Brief Histories of Everyday Objects is a book about the hidden stories in the mundane things that surround us in our lives. The histories of items ranging from the toothbrush to kitty litter are told in a funny and engagingly weird style that connects with readers of any age. It’s a both a book of histories, and a book about histories. It exploring how lies become legends, trade routes spring up, and empires rise and fall—all from the perspective of your toothbrush or toilet. Its chapters are peppered with ballpoint pen riots, cowboy wars, and really bad Victorian practical jokes. Above all, Brief Histories of Everyday Objects takes joy in finding the true, hidden stories that underpin the most humdrum things we interact with—and then making fun of them.
The idea for Brief Histories of Everyday Objects came to me two years ago, while I was in the shower. I’d wanted to start a web series but couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write about. It seemed like all the stories I could think of were restricting and would become boring after a few weeks of installments. I looked at the shower-head and wondered what its story was. After some digging, it turned out that shower-heads were actually pretty boring, but the idea stuck and I dug some more. My toothbrush was the story of prison ingenuity, my bathtub was wrapped up in a hoax, my toilet’s history stretched back to the golden age of Baghdad. I had my idea and I had my series.
The webcomic only ended up lasting for a few months of that year. It was nominated for a Stumptown Award, but I was taking on too much other paid comic work, and couldn’t spare the time for the series. I made it into a mini-comic and, aside from selling it at conventions, promptly forgot about it. Two years later Anna DeVries, my editor at Picador, came across the mini-comic, got in touch with me and asked if I’d ever thought of developing it into a longer work. I then spent the next six months reading both the most boring and interesting books imaginable, coming up with a huge list of object histories and whittling them down into Brief Histories of Everyday Objects.
And so, without further ado, here is the history of the thing all books are made of: Paper.
Reprinted from Brief Histories of Everyday Objects © 2016 by Andy Warner. Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan.