Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis
|Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: This bizarrely esoteric series of non-fiction pocket books continues with, well, more of a BIC than a Zippo.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 152||Date: March 2016|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic|
|External links: Author's website|
I have a favourite cigarette lighter. That sentence may become more strange to you when you consider the fact that I have never smoked. I don't know how but I got it as a freebie donkey's years ago, and I loved its curvy bronzed lines, and the fact that I had to click down on a button instead of rub against a flint-wheel to light it. I optimistically took it with me at uni in case I found a girl good enough to be with even though she smoked (which took almost another twenty years, but that's a different story) – therefore I was carrying something so evidently not a match as a potential match-maker. Later, its semi-art deco styling made it perfect for a play I was in once, after which it dried up. Now it's more or less a paperweight. But if I can imbue such personal relevance in a bleeding fag lighter, just think what all of culture can do?
Well, in one respect this book falls down by not looking at all of culture, nor does it see much detail in the personal relevance of its subject. The series the volume is a part of, Object Lessons, is a whole gallimaufry of unusual looks at commonplace articles and artefacts, where writers give personal spins on the everyday with a high-brow bent. In my experience the umbrella is frustratingly hit-and-miss. This volume for me lacked in that however hard it tried, it didn't really diversify from one of two elements – the cigarette lighter in cinema (from noir to It's a Wonderful Life and up to the Coen Brothers' neo-noirs), and an extended visit the author took to what was once the self-styled National Lighter Museum in Oklahoma.
The latter is certainly a source of a lot of the quirk about this book, as the curator, in his dotage in body if not fully in mind, gives his spiel. Apparently the collection is worth a million bucks, but he would only gain $400,000 if the right person claimed commission and found the right seller. However the last people to try and buy the lot for academic reasons realised he was worth as much to them as the diverse historical products he owns, so gave up. Of course there are worldly-wise aficionados of cigarette lighters – they're culturally significant, remember?
But you don't fully get to see why here. We learn a flint-wheel is ferrocerium, a Victorian-era alloy. A 1911 newspaper story had French authorities tossing citizens in jail for using 'the famous pocket cigarette lighters' made in Belgium, thereby jeopardising the French government's match monopoly. You get to consider when a cigarette lighter is not a cigarette lighter – when it lights cigars and/or pipes. But you don't get any sense of the industry of their making, beyond Zippo and BIC being named severally. You don't get the true, man-on-the-street cultural resonance of the product, only the semiotics of it for the cineaste. And ferrocerium regardless, the history of them (as delivered in part by our friendly curator) is like the book, far too scattershot to be completely satisfying. It didn't quite have the spark I sought.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Much better in this series for me has been Bookshelf (Object Lessons) by Lydia Pyne.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis at Amazon.com.
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