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Deliciously kitschy and 'Crap Souvenirs'

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
October 15, 2012 -- Updated 1318 GMT (2118 HKT)
A genuine Sphinxamid! Not even the pharaohs had one of these! -- Captions are from "Crap Souvenirs" author Doug Lansky. A genuine Sphinxamid! Not even the pharaohs had one of these! -- Captions are from "Crap Souvenirs" author Doug Lansky.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Crap Souvenirs" features photos of some of the world's kitschiest trinkets
  • The book features photos of Sphinxamids and smoking frogs
  • A souvenir has to reflect a place beyond being emblazoned with its name, author says

(CNN) -- I recently became the proud owner of a bobblehead moose magnet. The jaunty little guy sports a Nova Scotia T-shirt, and while made in China, he reminds me of a lovely Canadian adventure lacking only in a real moose.

Doug Lansky knows all about the draw of those touristy retail emporiums packed to the ceilings with tacky T-shirts and plastic bric-a-brac. He's the author of "Crap Souvenirs: The Ultimate Kitsch Collection." The book, released this month, features more than 150 tchotchke photos, some of which Lansky collected from travelers online. He's still collecting photos of these gems on his website crapsouvenirs.com.

CNN asked Lansky to explain his terminology. He provided the following answers via e-mail:

What's a "crap souvenir?"

For starters, I want to be clear that "crap souvenir" is just a snarky way to say "awesomely kitsch." These are a collection of entertaining souvenirs that are, you might say, so bad, they're good. It was hard to find a litmus test for tacky -- nearly all souvenirs possess an element of tackiness. (Finding kitsch-free souvenirs is a far more difficult task.) In the end, it was a gut reaction. I suppose I was looking for something that invoked an emotion that landed somewhere between a cringe and a laugh.

Is the photo better than the vacation?

What criteria did you consider for an "awesomely kitsch" or remarkably crappy souvenir?

It was almost more difficult to define what was a souvenir. Sure, it's French for "to remember," but that doesn't help the selection process much. Your first thought, like mine, might be that a souvenir is a memento you bring back from a trip. Seems reasonable, but consider the example of a German tourist who picks up an iPad while visiting New York's Apple Store. He might consider it a souvenir of his visit. And his device is a souvenir for him, but iPads in general aren't.

So, Rule 1 is that it has to be a souvenir on its own standing.

Rule 2: It should be an object on sale to the public. There may be a life-size polar bear in a cowboy hat and hula skirt standing in front of a tourist shop that makes for memorable souvenir photos, and one could argue that any item is for sale if you make the right offer, but if it isn't specifically there to be sold, it doesn't count.

Travel Snapshots: Not-so-kitsch souvenirs

Rule 3 is a bit more complicated. It should be tied to a location. One way is simply to print the name of the town, city or country on it. But that would also qualify any random object that says "Made in China." So it has to be tied to a place in a way more substantial than being outsourced for production. In lieu of a printed location, the item might include national colors or depictions of a famous icon or be made of well-known items endemic to that locale. This was my working guideline. However, after all this reasoning, there were a few exceptions that were simply too deliciously kitsch to pass up.

What's the tackiest souvenir you've ever come home with? Share your finds in the comments section below.

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