Saturday, April 9, 2016

Strange Book Saturday: Boring Postcards USA

I'm introducing a new series of posts: Strange Book Saturdays!

In these posts, I invite you to gawk with me at oddball books. I won't write these posts every Saturday, but when they do show up it will be on a Saturday (or late Friday evening). Because I am a sucker for alliteration.

The preliminary "strange book" is a long-time favorite of mine: Boring Postcards USA (Phaidon).
Exactly what it says on the tin.
A friend and I used to send each other bizarre books we had discovered, and I think this is the first one she sent me (thanks, Cara!).

I spent three and a half of my college years in northern Indiana, yet I still never managed to cross a stretch of road quite this unremarkable.

Warning: You spend enough time staring at these postcards, you start to believe their claims. When I first saw this photo, I grimaced. Now, it actually makes me a little hungry.

The wonder of the book lies in the fact, not that someone took a photo of each of these places and objects, but that someone turned these photos into mass-produced postcards. What's more, some of these cards have obviously gone through the mail. I like to imagine the sort of messages sent from middle-of-nowhere America:

Dear Joan,
I wish you were here. But for all I know, you are here because "here" is indistinguishable from anywhere else.
In the moments between eating at diners dubbed only "Diner" and driving under the blue eye of a sky that never blinks, along a purgatory of endless interstates, I think of you.

This looks less like a location you'd send a postcard from and more like the setting of a low-budget horror flick.
There's a part of me that desperately wants to take a road trip and find all the places where these photos were taken, to create a "before" and "after" series. Which seems like a waste. It's not as though there aren't many more interesting locales in the world, enough that I will never have time to visit them all. (If you'd like to learn about little-known, non-boring sites to plan a road trip around, check out Atlas Obscura.)

But Boring Postcards appeals to a part of me that relishes innocent delight in the ordinary. Anyone can see the beauty in the Grand Canyon. It takes a vigorous imagination to appreciate the beauties of the Gaines Truck Stop in Boyle, Mississippi. At one point, each of the places depicted here meant something to someone, was worth snapping a photo of or sending a note from. Even if only to say, "This is where I was today when I remembered that I love you."


  1. There's a lot of beige in these photos--makes me want to don a colorful costume, run into the photo and wave my arms around. But that would be a different odd book, maybe "Colorful Characters I Have Known" or "Relatives I Regularly Avoid." (Note the alliteration!)

    1. In some of the postcards, they seemed to have realized how boring their subject matter is and they try to fix this by inserting a woman in a colorful summer dress, but she just fades into the general dullness. Like a curse no one can escape.

  2. The cafeteria tray mystifies me. Other than pie, coffee and toast with unmelted butter, I have no idea what any of that food is. Thanks for the funny post.

    1. I think there's fish (with the scales on), potatoes boiled with something suspicious, pickles (with lemon slices? why?), and a macaroni salad minus the macaroni.

      Also the unmelted butter on the toast bothers me deeply.