This is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully designed book. The concept is simple but alluring get 16 writers to write about 16 famous squares, usiThis is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully designed book. The concept is simple but alluring get 16 writers to write about 16 famous squares, using these essays as a frame to examine the political, social, cultural and of course historical significance of the city square. It is an alluring look at how city squares can become enormously powerful symbols not just of cities but nations - sites of not just jingoistic nationalism but protest.
The book works partly on the basis of the strength of the writing and the best essays were deeply personal: Rory Stewart writing about his attempts to recreate a public space in Afghanistan; Avi Shalit writing about Rabin square in Tel Aviv sterile and symbolic; a Mexican writer sharing her experiences of the main square in Mexico City. Some were of course notable for the expertise of the writers: Anne Applebaum on Russia; Evan Osmos on China; Adam Gopnik on Paris.
If I could have one complaint it would be the lack of more local and personal voices. As good as Osmos is on the historical significance of Tiananmen I would have loved to hear a young Chinese protester talk about the significance of the square to them. The predominance of Western voices even in writing about non-Western places is a problem but thankfully not fatal as most of the writers are deeply immersed in their subject.
Each essay also came with beautiful and very well chosen photos that also played a crucial role in helping to illuminate the squares. The overall book design and the quality paper made it a joy to read and own. All in all, definitely worth getting. ...more
As the author himself notes, a fair number of people of a distinctly literary bent seem to be attracted to tennis, so what does he have to add to a slAs the author himself notes, a fair number of people of a distinctly literary bent seem to be attracted to tennis, so what does he have to add to a slew of books by writers about tennis? At first glance the author's experience seeing Federer live once at Halle, and a few times at one Wimbledon tournament and asking him two interview questions in person seems rather meagre fodder for a book length work. And there have been no shortage of people who have waxed lyrical about Roger (not least David Foster Wallace whom Skidelsky quotes liberally from).
One way is through his keen observations of the more technical aspects of the sport gleaned from being an obsessive junior player and a keen amateur once he took up the sport again post University (the reasons why he lost his love of tennis is one of the less interesting and slightly tortuous parts of the book). Perhaps the most interesting section of the book was his analysis of how tennis styles have evolved, in part due to changes in racquet technology, particularly the introduction of composite materials for racquet frames. This allowed players to not necessarily hit harder, but hit harder with much greater accuracy and led to the death of serve and volley.
I also enjoyed his discussion of why Federer's tennis is often seen as bordering on aesthetic perfection, mixing as he does the power and baseline domination that is a prerequisite of success in the modern game with throwback style like a single handed backhand and an unorthodox grip that allows for cleaning hitting on his forehand. In part, Skidelsky thinks it is partly an illusion of elegance, or more generously a superb blend of raw aggression with sublime grace.
Unfortunately, the book is titled "Federer and Me" and it is the autobiographical aspects that are less than interesting, especially when Skidelsky deviates from tennis. Pages are devoted to his rather miserable and isolated time at Eton, then Oxford; to his abandoning tennis for cricket (and occasionally squash); to details as personal as depression, and him losing his virginity and the pressures of being the son of famous Keynes biographer and a highly intelligent brother.
In sum, this is largely for tennis fans only - and feel free to skip the bits that aren't related to tennis....more
The impetus to read this book came from the fact that my wife and I are on the cusp of moving into our own home for the first time - an apartment compThe impetus to read this book came from the fact that my wife and I are on the cusp of moving into our own home for the first time - an apartment complex with 500 or so other families. Beyond setting up a home of our own I very much want to us to feel part of a community we can belong to, and make the place we're in somewhere we are deeply connected too.
Melody Warnick took on the project of finding ways to help her family feel deeply attached to their new home in Virginia after her sixth move post College. She looks at a growing body of research encompassing sociology, urban studies and geography looking at 'place-making' about not only how where we live can have a significant effect on our emotional and physical well-being, but the social capital derived from having a community that is deeply attached to and proud of the place they live.
She does a good job looking at existing research, sharing stories from other communities and throwing in some heartwarming personal anecdotes of her attempts to put some of these ideas into practice. Like any good journalist she does a good job of simplifying a wide range of sources (including academic research) and making it accessible and interesting.
Are some of her conclusions rather obvious? Of course they are. Buying and eating local, going for walks and appreciating nature, volunteering, saying hi to neighbours - these are hardly novel ideas and she risks preaching to the converted. While I enjoyed some of the stories she shared from a couple setting up a food van in Maine; her attempts to find her own local restaurant, or how residents of Prattsville (population 450) brought their community together by building a community arts center I must admit to skimming over quite a few pages. The author could have made her point a little more concisely and given the effectiveness of many of her stories, her own commentary and self-reflections could occasionally be a bit tedious.
That said, reading this book has inspired me to be more mindful of the small ways I can enjoy my future home and community more. I plan to walk around my neighborhood, shop at a local wet market instead of automatically heading to a big supermarket. I want to try to make good use of the nearby lake and gardens and explore their nature spots like the Southern Ridges and Labrador Park nearby. Most of all I want to redouble my efforts to get to know my neighbours, organize block parties and set up community interest groups at my new Condominium. Because as Warnick has shown us, it is possible to come to love a place and belong to a community but that ultimately starts with us....more
Annabel Thong, a fashionable slightly naive and innocent Catholic Singaporean teacher goes to the City of Lights determined to come home with a MasterAnnabel Thong, a fashionable slightly naive and innocent Catholic Singaporean teacher goes to the City of Lights determined to come home with a Master's degree and a husband (not necessarily in that order of priority), learn the secrets of Parisian chic, and of course date sexy Frenchmen. Will she survive with her dignity and gasp her chastity intact?
This is a fun, humorous, occasionally uproariously hilarious take on the Singaporean fish out of water. It play on cliches of course, but is written with real warmth. Annabelle for all her foibles is quite a loveable character and you can't help rooting for her. The usual Parisian cliches are all correct and present (dog shit! incessant cigarette smoking! protests!) but the author who himself studied in Paris on a French government scholarship is fond of the city and that love of the people shines through.
Ultimately the writing is uneven, and as individual a voice as Annabel is, it doesn't quite sustain itself through 200 plus pages. But it has the huge benefit of not taking itself too seriously: will Annabel find a Frenchman before her year is up? How will she deal with her overprotective and overbearing mother? Read on and find out. ...more