When journalist and author Alison Stewart was confronted with emptying her late parents' overloaded basement, a job that dragged on for months, it got her thinking: How did it come to this? Why do smart, successful people hold on to old Christmas bows, chipped knickknacks, and books they will likely never reread?
Junk details Stewart's three-year investigation into America's stuff. Stewart rides along with junk removal teams like Trash Daddy, Annie Haul, and Junk Vets. She goes backstage at Antiques Roadshow and learns what makes for compelling junk-based television with the executive producer of Pawn Stars. And she even investigates the growing problem of space junk - 23,000 pieces of manmade debris orbiting the planet at 17,500 miles per hour, threatening both satellites and human space exploration.
But it's not all dire. Listeners will also learn that there are creative solutions to America's crushing consumer culture. The author visits with Deron Beal, founder of FreeCycle, an online community of people who would rather give away than throw away their no-longer-needed possessions. She spends a day at a Repair Café, where volunteer tinkerers bring new life to broken appliances, toys, and just about anything. Junk is a delightful journey through 250-mile-long yard sales, resale shops, and packrat dens, both human and rodent, that for most listeners will look surprisingly familiar.
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A Trashy Listen! (pun intended)
I've been fascinated by the business of junk since I was 11, when I (first) read Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1943). In 1915 New York, Francie Nolan - who was my age! - and her younger brother, Neely, kept the family afloat collecting and selling metal to a lascivious and ominously named "junkie", Carney. In this century, I've wondered just what people keep at Public Storage units, cleverly tucked underneath raised freeways in Los Angeles; and the economics of "1-800-Got-Junk" trucks I see, without fail, every three years at my neighbors' home, sent by the city council of my small town to fix an elder's recurrent hoarding problem.
Alison Stewart's "Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair With Stuff" (2016) explains "the industry" in a fun listen. There's 250 mile long yard sale that US Route 411 becomes. I'm pretty sure from Stewart's description, stuff just moves south down the road from seller to buyer, who becomes next year's seller. Maybe when it gets to Tennessee, someone from Alabama buys it and it starts over again? There's the junk model - some companies are simply charge based on square yardage hauled, while others might pay for stuff that can be recycled. It just depends.
Stewart explores the idea of "What's one man's junk is another man's treasure." Stewart was thrilled to find a very old paper from her Alma Mater, Brown, to give as a gift. The recipient was even more thrilled than Stewart - and the seller was happy to get a buck or two for something a quirky well educated great aunt had left behind.
It seems to be that people who attach value to everything can't give things up - which is how Stewart ended up with a daunting basement full of junk to clean up when her elegant, well educated and seemingly non-hoarding parents died. Stewart tried doing it herself before she got professional help. Stewart wasn't having trouble letting go - she didn't need a therapist. She needed someone who could sort the stuff and send it on its way to be donated or discarded.
I thought the section about space junk was really fascinating. Even (literally) living in the shadow of NASA's JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and with a fan girl's devotion to the space program, I had no idea of the sheer volume of debris waiting to take out an unfortunately launched rocket, a haplessly orbiting satellite, or even a space station populated with the world's best and brightest.
When I went to write this review, I realized I'd actually been listening to Stewart for years on NPR. I remember some of her pieces, and I think she's a good and thoughtful journalist. She's the perfect narrator for her own book.
I do wish her first book "First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School" (2013) was available on Audible. It looks even more interesting than "Junk."
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9 people found this helpful
it's inspired me to clear out my garage
what struck me most was knowing on every level that if you don't love something that is stored in your place , it's time for it to go. If you aren't around, someone else will have to deal with it. I had to for my parents and I don't want to give a chore to a family member of mine one day.