Cities Are Good For You: The Genius of the Metropolis, Leo Hollis (Bloomsbury:London), 2013.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Leo Hollis is an urban enthusiast, as the title of his latest book suggests. In this book, Hollis embarks on a global city hop to investigate urban projects in sustainability, transport, agriculture, community development and more. Critics have suggested that Hollis presents a partisan and overly idealistic argument in favour of city living, and although this may be true I don’t think it takes away from the worth of the research. Hollis demonstrates that cities are best transformed from the inside out and provides an interesting perspective on what could be possible if everyday citizens took more responsibility for their environment and community. I don’t think that this book will revolutionise the world, nor was intended to. If it goes some small way to inspiring a few however, the benefits could be felt by many.
The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience, Tim Dunlop (Scribe:Melbourne), 2013.
Tim Dunlop’s The New Front Page is a thought provoking book about the changing face of journalism in Australia. In this book, Dunlop uses his experience as a political blogger to begin a discussion about the need for mainstream media to better adapt to the rise of new-media and increasing levels of audience participation. As a newcomer to world of blogging, I found it a great insight into the broad scope of possibilities that blogging can create, as well as some of its limitations. Reading the book, I came to the conclusion that if you want news and analysis of a high quality, then you should be prepared to pay for it. I was also convinced that media agencies should also offer more flexible and user-friendly paywalls and subscription services. A proponent of new-media websites such as New Matilda and Crikey, Dunlop demonstrates that professional journalism could learn a lot by listening to and interacting with its audiences and adapting in inventive ways in order to keep the industry alive, relevant and vital to a healthy democracy.
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (Picador:Sydney), 2013.
This is an impressive debut novel by Hannah Kent about a woman on death row in Iceland in 1829. It is a moving and compelling tale made even more poignant by the fact that it is based on true events. The writing is highly evocative and reading the book I felt more that I was watching events unfold before my eyes rather than hunched over the page with a furrowed brow. In a world in which only 51% of United Nations member states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment I think that this book is highly relevant to present-day society as it highlights some important issues of crime and punishment that continue to have currency today. I think this book will translate nicely to cinema, and the guardian reports that plans are currently underway for a movie adaptation, with Jennifer Lawrence to play the role of the protagonist Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Great Choice!
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury:London), 2000.
I really loved this book. It’s written in 6 parts, covering a five course meal with a coffee and cigarette afterwards, and is the tale of Bourdain’s journey from a not-so-humble dishwasher to world-renowned chef, writer and traveller. It is a revealing tell-all about the kitchen underworld of restaurants in New York, Tokyo, Paris and beyond, and although I suspect that Anthony Bourdain is a great story teller, I get the sense that he really hasn’t embellished the story all that much. Bourdain depicts a world that is gritty, male dominated, competitive, character-building and fascinating all at once. I really grew to like Anthony Bourdain as I was reading the book, and he strikes me as someone who is down to earth, highly discerning and open to the world in a way that has helped him steer the highs and lows of his successful career.
Capital, John Lancaster (Faber and Faber:London), 2012.
Set on the cusp of the global financial crisis in 2008, John Lancaster’s Capital is an intriguing, insightful and thoughtful novel centred around the everyday lives of the ordinary citizens of Pepys Road, London. Each of the street’s occupants receive a card in the post in December 2007 with a simple message ‘We Want What You Have’. As events unfold, you realise that there’s more to this novel than meets the eye, and it’s one of those books that touches on a multitude of issues in a subtle and thought provoking way. Lancaster points to the ways in which money, power and greed affect the lives of everyday people in varying degrees and with varying outcomes. A great read.