" 'Democratization of design' is an empty slogan," sighs the MoMA curator Paula Antonelli, as tracking shots scan the madding crowds at Ikea and Target. "I grew up with good design in my home, with all the Joe Columbo and Achille Castiglioni pieces, not because we were rich, or my parents were educated in design. Not at all, we were totally middle class -- my parents were doctors."   


Viewers sensitive to tin-eared snobbery -- or commodity fetishism -- might expect to be riled by a cast(e) of characters for whom all problems resolve down to taste. That they're reeled in instead is a sign of the serious charm of Gary Hustwit's paean to industrial design -- itself a pristine Bauhaus rendition of the familiar talking-head documentary, shot in hyper-crisp digital video that, refreshingly, makes no attempt to simulate the gauzy subtleties of celluloid. Aesthetic honesty is Objectified's sine qua non, a lure elsewhere traced through its roster of featured objects: From ergonomic apple peelers and Japanese toothpicks to iPhones and Roombas, Objectified's vignettes redeem taste as a measured calculus of form, function, and fabrication, revivifying in the process a midcentury modernism's faith in the emancipatory potential, and rational progress, of mass material culture.


Hustwit traversed similar terrain, in identical style, with his 2007 debut, Helvetica; anchored in the development of a single sans-serif font, it remains the superior narrative of modern(ist) design for the uninitiated. Where the looser, more ponderous Objectified shines brightest is in its loving glimpses inside the offices and workshops of practitioners: designers large (Apple's Jonathan Ives) and small (Parisian brothers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec), as well as museum curators and newspaper design critics. Here, "democratization" really loses its meaning: At a time when creative landmarks like The Office and Mad Men weekly insist on the mendacity of post-industrial labor, the sight of snobbish expertise, joyously tinkering at work, is revelation -- and inspiration -- enough.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.