REVIEW: Souvenir, Rolf Potts

Monday, 11 June 2018

For as long as people have traveled to distant lands, they have brought home objects to certify the journey. More than mere merchandise, these travel souvenirs take on a personal and cultural meaning that goes beyond the object itself. Drawing on several millennia of examples-from the relic-driven quests of early Christians, to the mass-produced tchotchkes that line the shelves of a Disney gift shop-travel writer Rolf Potts delves into a complicated history that explores issues of authenticity, cultural obligation, market forces, human suffering, and self-presentation. Souvenirs are shown for what they really are: not just objects, but personalized forms of folk storytelling that enable people to make sense of the world and their place in it.'

Souvenir presents an incredibly fascinating look into society’s long-held obsession with, you guessed it, souvenirs. I know, I know, it seems like an incredibly specific thing to study but, as I have found whilst reading my first in the series of books that look at the hidden lives of everyday things, this minuscule part of modern society lends itself to far larger insights into wider themes of human behaviour, both in its personal and social forms. And once a person learns how far back the activity of souvenir gathering goes, it is easy for posit how the ritual almost seems to be ingrained in some way in the human psyche.
The need of early Christian pilgrims to gather the sand beneath Jesus’ cross. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson cutting chunks from Shakespeare’s chair.
No matter where in the world you look, throughout the ages humans have tried to document their travels through the collection of artefacts, meaningful or otherwise, in an attempt to prolong the emotions of the experience. Rolf Potts explains this in detail, referencing his own extensive souvenir collection, which he manages to weave in with wider societal attitudes in a way that thankfully does not come off as clunky or out of place.
Honestly, I did not realise the amount of joy I would get out of reading about a subject so specific and ordinary and that, my friends, is why this book will not be my last in the Object Lessons series.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Head on over to for this book, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

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