What makes something sexy? Why are some things regarded as sacred and others profane? Why do mourners face such difficulty in parting with their beloved’s possessions? Why do we often feel distraught when we lose something, even when the object has little real value?
We spend our lives in a meaningful dialogue with things around us. Sometimes the conversation is loud, as in a collector’s passion for coins or art. More often, the exchange is subtle and muted, even imperceptible. We are surrounded by things, and they affect our emotions and impact our thoughts. The arrival of a dozen flowers from a lover or a letter from a grandchild makes our day; an old photo album or an afghan knitted by a favorite aunt offers comfort when we are troubled.
From exploring what makes something “beautiful” to why we place such value on antiques and artifacts from the past, Objects of Our Desire offers insights, both deep and delightful, into the ways we invest things with meaning and the powerful roles they play in our lives.
Notice the inviting contours of that sofa, the glint of a knife’s edge, the sparkle of a diamond ring. Feel the softness of the pashmina around that woman’s milky shoulders. Look at the majesty of a large jet plane. Take in the somberness of a gravestone. Put on an old pair of shoes. Clutch a warm mug of freshly brewed coffee. Sit on a rocking chair. Feel the sumptuous leather seats of a new car.
We are surrounded by things. We are involved with them, indebted to them. We speak to things and things speak to us. To say that we are interdependent is banal. Let us be courageous. Let us admit it: we are lovers.
—From Objects of Our Desire
Akhtar, a poet and professor of psychiatry, has produced a tedious and disjointed analysis of things and our relationship to them in his 37th book. If "things" seems like an overly general topic, that's because it is, and while Akhtar tries to break the book into subtopics of things ("everything," "something" and "nothing"), this effort does little to clarify for the reader what the author would like to express. Akhtar frequently resorts to obvious, uninspired lists of things, such as "items left on subway trains" and items that people collect, from "A to almost Z." He jumps from "nostalgic things" to "sexy things" (with an explicit description of an adolescent boy's desire for his teacher that seems absurdly out of place) to "becoming a thing," describing in detail our bodies' possible fates once we die. The analysis starts to disintegrate when Akhtar says asking a child to give up some of his or her toys is "one less recognized type of 'child abuse,' " and continues its downward trajectory to the book's end, when the author offers an Indian parable that does little to explain his intentions for his explorations into such a broad subject.