A modern gallimaufry

“Found” looks at everyday garbage made strange.

Katrina Wilber

Davy Rothbart’s grade school habit of picking up forgotten notes, pictures and letters spawned a magazine. That journal in turn created a book that delves into the U.S. psyche. Well, more or less.

“Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around the World” is a carefully thrown-together scrapbook full of objects donated by people across the United States and numerous other countries.

The finds are in English, Polish, German, French and the homemade codes that are popular in middle-school circles. There’s a typewritten letter from 1928, postcards and letters from 1963 when former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and a story about a note in a bottle that was found almost 19 years after it set sail.

The treasures were taped or glued to black paper, and the original notes’ wrinkles and creases are there in all their glory. Typed explanations provide insight to where they were found and maybe why they were written.

With subjects as different as the states and countries they come from, the pieces are funny, sad, touching, ironic and even disturbing.

If we agree with Fyodor Dostoevsky that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, the same holds true for unhappy lovers. A whole other “Found” book could be dedicated to discarded letters filled with the anguish and heartache of star-crossed lovers.

The letters struggle to hold the overflow of emotions that spill from hearts and hands, from men and women, teenagers and adults. Maybe the notes, scribbled on anything from notebook paper to napkins, were intentionally thrown away by the recipients. Then again, maybe they were just forgotten.

Not all the finds are as depressing as these woeful missives.

There’s a photograph of an older couple in wedding apparel, another one of three smiling teenagers and a postcard-worthy shot of the New York City skyline taken before Sept. 11.

Then again, the down-to-earth people with things to accomplish often need a list to stay on track.

A series of to-do lists are scattered throughout the book and the random duties on the lists set the imagination afire. In one, “turn in library books” and “find out about college” are atop the list, while “hide guns” and “change addresses” are farther down. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Technology has moved embarrassing evidence from the form of handwritten notes to e-mails. E-mails from a Backstreet Boys-obsessed teenage girl with way too much time on her hands and an apology for a drunken mistake never got to their destination. At least the author gets something out of it.

“Found” is a testimonial to the trash-to-treasure ethos of dumpster diving and found art highlighting the natural curiosity we have about ourselves and each other.