Souvenir (Object Lessons) by Rolf Potts

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Souvenir (Object Lessons) by Rolf Potts

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Category: Travel
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A superlative read, about something we all take for granted, and never thought to enjoy reading about nearly as much. You will always remember where you were when you bought this…
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: March 2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781501329418

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I know a lot about the subject of this book – although please don't think for one minute that is akin to a boast that I could have written it; far from it. But I too have a mountain of souvenirs here and there. They come in five kinds, don't you know – including a miniature version of what you've been to see (my porcelain Field of Miracles from Pisa, that has long since lost its miraculous ability to act as both memento and leaning hygrometer); pictorial representation, such as postcards (oh so many postcards); and physical bits of the place (a particularly Klimtian bit of stone found on a beach on Jersey only this autumn past). I am such a collector of souvenirs I get narked when I go to a place such as a cathedral and all that's on offer is religious product and nothing branded with the site, which is rich considering the whole souvenir industry came from religion and religious pilgrimage in the first place – you only need consider that in buying a souvenir you're trying to take a bit of its source home with you, and for that very reason people sought a continuance of some kind of holiness via religious artefact. You only need consider it, I say, but rest assured all that history and everything else has been considered in the making of this wonderful book.

Yes, we get a fully defined history of souvenirs, right from the early times when people were ransacking Jerusalem at the end of a long crusading quest. There must be enough wood out there claiming to be part of the 'True Cross' to recreate the Ark, but it got to be a problem when everyone wanted a piece of it and other things. In a way the early gift shops were there to pawn off a representation of, or memento from, a place, to stop people trying to carve the thing up and leave less behind for others. The souvenir is also a way of showing off – and I do declare I get most showy-offy with certain bands' tour T-shirts, a souvenir of a singular night at times, and I am at my gaudiest when I'm playing one-upmanship with the help of my dazzlingly red and yellow Kyrgyzstan T-shirt.

That's a 'marker' souvenir – something that name-drops in the industrial parlance, and it's worth bugger all to anyone else. Souvenirs are the one thing that put the truth into the phrase you had to have been there – you had to have been there for it to mean jack to you, and you had to have been there to buy it in the first place. (Except, that it most certainly came from China these days.) My souvenirs will leave a collage-autobiography, in a very concise phrase found here – a snapshot of a lot of snapshots I might have not taken, but certainly bought and bought into. They only mean anything to me, but the souvenir as a whole, the collective noun of them, is certainly a global thing and well worth perusing with the help of this book.

If you haven't crossed swords with this series before now, welcome to a wonderful frustration. You never know what you're going to get when you open one of these uniformly tidy, black little volumes. You might be destined to spend several hours in Pseuds' Corner, or even a lower level of hell. Here though you are in the hands of a consummate master. He uses a lot of personal example and anecdote, far more than you'd normally get in a routine non-fiction book, but handles everything perfectly. He puts in the leg-work, consulting souvenir sellers in Paris, and producers in Vegas trade shows. Somebody tells him at the end of the day, people don't get too philosophical when they go to a big tourist destination, they just want something that proves they've been there. It's most fortunate for us that the subject has fallen into the hands of someone who can get philosophical, and pragmatic, and entertaining, and honest about it. The author's hopes should come true – it should be bought and sold in souvenir shops for those who don't want the naffness surrounding them to follow them home. I loved it.

Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday should also be sold in more ecclesiastical stores.

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Buy Souvenir (Object Lessons) by Rolf Potts at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Souvenir (Object Lessons) by Rolf Potts at


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