Monday, February 4, 2013

65 Books in a Year: Book #5 Londoners

I'm genuinely having a hard time writing a review for this book. If I could go by the introduction alone it would get an A++. It is nostalgic, personal, descriptive, gives a beautiful homage to the A to Zed (the 1998 copy of which I still have--although if you look at it pages just fall out because I used it so much) and it opens with one of my favorite quotes of all time ("When a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford" ~Samuel Johnson). It's too bad that Londoners, well, at least the majority of the 80+ interviews that make it into the book seem to have forgotten all about Johnson.

OK, so reading most of these interviews made me depressed and yearn for a London I guess doesn't really exist if you live there. While reading I was reminded of an interview Stephen Fry conducted with a former Essex guy who now lives in California. Fry asked the guy why he, one of the two most famous modern British guys, chose to live in America and the guy replied, "I think there's just a conspicuous lack of cynicism and skepticism...". After reading this book I'm only beginning to see what he's talking about.

I love that this book is set up pretty much like Stud Terkel's Working, in the sense that there are tiny little stories categorized by a common theme, but the stories don't have to be read in order to get a sense of the place and time in which they were written. I get, from the few stories that I connected with, that London is as vastly different as any city, and, that it is a city's history that differentiates it from any other. I guess the sense that, whether it is realized or not, one falls in love with a city based on its history.

Stories of note:

  • the black dancer who became a plumber, yes, plumber...
  • the woman who is from the Middle East who still hasn't told her parents that she's modern and living with her boyfriend
  • the manicurist who can tell more about the collective economy than most economists merely by looking at the people who get their nails done and for what reasons
  • the guy who's spent his time in London revitalizing Canary Wharf
  • the story of the rickshaw driver and his passenger's fetish for feet and socks
  • the teacher who, across The Pond, has the same struggles with students and parents and motivation and admistration and frustration that I have as a teacher in little 'ole Missouri
  • the dominatrix, the beekeeper, the Wiccan priestess
  • the funeral director who targets immigrant families because, well, funerals are a business that last generations
  • the city planner who understands that greatness cannot be planned...this man loves himself some London
  • Adam Byatt and his flavor for all things traditional, yet modern...I would like to try some John Dory
Oh, and I'm totally curious about the 100+ interviews that didn't make the cut...I wonder if I'll ever be able to read those? I'm also curious if this same feeling of weariness is so prevalent in other cities should you interview 'the man on the street' in say Paris or New York or Los Angeles. I wonder what Taylor thinks of London.

Thank goodness there's that delicious intro talking about rain and umbrellas and, London as 'propulsion, [that] rewards those people who push forward'. There's loads of great stuff in this book, I learned so much (see my list below), however, if I went by these stories alone I'd never take public transportation anywhere, I'd not yearn for London, a city I definitely yearn for, and, *whimper* I'd be tired of life, I'd be tired of London.

What I learned:
  • 'Places make the best lovers...'
  • 'People's worst qualities come out at night...'
  • Cornershop's Handcream for a Generation
  • 7/7 Terrorist Attacks
  • Stephen Lawrence, a racially motivated attack improperly handled, for years, by the police
  • I am part of the easyJet culture
  • "Dog Man Star" by Suede
  • The Jam
  • The Long Good Friday
  • John's a fish, by the way
  • words: vertiginous, cenotaph, Canberra, biro, plinth, Geordie, alluvium, cormorants, courgette, grotty, paracetamol, pissoir, peripatetic
All right, all right! I may love this book, just not the people in it!

And, here the covers I wish I had instead:

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