“Las Vegas provides one of the pleasuers that more elevated travel sometimes fails to provide: it asks for a response.”
-Richard Todd, in The Thing Itself
Title: The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity // Publisher: Riverhead Books // Author: Richard Todd // 2008 // 272 p.
I started reading Richard Todd’s The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity shortly after I returned from a recent weekend trip to Las Vegas. The book helped me process the experience in one of its sections titled “There, There.” While Todd rates the palpability of Vegas slightly better than that of Disney World, he still says Vegas is “…a giant piece of installation art, a gloss on the country, it is not a place at all.” Ouch.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from this book but read it simply because I know and respect its author. Richard “Dick” Todd was one of my mentors through the Goucher Collete MFA program; he’s a grandfatherly kind of guy you’d like to talk books with over a pint of beer. And the conversational tone I’d imagine in that kind of setting is the one that makes this book so accessible to readers.
While exploring the topic of “authenticity,” Todd takes a lighthearted approach to some deeply important questions. He starts out saying “This book began with a simple feeling, the sense that my life, and much of the life about me, was not ‘real.’” In a series of delightful essays, Todd talks his way through this problem. I’d say the genre here is cultural criticism, and, as Todd says “…the quest for authenticity is the essential subject of these pages.” This book turns out to be a beautiful collection of thoughts on important (and trivial) subjects such as politics, place, travel, restoration, and The Self.
I’d recommend this book for: readers currently annoyed with fluffy novels.
A note on the photos: I took these photos while driving around Ireland with my parents and uncle. We were looking for the “real” Macnamara family home. We had an old black-and-white photo of our great-grandparents’ house, supposedly located somewhere in County Cork. Of course, we never found it.