3 Books Weekly #21: Architecture, singing, weather
09.00, Friday 22 Jul 2016 Link to this post
The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.
Welcome to 3 Books Weekly edition 21. Blimey. 21.
Okay we’ve got some brilliant picks today. I’m beginning to pick the books to take with me on my summer hols… I’ve found a couple right here.
This week’s picks are from David Honigmann who I am slightly ashamed to say I met through a management consultancy context, but actually he writes about music for the FT (articles here), and I’m having one of those moments where reading somebody’s recommendations is suddenly letting me know them way better. Thanks David! Find him on Twitter as @TheHonn.
Ok on with the show.
Have a great weekend
#1. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series), by Christopher Alexander
Alexander and his fellow writers describe how to make spaces liveable, at every level from region down through city to neighbourhood to street to house to room. The patterns interlock upwards and downwards and sideways (so, for example, a Half-Hidden Garden needs a Garden Seat and is itself part of an Entrance Transition). Each chapter is stated as a problem, analysed, and then solved. Patterns are illustrated with black-and-white photographs (frustratingly small - someone should produce an updated edition with the sumptuous illustrations the book deserves). To read A Pattern Language is to be given tools for looking at physical spaces and why they work or don’t - it’s like suddenly being able to see in much sharper focus. When we designed an extension to our house, we referred to it constantly, and where we were able to follow the patterns closely they have worked wonderfully. The book makes you ambitious to live not in a more luxurious way but in a better way.
#2. Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, by Tracey Thorn
Everyone loved Teenage Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn’s memoir about her career in Everything But The Girl (and before that, the Marine Girls). But this follow-up is even better. It’s a book about being a singer, mixing her own experience, science, critical theory and interviews with fellow practitioners (Green Gartside, Linda Thompson, Romy Madley-Croft) in which she is unafraid to be an unabashed fan. She is clear about the practical problems and anxieties of her craft: there’s one amazing and incredibly insightful passage where she talks about the technical inner monologue that’s going on in her mind as she approaches a difficult passage of music. I interview a lot of singers, and I wish they were all this self-aware, lucid and funny.
#3. Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies, by Alexandra Harris
Harris’s Romantic Moderns brought together British culture between the wars - everything from literature to art to gardening. Weatherland is even more ambitious: it tells the history of British culture through the very specific lens of the weather. She starts with the very earliest medieval literature (all Western winds) and runs through to the present day, where weather is at worst a mild inconvenience, not potentially a threat to life. Again, she sets writers in dialogue with artists. At the spine as an organising device is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, in which Woolf introduces new time periods by caricaturing their climates (Victorian London is literally under a cloud; the twentieth century suddenly sees the air clear). Harris’s broad sweep is underpinned by close reading: every page contains the nuggets of ideas that could easily have been a whole book.