Project Update: Chicago Tribune story

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The following is excerpted from an article published today in the Chicago Tribune. Reporter: Christopher Borrelli.

I have never placed a bid on eBay, but I was tempted the other day by a listing for a red wooden mallet. I had no use for a red wooden mallet. And this was not a remarkable specimen. The paint had flaked off its head, the handle was chipped and the metal end appeared worn from years of, well, banging stuff. As far as red wooden mallets go, I could do better.

That said, bidding, which had opened at 33 cents, already stood at $56.

Too rich for my taste in red mallets. Except I wanted that red mallet all the more.


I was tempted because there was a story attached to the mallet. Where you would normally find a description of the item for sale, there was a tale written by novelist Colson Whitehead. The story was clearly fiction — something about a rift in time and space opening above a restaurant in Laramie, Wyo., and how only the person who possesses this mallet “will be able to enter the rift unscathed.” …

Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn had placed the mallet on eBay and asked Whitehead to write the story. Walker writes the consumer trends column for The New York Times Magazine and is author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are; Glenn is co-author of Taking Things Seriously. Earlier this summer they began an experiment called The question was whether a story from a “talented, creative writer” could invest any object with “not merely subjective but objective value.”

Essentially, can value be conjured arbitrarily through the power of a well-told tale?

The answer is yep.

Read the rest of this article here.


Joshua Glenn is an editor, publisher, and a freelance writer and semiologist. He does business as KING MIXER, LLC. He's cofounder of the websites HiLobrow, Significant Objects, and Semionaut; and cofounder of HiLoBooks, which will reissue six Radium Age sci fi novels in 2012. In 2011, he produced and co-designed the iPhone app KER-PUNCH. He's coauthored and co-edited Taking Things Seriously, The Idler's Glossary, The Wage Slave's Glossary, the story collection Significant Objects (forthcoming from Fantagraphics), and Unbored, a kids' field guide to life forthcoming from Bloomsbury. In the '00s, Glenn was an associate editor and columnist at the Boston Globe's IDEAS section; he also started the IDEAS blog Brainiac. He has written for Slate, n+1, Cabinet, io9, The Baffler, Feed, and The Idler. In the '90s, Glenn published the seminal intellectual zine Hermenaut; served as editorial director and co-producer of the pioneering DIY and online social networking website; and was an editor at the magazine Utne Reader. Glenn manages the Hermenautic Circle, a secretive online community. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons. Click here for more info.

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