From Socks to Stereos: Object Lessons Books Find Beauty in Ordinary Things

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From Socks to Stereos: <i>Object Lessons</i> Books Find Beauty in Ordinary Things

When was the last time you thought about how your socks protect your vulnerable body? Or how the purpose of reading an eye chart is to measure weakness? In Bloomsbury Academic’s Object Lessons series, authors explore recognizable items from new perspectives. The result is beautiful, brief books that tackle “the hidden lives of ordinary things.”

Today marks the release of eight new books in the series: Eye Chart, Jet Lag, Personal Stereo, Shopping Mall, Sock, Tumor, Veil and Whale Song. Check out our gallery to view their gorgeous covers (designed by Alice Marwick) paired with descriptions about each title. And visit the series page to learn more about past and future entries (we personally can’t wait for Carol J. Adams’ Burger addition, scheduled for a March 2018 release).

Eye Chart by William Germano



Desert nomads tested their vision by distinguishing a pair of stars. But we have since created more disquieting ways to test the strength of the eyes.

Reading the eye chart is an exercise in failure, since it only gets interesting when you cannot read any further. It is the opposite of interpretative reading, like one does with literature. When you have finished reading an eye chart, what exactly have you even read? From a Spanish cleric's Renaissance guide to testing vision, to a Dutch ophthalmologist's innovation in optical tech, to the witty subversion of the eye chart in advertising and popular culture, William Germano's Eye Chart lets people see the eye chart at last.

From Eye Chart Copyright © 2017 by William Germano. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Jet Lag by Christopher J. Lee



Jet lag is a momentary condition resulting from the human body and its inner clock being pitched against the time-leaping effects of modern aviation. But more than that, it is a situation that explains time, technology, and the human body. Jet lag epitomizes the accelerated world we live in. It makes the speed and discomfort of globalization tangible on a personal level.

Tracing physiological, temporal, technological, and cultural meanings, Christopher J. Lee's Jet Lag ponders our intrinsic human limits in the face of modern innovation, revealing the latent costs of global cosmopolitanism today.

From Jet Lag Copyright © 2017 by Christopher J. Lee. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Personal Stereo by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow



When the Sony Walkman debuted in 1979, people were enthralled by the novel experience it offered: immersion in the music of their choice, anytime, anywhere. But the Walkman was also denounced as self-indulgent and antisocial-the quintessential accessory for the "me" generation.

In Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow takes us back to the birth of the device, exploring legal battles over credit for its invention, its ambivalent reception in 1980s America, and its lasting effects on social norms and public space. Ranging from postwar Japan to the present, Tuhus-Dubrow tells an illuminating story about our emotional responses to technological change.

From Personal Stereo Copyright © 2017 by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Shopping Mall by Matthew Newton



The mall near Matthew Newton's childhood home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was one of the state's first enclosed shopping malls. Like all malls in their heyday, this one was a climate-controlled pleasuredome where strangers converged. It boasted waterfalls, fish ponds, an indoor ice skating rink larger than Rockefeller Center's, and a monolithic clock tower illuminated year-round beneath a canopy of interconnected skylights. It also became the backdrop for filmmaker George A. Romero's zombie opus Dawn of the Dead.

Part memoir and part case study, Shopping Mall examines the modern mythology of the mall and shows that, more than a collection of stores, it is a place of curiosity, ritual, and fantasy.

From Shopping Mall Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Newton. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Sock by Kim Adrian



Who ponders the sock? This common object is something people tug on and take off daily with hardly a thought. Unraveling the garment's history, construction, and use, Kim Adrian's Sock reintroduces us to our own bodies—vulnerable, bipedal, and flawed.

Sock reminds us that extraordinary secrets live in mundane material realities, and shows how this floppy, often smelly, sometimes holey piece of clothing, whether machine-made or hand-knit, can also serve as an anatomy lesson, a physics primer, a love letter, a weapon, a fetish, and a fashion statement.

From Sock Copyright © 2017 by Kim Adrian. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Tumor by Anna Leahy



One in two men and one in three women will develop invasive cancer. Tumors have the power to redefine identities and change how people live with one another.

Tumor takes readers on an intellectual adventure around the attitudes that shape how humans do scientific research, treat cancer, and talk about disease, treatment, and death. With poetic verve and acuity, Anna Leahy explores why and how tumors happen, how we think and talk about them, and how we try to rid ourselves of them.

From Tumor Copyright © 2017 by Anna Leahy. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Veil by Rafia Zakaria



The veil can be an instrument of feminist empowerment, and veiled anonymity can confer power to women. Starting from her own marriage ceremony at which she first wore a full veil, Rafia Zakaria examines how veils do more than they get credit for.

Part memoir and part philosophical investigation, Veil questions that what is seen is always good and free, and that what is veiled can only signal servility and subterfuge. From personal encounters with the veil in France (where it is banned) to Iran (where it is compulsory), Zakaria shows how the garment's reputation as a pre-modern relic is fraught and up for grabs. The veil is an object in constant transformation, whose myriad meanings challenge the absolute truths of patriarchy.

From Veil Copyright © 2017 by Rafia Zakaria. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Whale Song by Margret Grebowicz



The sapiens of the sea, whales are the other intelligent, social, and loquacious animal. But they seem to swim away the more people chase after them in an effort to communicate and connect. Why does the meaning of their mesmerizing songs continue to elude us? In times of unprecedented environmental and social loss, Margret Grebowicz's Whale Song ponders the problems facing ocean ecosystems and offers lessons from those depths for human social life and intimacy.

From Whale Song Copyright © 2017 by Margret Grebowicz. Published by Bloomsbury Academic.