Things I Didn’t Throw Out is a memoir by the Polish writer and graphic designer Marcin Wicha. My book club decided to read more translated fiction, and we chose this one for the month. I’d never heard of the writer before, so I didn’t have any expectations. And I’m so glad I didn’t.
Things I Didn’t Throw Out is about Wicha’s mother and his thoughts after her death. He goes through her things; books, pencils, knives, and everything you can think of in a regular home. I loved the parts about her books, in which the writer reimagines his mother through the books she favoured and read repeatedly.
I didn’t understand much in some parts because I’m not familiar with Poland. But, I wished I knew so that I could appreciate it more. Still, it made me think of my mother and everything she has. I wondered what objects would I keep and thought about her friends.
Things I Didn’t Throw Out is marketed as funny, and Marcin Wicha was likened to David Sedaris. I didn’t find it funny, and I don’t particularly enjoy reading David Sedaris. So this was an okay read for me. But if you like Sedaris, you might give it a chance. Enjoy!
Things I Didn’t Throw Out
I was complaining about some dull educational programme on Polskie Radio, and my mother said: ‘Not everything in life can be turned into a funny story.’ I knew it was true. But still I tried.
An intimate, unconventional and very funny memoir about everything we leave behind
Things I Didn’t Throw Out: Lamps, penknives, paperbacks, mechanical pencils, inflatable headrests. Marcin Wicha’s mother Joanna was a collector of everyday objects. When she dies and leaves her apartment intact, Wicha is left to sort through her things. Through them, he begins to construct an image of Joanna as a Jewish woman, a mother, and a citizen. As Poland emerged from the Second World War into the material meanness of the Communist regime, shortages of every kind shaped its people in deep and profound ways. What they chose to buy, keep – and, arguably, hoard – tells the story of contemporary Poland.
Joanna’s Jewishness, her devotion to work, her formidable temperament, her weakness for consumer goods, all accumulate into an unforgettable portrait of a woman and, ultimately, her country.
‘Vivid and sharply written . . . the book shows how objects are often where memories reside. It also expresses . . . the impossible human effort to end up with an adequate inventory of what was lost.’ – Hisham Matar
‘Wicha is Poland’s answer to David Sedaris, devastatingly funny about the minutiae of family life and the foibles of the elders.’ – Irish Times
‘As much a portrait of a country as of a woman, it’s a relatable book, moving but not mawkish, with a strong vein of humour.’ – The Herald
‘I loved Things I Didn’t Throw Out; so funny, clever and moving. So impressively unsentimental. And, of course, I adored all the bits about books and the precise, unflinching portrait of Joanna.’ – Cathy Rentzenbrink
‘Funny and tender.’ – Monocle
‘Short, wry essays that reanimate an extraordinary woman.’ – Saga
‘A book about making sense of history, both the personal and political.’ – The Arts Desk
‘Profound and extremely funny.’ – The Big Issue
Marcin Wicha (Warsaw, 1972) is a graphic designer, essayist, writer, and author of books for children. His writing has been published in the magazines Autoportret, Literatura na Świecie, and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he also published a weekly commentary in illustrated form for some years. He is a regular contributor to Gazeta Wyborcza and Pismo. In 2015 he published an autobiographical work of creative nonfiction, Jak przestałem kochać design (How I Stopped Loving Design), and in 2017 Rzeczy, których nie wyrzuciłem (Things I Didn’t Throw Out), which won the Polityka Passport award and was shortlisted for the prestigious Nike Literary Award.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: