790: Mongo by Ted Botha

by Gerard


790.132: Botha, Ted. Mongo: Adventures in Trash. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004. 242 pp. ISBN 1-58234-567-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Fine Arts and Recreation
  • 790: Recreational and performing arts
  • 790.1: General kinds of recreational activities
  • 790.13: Activities generally engaged in by individuals
  • 790.132: Collecting

If you’ve ever seen an object on the side of the road or fished something from a dumpster or a trash pile, then you’ve engaged in mongo. In the traditional sense, mongo is any object that been discarded but now retrieved. Mongo can either be for profit or pleasure (or sometimes both). Mongo culture comes with many different subdivisions: people mongo for food, books, furniture, car parts, antiques, or just for decoration. For some, mongo is their only way of surviving, and for others, it’s a side project. Ted Botha’s Mongo is look into this often-invisible subculture.

Botha covers pretty much all areas of mongo in New York City. There are the freegans, those who forage for food thrown away but that is still edible. There are book hunters who scour alleyways and stoops for piles of material that can be resold for a few bucks. There are those who dig up backyards to find hidden treasures from the 19th century. And then there are those can’t bear to see anything thrown away and keep trinkets for themselves. These variations on a theme give New York an even richer character than previously seen.

I found this book immensely intriguing. My mother used to scour European junkyards and flea markets for pieces for our house and many times, she came back with large, grungy items only to restore them to a perfectly respectable state. Treasures can be found in another person’s trash, but one must be judicious and patient. Botha’s interpretation of mongo culture is with a sympathetic eye as he is a collector himself. His prose clips along nicely and is all at once funny, interesting, descriptive, and kind. After reading this one, you’ll never look at trash in the same way again.