On my bookshelf | The Story of my Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli - Museums Association

On my bookshelf | The Story of my Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli

A book of fiction that made a link between the objects and the stories they tell, whether positive or negative
Books Bookshelf
Kate Wilkinson
The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, held by Royal Museums Greenwich, was one object Wilkinson thought about while reading The Story of my Teeth

Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez (known as Highway) is the charismatic protagonist of this 2013 novel. After 19 years working as a security guard at a juice factory and an unsuccessful attempt at a dance career, Highway learns the art of auctioneering.

Exaggeration and bending the truth are part of his game, but Highway is no ordinary conman; he holds genuine reverence for his craft and is susceptible to its charms. Indeed, at auction he wins “Marilyn Monroe’s teeth”.

A blue bookcover with illustrations of teeth on it underneath the book title
This witty, thoughtful book helped consider ways that stories confer value on objects

One day he holds a “hyperbolic auction” in a church to help the priest raise money. He auctions off all his real teeth (which have since been replaced by Monroe’s), claiming that different teeth belonged to famous historical figures, such as Michel de Montaigne, Plato and Virginia Woolf.

I read this novel while working at Royal Museums Greenwich, the home of many storied objects, including Nelson’s coat (complete with bullet hole), John Harrison’s marine timekeepers and the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I.

In digital marketing we knew that iconic objects increase a museum’s appeal, so we created pages for some of them to attract online visitors.


Highway’s preoccupation with great figures in history and the idiosyncratic nature of his collecting perhaps put this character at odds with modern ideals of museum practice.

But reading this witty, thoughtful book made me consider the ways stories confer value on objects and how we can enjoy and be moved by them, while also being critical of them.

Kate Wilkinson is a writer and editor

Leave a comment

You must be to post a comment.


Join the Museums Association today to read this article

Over 12,000 museum professionals have already become members. Join to gain access to exclusive articles, free entry to museums and access to our members events.