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review 2014-12-05 11:30
Motel of the Mysteries - A book you should look at at least once
Motel Of The Mysteries - David Macaulay

I'm glad I read this again. I understand so much more of what's going on, though I know I'm still missing a great deal.


It is so humorous to see them continually get things wrong. The TV as an altar - though that's not terribly far off - the bathroom as the inner burial chamber, and Monument Row. Thanks to the History Channel's new emphasis on Aliens *sigh*, I figured out Heinrich von Hooligan stood for Erich von Däniken. That, in some ways even more then the rest, really made me think about what we "know" about ancient civilizations.

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text 2014-10-18 20:52
October Book a Day #17: Book(s) That Made Me Laugh in Public
Lucky Jim - David Lodge,Kingsley Amis
The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse
Poetry for Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse - Henry Beard
Motel of the Mysteries - David Macaulay
My Life and Hard Times - James Thurber
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1) - Douglas Adams

All of these titles, in different moods and at different ages, have made me laugh in public.


When I was a teenager, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was the book all the other teens were reading, and it was hilarious.  My parents gave me My Life and Hard Times at that age, and it was a wonderful, very funny memoir of growing up in the midwest a century ago, from one of the founders of The New Yorker (not to be missed: "the dog that bit people" and "the night the bed fell").


Encountered as an older adolescent, and again in college anthropology, Motel of the Mysteries had me laughing non-stop (my roommates, too, as I recall).  The illustrations are half the fun.  At about this time I also read The Code of the Woosters, a masterpiece by P.G. Wodehouse.


More recently I've read, loved, and laughed at Poetry for Cats and Lucky Jim.  (The latter I was reading while visiting my father; he heard me howling with laughter from upstairs and then nodded with understanding when my answer to "What's so funny?" was "Lucky Jim." He gave it to me, by the way.)  

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review 2014-10-14 02:05
Review: Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay
Motel of the Mysteries - David Macaulay

Sometime in junior high or high school I bumped into Motel of the Mysteries in a library. And while I'm not sure it changed my life, it intrigued me like crazy, because other kids that I talked to weren't sure if it was real or not. The text seemed to imply that this was all true, sort of. (I don't think any of us were reading it carefully enough.)(Also stay tuned, there will be quotes) It's as if there was a mash up of In Search Of, the story of the King Tut Excavation/Discovery, and those tv shows about Modern Well Known Cities Envisioned As Ruins. With an odd reference to ancient aliens tossed in.


The book was published in 1979, which was during the time that the King Tut exhibit/tour came to the US (1972-1981). Egypt-mania was all over the place, as were documentaries about archeology. We couldn't get tickets to the tour after traveling to the nearest city where it stopped (it sold out), but I did get a cool hologram necklace of the golden burial mask. (I no longer have it thanks to a house theft. I'm still bummed. I'm sure I could get another online if I went looking - but it was also really tacky fake gold, so, no. Plus I still have my mood ring, so I'm set for faddish jewelry of the 70s.)


The author and artist of the book is David Macaulay - and while Motel came out two years after his well received (among us kids in the library, and the Caldecott people) book Castle, he wasn't as well known then as he was after 1988's The Way Things Work.


Opening illustration:



So the story of Motel: archeologists stumble on an ancient ruin, and believe they're on to Something Big. They then try to piece together the story of what this ancient ruin once was. The answer is of course in the book's title, not that the archeologists figure that out.


We learn the story of the discovery, work at the dig site and lab, and finally the museum exhibitions. And final "on site reenactments". The last part of the book - The Treasures - is full of the items found with a detailed descriptions - similar to what you'd see on a museum display card. And then: "Souvenirs and Quality Reproductions" - in other words, things you can buy in the gift store. (I'm still amused by the Coffee Set.)

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review 2013-10-12 03:55
Motel of the Mysteries, by David Macauley (1979)
Motel of the Mysteries - David Macaulay

I first read this book when I was around 8 or 9 years old. It is a richly descriptive and satirical look at the archaeology/physical anthropology of our present (or the present at the time of publication, 1979) in the distant future. Page by page, future archaeologist Howard Carson uncovers the untouched landscape of an American motel room that was frozen in time after an unforeseen catastrophe in 1985. The world beneath his feet is full of ritual symbolism and he meticulously catalogs the complex geographies of religious significance that he finds. As he pieces together the minute details of this long-defunct civilization, the reader is bemused by his misguided interpretations of everyday items in a typical hotel room invariably classed as exalted ceremonial relics.


The book not only pokes fun at the material culture of mid-century Americans, but speaks to the inherit limits of fields like history and archaeology to make sense of the distant past through its physical artifacts alone. As a kid, I enjoyed this book for its fun descriptions, overt irony and how it challenged the reader to take a new perspective on the objects around us that we take for granted. It really captivated my imagination.


Unbeknownst to my 8-year-old self at the time, I would later go on to pursue a PhD and a career in anthropology. Now with an insider's view of the fields under parody, I find this book even more accurate. Pretty much any objects, artifacts or layouts that archaeologists cannot easily explain are attributed to "ritual purposes" or "the sacred". Religion is the catch-all category for all of the stuff that humans have trouble understanding or accepting. This book teaches us the very important lesson that present-day biases make us all foolhardy in our attempts to matter-of-factly narrate the past. Extend this advice further and it suggests that it is not wise to presume to know the lives of others via a cursory glance clouded by our own preconceptions. And this is a good starting point for understanding the foundations and rationale of anthropology.


In the classroom, this book makes a fantastic exercise for imparting critical thinking skills in a fun and entertaining way. However, I recommend it to readers of all ages. The wonderful illustrations add to its charm and memorability.


Depiction of a woman of Usa in ceremonial dress.

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review 2013-07-07 00:00
Motel of the Mysteries - David Macaulay
Pretty much a one-note joke, but fun.
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