Shelf Space - All's not lost in Requiem for a Paper Bag

"I'm the sort of person who always has to turn over each piece of paper I see to make sure the secrets of the universe aren't written on the other side," filmmaker Miranda July admits near the beginning of Requiem for a Paper Bag, a new anthology from Found magazine editor Davy Rothbart. Requiem's a collection of stories from people who, like July, rummage through thrift stores, dumpsters, and alleyways to rescue minor treasures from the refuse of the world. The result is equal parts transcendent and trashy.

Rothbart's packed the volume with a wealth of contributors. A Pulitzer Prize winner fits comfortably among punk 'zine writers. Hip musicians mingle with literary editors. Robert Olen Butler considers a stray postcard's significance. David Simon digs through the Baltimore murder case files for a lost letter from Bob Dylan. Devendra Banhart comes across a magical frog, and Chuck D teaches a lesson in combing junkyards. It's as funny as it is fascinating, trading heavily on voyeuristic glimpses into strange lives.

Take, for instance, the typewritten monthly budget from issue No. 3, which allocates 600 bucks apiece for rent, liquor and crack, along with some money for the laundry ($30), a lawyer ($250), and "asvings" ($100). The combination is too much for Chuck Klosterman, who suspects the list is a figment of imagination, a "dream lost bohemian, fascinating to all." Who, in reality, could smoke cocaine all month, keep his clothes clean, and still save some money?
Other observations are more earnest, such as author Al Burian's ruminations over a discovered box of love letters, yearbooks, diaries, and photographs from some unknown Sheri Miller. He frets about finding her to return the seemingly treasured collection, but is interrupted from reading her letters by an eviction from a landlord who threatens to burn down the house. Eventually, he finds himself living with a few possessions in a shed not unlike the one in which he found Miller's stuff. It's a clever reminder that these small treasures are only found as often as they're lost.

Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed & Found Items from Around the World. Edited by Davy Rothbart. Fireside Paperback Original. $15.99. 234 pp.

More By This Writer


Thursday May 15, 2014 04:00 am EDT
You can do it, but I'm not quite sure that you should | more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 11:55 am EDT

  • Chris Appleton

Americans for the Arts, the national arts nonprofit, has recognized WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton with the 2014 Emerging Leaders Award. Since 2006, the award has been awarded for "visionary leadership by an individual who is a new and/or young arts leader who demonstrates an ability to engage and impact his or her community." Appleton...

| more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 10:00 am EDT

The latest episode of Atlanta's newest talk show features local poet and newspaper man Daniel Beauregard discussing Africa and news with host Gavin Bernard. If you can't stop watching this thing, either, there is also a short episode about pizza bites.

| more...


Friday April 25, 2014 10:47 am EDT



Last night, the 2014 Townsend Prize for Fiction was awarded to Anthony Winkler for his 2012 novel God Carlos. The novel, which tells of Spanish brutalities against native peoples in 16th-century Jamaica, is Winkler's ninth book of fiction. He...

| more...


Tuesday April 22, 2014 02:05 pm EDT


  • Michael Tavani

While working on last month's cover story about email marketing company MailChimp, I noticed that Scoutmob founder Michael Tavani announced that he would stepping back from his day to day role at the company he helped found. To accompany that...

| more...
Search for more by Wyatt Williams

[Admin link: Shelf Space - All's not lost in Requiem for a Paper Bag]