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Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

I haven’t met many friends or relatives who are not attached to things. For as long as I lived I remember myself as a hoarder. Every piece of letter, paper, ticket receipts, scribbling, I kept them and I still have them in my parents’ house. Now that I have a smaller living space, I tend to hoard a lot less and threw a lot of things away. Yet if I had the chance to stumble across a note or a pencil that I still have with me since I was 6 (I’m at my middle ages now!), it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and I go all nostalgic about the beautiful memories in my past.

Things and possessions are intimate and they tell you about the kind of person the owner is. I walk into a person’s living space, I look into his or her bookshelf (or the lack of it!) and I know what kind of person he or she is. And that’s exactly how I feel when I saw the photos of “things” in this book. Mostly, stuff survives only because we want it to; we hoard our belongings, like treasure, for private reasons. Taken in their entirety, you could say that they tell our story.

The book has a very long title. Lets just say this is a catalogue of things that belong to Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris. Leanne Shapton’s unorthodox novel tells a story of a relationship in the form of an auction catalogue with a series of black-and- white photographs of 331 staged auction lots, with accompanying captions and auction price (eg “LOT 1135 A menu. A paper menu from the Oyster Bar restaurant, folded into a fortune teller game. $15-20”). This book is being called a novel. But really it is more of collection of pictures rather than a written novel.

Smitten by the Shapton’s latest book that I have read, Swimming Studies, I was eager to read this. The photographs are arranged in chronological order, Leanne Shapton has cleverly chosen the pieces that staged the scene tell the story of the four-year relationship between Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris.

Lenore is 26, a Canadian columnist who writes about food and recipes, while Harold, British, about 13 years older, is a photographer who travels around the globe. Both live in Manhattan where, in 2002, they met at a Halloween party, Lenore dressed as Lizzie Borden and Harold dressed as Harry Houdini. It is not possible for the pictures and captions to paint a detail picture of what is going on in this couple’s lives. A lot of time, as a reader, I have to fill in the gaps myself but I quickly glean that Harold has a commitment issue and possibly thinks his work is better than Lenore’s cooking and food column (Lot 1216, a handwritten note from Lenore to Harold, begins: “I just couldn’t believe you said you were f***ing sick of cake”). There are many instances I have to make my own conclusions.

I like that Lenore always read the same book when Harold is away so there were picture of the same book title with different editions (Lot 1204). A book titled “Kinds of Love” with words added on and alphabet cross out into “I kind of love you” (Lot 1049, page 21). I like the toast rack of 7 dwarfs with Morris’ late father’s teeth (Lot 1166) and a two-page spread of Lenore’s bras (Lot 1284). I must admit I love the notes best and the pictures of Lenore and Harold. I think these things add depth to the story so much more. Most of the time I have an illicit feeling that I am peering into someone else’s private lives, rummaging through their cupboards and travel bags.

(Click for larger image)


The relationship begins with many love notes and quirky intimate things that couples in love do together. I sense some rift in the relationship when Lot 1247 picture appeared after the backgammon set. A double-sided handwritten note from Morris to Doolan that reads: “I want this to work, but there are sides to you I just can’t handle sometimes. When you raise your voice and throw things, I shut down and go cold. I know it makes it worse, but I can’t help it. Chucking the backgammon board into the fire was the last straw….” To which Doolan’s reply was “There are some things I need to feel loved and secure. There are some things I need to build trust, to feel safe. One of those things is being able to talk through disagreements and have the feeling that we want to come out the other end together, not that one of us has to prove the other person wrong….

I won’t tell you how the story ends but it is one ending that will stick to your mind. I just think this book is amazingly original. Very different from other books that I have ever come across. It is startling succinct, intimate, pictures that tell you so much more about the relationship than words can do. Try it.


The inspiration for the book:

In an interview in the New York Times, where Leanne Shapton also works as the designer of the op-ed page, Shapton revealed that it came to her that such a narrative trick was possible when she read the catalogue of a 2006 sale of Truman Capote’s personal effects; it was, she said, like reading an autobiography, albeit an elliptical one. The movie rights was snapped up the first year it was published and it promises to have Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman both star in the big screen adaptation. The project will be developed as a romantic comedy scheduled to be screened in 2015.

I’ll leave you with a video of Leanne Shapton’s introduction to the book:

Paperback. Publisher: Bloomsbury 2009; Length: 129 pages; Setting: Manhattan, New York USA. Source: Reading Library. Finished reading on the 26th August 2012.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


18 thoughts on “Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

  1. This seems like a really creative and interesting book. I have seen a review of it before but forgot to add it to my wishlist. This time I put it on. Now I hope I can get hold of it.

    Posted by Leeswammes | September 16, 2012, 9:05 am
  2. This is a clever deceit – for a moment I thought you were actually reviewing an auction catalogue! The quirkiness of this book alone makes me want to pick it up.

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | September 16, 2012, 10:02 am
    • Sam,
      I haven’t seen an auction catalogue before so it was all new to me. But also because I read Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton and I knew what this book is all about, half of the surprises are watered down I suppose.

      Posted by JoV | September 16, 2012, 7:59 pm
  3. Holy cow, that sounds fascinating. I want to see how it works! You’ve made me want to find a copy – thanks!

    Posted by Elizabeth | September 16, 2012, 6:12 pm
  4. Hmmm…. I think this book would hugely annoy me. I am not a material person and don’t own many possessions; I find they weigh me down. It’s a mentality I have carried since my very early 20s and it has served me well. I came to the UK in 1998 with a 90-litre backpack and whenever I travel I pack very lightly. I travelled for three months — to Middle East, China & Oz — with just 13kg in my suitcase!! 🙂

    Posted by kimbofo | September 16, 2012, 6:51 pm
    • Kim,
      I think you are the most liberated person on earth! I can travel with 10kg on my backpack for 10 days but I am not sure if I can do it for 3 months! After the 8th day I started to feel uncomfortable with what I have. You saved a lot of luggage costs, well done you! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | September 16, 2012, 8:04 pm
  5. I can’t help but wonder… are these people real? If the aren’t: kudos to a very creative novel!
    So you have hoarding tendencies, Jo? 😉 How does your family cope with that? S. always sighs about my big yarn (I knit) and book collection. I really can’t buy more because this is a small apartment… and I’ve already gone through my possesions more than once. It makes you think, this book, which things are keepsakes and which aren’t?

    Posted by Chinoiseries | September 17, 2012, 3:25 pm
    • The things are fictional. As I recognise pictures of swimsuits belongs to Leanne instead of Lenore’s. The couple may be real, I have no way to know. I use to live in bigger space at my parent’s, so hoarding was not an issue then. 😉 It makes you think isn’t it? The best thing is not to hoard in the first place, or keep it for awhile and take a look at it at another time. The next time, I always manage to change my mind and cull them…!

      Posted by JoV | September 17, 2012, 7:53 pm
      • Oh gods, I don’t even want to think about the boxes and boxes of stuff at my parents’ place. I’m still waiting for us moving to a bigger place before moving them with me 😦
        Yes, “cramped” spaces are very helpful, a good lesson in “not hoarding”!

        Posted by Chinoiseries | September 18, 2012, 5:11 am
  6. Fascinating and original story telling!

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | September 18, 2012, 6:58 am
  7. I really loved this, too, and wish there were more books like it. It’s been criticized as just gimmicky, but no matter, I enjoyed it a lot.

    Posted by claire | October 8, 2012, 3:20 am
  8. I read this quite a while ago and remember feeling really frustrated with it. I’m not a hoarder, nor am I interested in material possessions, except books. 🙂 It seemed too shallow to me: original in concept, but its heart was cold and dead somehow, with all those objects laid out for inspection, as if the relationship were eviscerated and put on display in a very detached manner.

    Posted by Violet | October 12, 2012, 1:37 am
    • Violet,
      Perhaps the relationship ended in a sad way, perhaps it was what the author wish to convey. Relationship is suppose to be private you are right, the fact that it is on display says something abt “this relationship” wouldn’t it? Thanks for stopping by.

      Posted by JoV | October 12, 2012, 8:11 pm


  1. Pingback: August – Sept 2012 : Wrap-up « JoV's Book Pyramid - October 12, 2012

  2. Pingback: Life as an auction catalogue: inspiration for archaeologists | Bodies and academia - July 20, 2015

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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