‘Egg’: Bloomsbury’s Eggscellent Mission

Does Humpty Dumpty freak you out more or less than salmonella? Bloomsbury's Object Lessons books offer fodder for daily mindfulness.

Easter is around the bend, so I’m thinking about eggs. Once you begin thinking about eggs, it’s surprisingly easy to continue thinking about them. There are two reasons why this is true. First, eggs are pretty much everywhere. And by extension, the second reason is that everyone has experiences with eggs. The frequency and resulting intensity with which one can have an encounter with an egg ends up supersaturating the object itself to the point where it becomes an empty signifier. At that point, we can discuss an egg in any way or within any field that otherwise appeals to us.

We can talk about eggs in relation to Easter. My family celebrated a secular Easter when I was a kid. Mainly, we did an egg hunt and ate a whole bunch of candy. If the cousins were coming over for the holiday, we might also dye some eggs. I did about six PAAS kits when I was little and always loved the procedures of dying the eggs. We concocted all kinds of experiments on them that were destined to fail. We might combine bits of the different dye pellets to try to get more vibrant or unusual shades of color. One year we went through a very elaborate process meant to mimic tie-dying patterns like those on all our summer camp t-shirts. When our fine motor skills got focused enough, we got access to the clear wax crayon with which we drew carefully on our eggs before dunking them in the dye.

For me, the best part of dying the eggs has nothing to do with the art of it or the holiday. I just really liked balancing the egg on that tiny wire dunker. The wire was thin and glinted in the overhead kitchen light. There was a nub on one end for a small handle, and then the part that held the egg so you could drop it gently into the dye cup was twisted into an octagon or maybe a hexagon, a many-sided hole for my perfect circle of a peg. It took balance, a sense of timing, a predictive ability to read the terrain, slight and controlled twitching of a finger to make the wire do what you needed it to — all skills that I’d later employ in my fondness for motorcycles. And if you broke an egg, of course, there were consequences.

One year, we lost one of the baskets. You get wild when you’re with your cousins, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget where you set down those half dozen painstakingly dyed eggs. You might even forget that you forgot — might not realize a half dozen eggs are missing until the whole family is wondering two months later about the origin of that distinctly awful smell. Oh, it was so gross when we finally discovered the missing basket of eggs, but mostly it was hilarious.

Or we could review the giant omelet I ate after a trip to the abortion clinic. We could speculate on whether the chicken or the egg came first. I could tell you the story of how, when I was in elementary school, a teacher called me a “good egg” within a few days of some friend’s angry mom calling me a “bad seed”, forever linking the two phrases in my mind. Or I could do a bit of a fact dump about differing gestation periods for different species of egg, maybe run that up alongside my touching concern for a dear friend’s in vitro fertilization trials and tribulations for a poignant juxtapositioning. Then we could zoom out on a more international, multicultural consideration of the symbolisms of the egg, eventually getting back around to the universality of human preoccupation with the egg and closing with a full-circle joke about Easter.

Indeed, there’s really a lot to discuss about eggs and a variety of ways to do it: poetic homage to the egg, myths and parables or other bits of folk wisdom including an egg, personal memories of specific eggs, research into the maths and sciences of eggs, historicized eggs, and obviously egg recipes. It would be hard to pick one approach to contain all the things we might say about an egg. I could do a whole weirdly flowy book about the egg as object — but Nicole Walker has beaten me (haha — eggy pun) to it. Bloomsbury has this truly terrific series of meditative reads called Object Lessons, each about 150 pages of consideration for one ubiquitous thing. Books in the series, edited by game designer Ian Bogost and cultural studies theorist Christopher Schaberg, include: hair, password, dust, tumor, sock, golf ball, hotel, tree, silence, bookshelf, and of course egg.

There isn’t really anything special about Walker that qualifies her to write the Egg installment. She’s a professor in Arizona who is best known for her poetry/non-fiction hybrid textual interests. The title of one of her other books is This Noisy Egg, so maybe she has been hatching the ideas of Egg for a long time already. She’s no eggspert, just thoroughly interested. She’s going to feel her way in, work through many of her own experiences with eggs, ask her colleagues from China about them, build metaphors for sustainable human joy and break down some barriers to the perfect poach. The result is a deeply engrossing and very accessible work of philosophy, a quasi-religious contemplation of someone else’s daily striving possessed of both poetic and factual merit.

Doesn’t matter of you love eggs or hate them. Doesn’t matter if you have babies or never wanted babies or had a lot of trouble trying to have a baby. Have you ever eaten a duck egg or a thousand year egg? Have you been to China, Israel, Korea, Utah? Does Humpty Dumpty freak you out more or less than salmonella? What does cage-free actually mean, and would you rather have cage-free or organic eggs? Did you ever make eggs for your best friend as a gesture of reconciliation for grievances long past? Walker’s Egg is the product of her own amalgamation of eggsperiences, refracted through her own poetic syntactical sense and broader environmental interests.

Egg purports to be about eggs, but in the end, eggs are really about Nicole Walker and Walker is really about us. In reading an object meditation such as this, the reader has to engage on several increasingly difficult levels. First, we accept Walker’s fragments for whatever they are, that then evokes our own experiences with eggs, we go on to approach Walker’s text comparatively both for parallels in our experiences and for contrasts in our resultant ideas about eggs. Then, if all has gone according to plan, and we can confidently say that Egg has turned out to be a good book, we can begin to carry a heightened awareness for eggs in our lives in order to collect additional experiences with eggs that will then fuel our further personal growth in this metaphorical area. When you pay mind to an object this deeply, it’s a type of mission work.