underneath the trappings, the stuff, the facade, no relationship is ever what it seems.
All that said, I give this novel 3 stars, as it failed to arouse any strong feelings in me either way. Like a lengthy relationship that has long since reached its natural end, this book evokes neither love nor hate, just the resigned acceptance that it was what it was.
Even with these questions, there is a sense of doom from the moment you open the book and see the black and white photographs. You read it, examine their lives, analyze the meaning behind the items to be auctioned off, and know it all is leading to the dissolution of their relationship. This does not lead to a sense of optimism, but instead a practical dread of inevitability.
Ultimately, you wonder why they would then dump everything to do with the relationship if it was that painful. And, the "artifacts" do not indicate this was anything other than a passionate infatuation for two people who were trying on a "relationship".
If you don't know people from NYC it could seem like the characters are unrealistic but I found Doolan and Morris to be, at least as seen through their possessions and notes, quite similar to a number of people I have met in the NY literary scene. Yes some of the notes seemed a bit forced but if they hadn't been the story would have been lost; so I am willing to suspend the tiniest bits of disbelief they engender.
After reading this book I invite you to look up from the book and think about the stories the objects around you tell.