Tag Archives: books

a tale of two cities

4 May

Part of my job working for a radio station is being able to understand what makes people of all ages and different backgrounds tick… i.e. what floats their boat and if we should start talking or promoting it, will they tune in for longer… or turn that dial?

Reading between the lines I pretty much see this as a permit to be nosy.. in the ethnographic, not the ‘News of the Screws’ sort of way I’ll hastily add.

The factors that shape people’s behaviour are vast and well over my head, but I wanted to share two really fascinating books that give an insight into how the lovely city around us shapes our lives.

One is based upon a single street in London, and the other on Tokyo. Although far apart and very different, as experiments on cities go, these are two petri dishes that are as good as it gets for a social anthropologist.

‘The Comfort of Things’ by Daniel Miller is a portrayal of one street in modern London. In a city where we interact with our neighbours less, religious and social communities are looser than years gone by when you start to think about it, it can be difficult to describe what defines us and the society around us.

By interviewing thirty households on a single street, investigating what lies behind front doors and importantly the possessions within, the writer creates a great portrait of what matters to us as a modern society in London.

Rather than showing that modern life has been wholly corrupted by consumerism, these brilliantly written accounts frequently demonstrate what we possess actually express our aspirations and importantly cement our relationships with family, friends and thecity around us.

One person describes the importance of their Christmas decorations, and how the tree symbolises their chronology of Christmases. Every year the youngest child of friends and family makes a new decoration to hang on the tree. So they get to plot and remember Christmases across children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

‘Tokyo: a certain style’ is a photographic book by Kyoichi Tsuzuki along the same lines. Showing how our fellow mega city dwellers in Japan live, makes it a great comparison to Daniel Miller’s book.

As one of the most expensive places in the world to rent or own property, apartments in Tokyo are what you could describe as “cosy”.

Getting an insight into how people manage to live and function in apartments so compact that they sometimes don’t have a bathroom or toilet, yet still be able to own SO much stuff blows my mind.

Indulge your nosiness by peeking at the various spaces, this one above of a living /bed/study/dining room of a Manga artist (and no, this isn’t the bedroom of a ten year old boy)..

Originally I actually bought this book for my sister as a present (she’s an interior designer that loves clean, clutter free lines), but I had to buy myself a copy.

Mainly because I couldn’t stop leafing through it before I handed it over, so I had somewhat tarnished that “new” feel to it.. it is a few years old, but should you be able to get your hands on a copy do so.. A great gift for neat freaks, or those that complain that their flat is too small.

why i love my kindle

18 Apr

I was anti e-readers for a very long time. I love the smell of books…I like seeing them lined up on my bookshelf…I like lending them to friends. Actually, I don’t like lending. Because who has ever seen a lent out book again?

When the Kindles were finally released at the tight arse friendly price of 89 pounds last year, I succumbed, justifying the purchase as ultimately a money saving exercise – a Kindle would be a very cost effective way to roar through the classics, as they’re out of copyright and therefore free.

What I didn’t realise was that the Kindle would become my best friend. Any Londoner knows that you spend a lot of time waiting around…and having a tiny library in your bag at all times is a godsend. I’ve read more books in the last few months than I’ve read in years because I can pull out the Kindle whenever I’m killing time.

I’ve also saved a fortune on trash mags. Who’s got time to read about Pippa Middleton’s weekend when I need to find out if Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester are going to hook up?

And my favourite thing about the Kindle? Nobody can see that I’m actually reading Confessions of a Shopaholic.

My Kindle is protected by a Gelaskins cover.

londoners: the days and nights of london now as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it and long for it

27 Mar

This book by Craig Taylor is a compendium of snapshots of various people who at some point have called themselves Londoners. Taylor met with the most diverse line up of Londoners you could imagine, from tube drivers to market stall moguls to commuters grappling with First ‘Great’ Western. What unites them is that they all have a story.

I am now wandering the streets of London with fresh eyes, looking at that street sweeper or hedge fund emperor and wondering what his story is. I chat to the lady I buy my coffee from and wonder where she lives, how she got into work this morning, what she thinks of this mad place.

Until now, if I’d ever tried to make my way through the human traffic of Oxford Street or squeezed into a sardine can tube carriage, I tended to block out the cacophony. Knowing now that every other person has a story and a struggle makes living in this heaving metropolis very overwhelming indeed.

After I first finished it, I wished I’d read it when I first moved here, but now I’m glad I knew London before I read these stories. I had a picture in my head of every person Taylor met, which made for a much richer read.

Every Londoner should read this book. I guarantee it will change the way you see your city.

NB: This one is a bit of a chunky monkey, so it is a great book for the Kindle or your bedside table. Lugging it on the tube is not advised! Also, it is a series of short vignettes, making it perfect for those whose attention spans have taken a nosedive in recent years.

the master and margarita

20 Mar

The Master and Margarita is one of those books I have pretended to have read for nearly ten years.

Given I am going to see the Complicite production of M&M at the Barbican in a couple of weeks, the time has come for me to bite the bullet and actually read it. And it’s great! So great that I almost missed my bus stop this morning…

I have another 350 pages to go before next Saturday – the race is on!