SEATTLE, WA — Since its debut, Significant Objects, the bold online inquiry into the relationship between narrative and the value of everyday objects, has been the subject of speculation by everyone from NPR to litbloggers to The New York Times’ Freakonomics crew. Some theorized about the project’s hypothesis, others about its methods and results.
Some just wanted to know: Will there be a book?
This last question can now be answered: Yes!
A collection of one hundred Significant Objects stories, seductively illustrated by top artists, will be published in 2011 by Fantagraphics Books.
This represents the most pleasing plot twist yet to the story of a very unlikely project that began as an experiment, turned into an experimental literary magazine secretly published on eBay, and currently raises money for youth tutoring nonprofits.
Founded by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker, SignificantObjects.com appeared out of nowhere last summer, and has published an extraordinary series of 200 stories and counting – by William Gibson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Sheila Heti, Colson Whitehead, Nicholson Baker, Meg Cabot, Lydia Millet, Jonathan Lethem, and other talented writers – about ordinary stuff like novelty items, discarded souvenirs, and tasteless kitchenware picked up cheap at thrift stores and yard sales. The goal: To see if commissioning great stories about these insignificant things would increase their value – as measured in actual eBay auctions.
The LA Times’s Jacket Copy blog summarized the project’s questions: “Can a good story make something more valuable? What if it’s entirely untrue?”
Significant Objects and its contributing writers sold piles of flea-market flotsam for thousands of dollars and, as The Economist’s More Intelligent Life blog put it, “proved Walker and Glenn’s theory that stories add immeasurable value to objects.”
The New York Times’s Freakonomics blog gaped at the “supersonic premium” which Significant Objects managed to create. “Is it the intrinsic utility and beauty of a commodity that creates its value,” the Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog queried, “or the stories we tell ourselves about them?”
Some observers suggested the Significant Objects experiment had invented a new business model: “This is just one (fun) example of many of content creators smartly using infinite goods (the stories) to make a scarce good (the trinket) more valuable, and putting in place a business model to profit from it,” according to Techdirt. Cool Hunting speculated that the project had created “the first pay scale for writers based on emotional impact.”
Of course, Significant Objects was never just about the marketplace. Most importantly, it was about writers “finding magic in unexpected things,” as NPR’s All Things Considered put it. The project has published first-rate fictions by best-selling novelists and pathbreaking up-and-comers, by literary stars and experimentalists, writers for The Daily Show and other TV programs, innovative improv comics, cartoonists, journalists, and writers of young-adult fiction, mysteries, thrillers, sci fi and much more.
“The roster of authors is beyond impressive.” — the blog BookSlut.
“It’s a heck of a great idea and Walker and Glenn have assembled a really terrific collection of writers to participate” — Media Bistro’s UnBeige blog.
“Like a Salvation Army staffed by brilliant writers, Significant Objects has created a new kind of online journal — publishing and selling on eBay” — the blog GalleyCat
“If this is a cynical marketeer’s scam,” a columnist for The Independent (UK) suggested, “then consider me conned. Significant Objects combines one of the oldest of all media — the near-improvised short story — with the reinvigorated writer-reader relationship afforded by Web 2.0.”
The experiment, in short, was a smash hit. With enthusiastic reader/buyers from Texas to Alaska, from New York to California, and everywhere in between, Significant Objects decided to funnel auction proceeds from its second and third volumes of stories to the tutoring programs 826 National and Girls Write Now.
Does the project point the way towards a new business model for literary publishing? Are we 21st-century skeptics in thrall to talismans and totems? Once the auction sales figures have been correlated with, say, narrative exposition strategy, will Significant Objects reveal the key to the relationship between narrative and value?
All of these questions and more will be addressed (and some answered) by the Significant Objects book, which will not only feature one hundred moving, absurd, surprising, and always entertaining stories from the project’s three volumes. Thanks to Fantagraphics, it will also feature new illustrations by artists from the worlds of comics, skate graphics, rock posters, children’s books, and the commercial and gallery arts.
The Significant Objects book will change the way you look at things, forever.
About the Editors of SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS
Joshua Glenn cofounded the website HiLobrow.com; he’s been a columnist for the Boston Globe’s Ideas section and a contributing editor to other publications. He edited the nonfiction collection Taking Things Seriously (2007) and coauthored, with Mark Kingwell, The Idler’s Glossary (2008). In the 1990s he published Hermenaut.
Rob Walker writes the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are and Letters From New Orleans.
About FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS
Fantagraphics Books ( www.fantagraphics.com ) has been the world’s leading publisher of comics and graphic novels since 1976, with titles by Robert Crumb, Charles M. Schulz, Joe Sacco, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and many others. In 2007, the company launched its prose division, which includes books by Alexander Theroux (Laura Warholic), Stephen Dixon (What Is All This?), Monte Schulz (This Side of Jordan), and now Significant Objects.