BOOK

Finish This Book

by Keri Smith

Central Question: Is life better if you think of everything as art?
Author’s place of birth: Toronto; Author’s stated inspirations: Georges Perec, Buddhism, John Muir; Title of author’s blog: The Wish Jar; Most common sentiment expressed in comments on author’s blog: gratitude; Author’s reasons for blogging, according to an interview with PBS: same as those for making art; Answer to coded message in code cracking exercise 2: The power of imagination makes us infinie [sic]; Documenting and observation methods employed while writing this review: portable sleuthing kit, infraordinary, divination, deception, home base; Obstacles encountered: attaching fake mustache with Scotch tape, access to wilderness, shyness

Keri Smith may well be the self-help guru this DIY generation deserves. She elicits comparisons with SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), whose Living Juicy: Daily Morsels for Your Creative Soul and Eat Mangos Naked: Finding Pleasure Everywhere (and Dancing with the Pits) ooze with a new-agey women-who-run-through-the-watercolors vibe, but trades rainbows for a hand-knit aesthetic that’s at once hip and deeply nonthreatening. As a self-described guerrilla artist, Smith flips Chekhov’s maxim that “if you want to work on your art, work on your life,” and the inversion seems to have struck a best-selling chord.

In a culture in which the value of everything from pickles to parenting seems increasingly dependent on viewing every undertaking as artistic, Smith gives her readers the tools to transform normal life into art, suggesting that this alchemy will make us happier. Her work taps into the special ability of art—narrative art most directly—to create a frame around seemingly mundane everyday activities, simply by changing the sort of attention we give them. Tell me I’m writing a book, and I’ll start narrating in my head. Call it, after Duchamp, the urinal effect.

Smith’s latest art-activity book, Finish This Book, depends on this effect. Its lobbying for the aforementioned transformation stems from the opening of a kind of artistic attention, and intention, beyond whatever prompts it gives you. That is, because there are few limits to what can be included in the book—to how you can “finish” it—anything has the potential to become art through transcription into narrative, and so anything has the potential for the same value we’d ascribe to art.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

—Jenny Hendrix

Jenny Hendrix is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the New Republic, among other publications.


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