The Thing Itself

( 4 )

Overview

The celebrated literary memoir and chronicle of one man's search for the elusive gift of authenticity.

Troubled by the lack of substance in contemporary life, Richard Todd suspects that much of what we experience is false. In this unique pursuit of the "genuine," Todd examines his search for authenticity in places and objects, in politics and ideas, and in ourselves, and recounts his efforts to understand the desire to be a real person in a ...

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The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity

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Overview

The celebrated literary memoir and chronicle of one man's search for the elusive gift of authenticity.

Troubled by the lack of substance in contemporary life, Richard Todd suspects that much of what we experience is false. In this unique pursuit of the "genuine," Todd examines his search for authenticity in places and objects, in politics and ideas, and in ourselves, and recounts his efforts to understand the desire to be a real person in a real world.

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Editorial Reviews

Nora Krug
Todd's provocative meditation on contemporary life…[is] grounded in the work of philosophers and cultural observers from Thoreau and Trilling to Michael Pollan and David Brooks…his eloquence, intelligence and self-effacing manner—one might even call it authenticity—more than make up for any affectations.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
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. Agent: Betsy Lerner/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594483844
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,056,251
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Todd has spent many years as a magazine and book editor at The Atlantic Monthly, New England Monthly, and Houghton Mifflin, and now works independently as a consultant. He is a member of the MFA faculty at Goucher College.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I The Things of This World

1 The Lure of the Old 3

2 Status 17

3 The Tears of Things 39

4 Objets d'Art 42

Pt. II There, There

1 Touring 57

2 The Country 69

3 Preservation 84

4 Two American Places 89

5 My Mall 98

6 Refuge 103

Pt. III Weeping Nation

1 The Greening 125

2 Celebrity 131

3 Unreal 139

4 Weeping Nation 159

5 Sincerity 167

Pt. IV The Unicorn in the Looking Glass

1 Reflection 189

2 Not Ideas about the Thing ... 191

3 Memory 194

4 Self and Selves 208

5 In the Moment 226

6 One's Fate 240

Acknowledgments 245

Bibliography 249

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2008

    A Long, Hard Look into the Mirror

    Richard Todd's interview on NPR was the reason I bought his book, and I am glad I did. This extended meditation on identity will make many of us uncomfortable. Todd is like the singer in the song who is 'killing us softly' with his amazingly apt observations. Whether we like it or not, much of who we are is shaped by the power of mass communication, and Todd will make you squirm as you realize that yes, others hate Disney World, and we would like to feel we are the only ones touring little towns in Italy. Oddly missing in his reflection, however, is a discussion of sports and steroids (Are we seeing authentic athletic performance) and computer graphics in modern film (the irony of finding a fake background, for example, while watching celluloid in a darkened room). Overall, Todd joins the discussion that begins The Great Gatsby when he repeats the question, 'Is personality (merely) a series of successful gestures?' This book is an excellent contribution to the discussion of truth and identity.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    The real and the unreal

    Mr. Todd's perspective on the authenticity of objects (as it relates to antiques) drew me in. His views on everything else kept me riveted. My hardcopy of the book is bursting with post-its and filled with penciled comments. It's a cultural bible for our times.

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  • Posted June 20, 2010

    Not worth the time or energy

    Strange, how unhappy a soul this author seems. If there is anything joyful in this book, I'm afraid I really didn't see it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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