Guest curation has always been an essential part of what makes Libreria special. Reni Eddo-Lodge, Emily Wilson, Jonathan Safran Foer and Philippe Sands are just some of the names to have curated incredible selections.
Libreria’s most recent addition is writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield. Along with James Bridle and Shoshana Zuboff, Greenfield has led the way in highlighting some of the less obvious problems regarding Silicon Valley tech and its ‘colonisation’ of the everyday.
Adam has kindly written about the books that mean so much to him and, as expected, it is a wonderfully varied and dynamic mix.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jacobs’s first, finest book blows the bloody doors off in at least three registers I can think of. It exposed for all time the muddy, contemptuous thinking at the core of high modernist urban planning, distilling canny, hard-won observations about the ways in which cities actually generate meaning and value into actionable insight. It conveyed that insight in a series of metaphors and aphorisms that are never anything less than pithy, and at times straight-up deathless. And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, it remains the example par excellence of an uncredentialed, unaffiliated outsider perceiving her chosen field more deeply, and intervening in it more wisely, than those nominally authorized to speak to it. A gift for all lovers of the city, still sadly relevant and still able to make your heart beat a little faster.
In prose that manages the neat trick of being simultaneously unflappably calm, clinically precise and oh but breathtakingly perverse, Ballard here lays bare the late twentieth century’s hallmark fixations with sex, speed, technology and celebrity. Considered along with High-Rise and Concrete Island, Crash is to Ballard what the Berlin trilogy is to Bowie: the place where nearly all the tropes and obsessions developed over the course of a long, uneven career find their truest, most powerful expression. Forty-five years down the (oil-slicked, part-strewn) road, there is still nothing else quite like it. #binnacles
Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu (Stephen Mitchell tr.)
More stoic than the Stoics, more deeply infused with a proper sense of awe at what it is to draw breath in this universe, and possessed of a far better sense of humor about it all, Stephen Mitchell’s luminous translation of the Taoist classic offers the aspirant a powerfully wise manual for living. It’s not always easy to live up to, mind, but to spend time with this book is to feel the soul unclench a notch or three.
The Lathe of Heaven
Ursula K. Le Guin
Though Le Guin is in some sense at her sharpest elsewhere — see The Left Hand of Darkness on the snares and pitfalls of gender, and The Dispossessed on the costs exacted by living in autonomy — she was never warmer or more humane than in this tale of “effective dreamer” George Orr, the successive realities he dreams into being, and what he finally learns about what it takes to get by. Her description of the effect Orr’s joy has on those in close physical proximity is straightforward, verging on artless, but it may well be my favorite passage in all of literature.
The Gulag Archipelago, Vols. I-III
I read Solzhenitsyn like other people read Tolkien, which is to say that I return to the three volumes of his masterwork every few years, and while I occasionally struggle to keep all the names and places straight, I invariably find something new and restorative in it. (Yes, “restorative”: there is no surer cure for February gloom than the recognition that wherever one happens to be sitting as one turns the pages, it is certainly not Vorkutlag; whatever one had at the last meal, it was probably more filling than a few ounces of room-temperature barley soup so watery it barely deserves the name; and whatever pending obligation one is dreading, it most likely does not involve logging by hand, shoeless in -50-degree weather.) Both a lacerating indictment of Soviet crimes and a painstakingly detailed ethnography of Stalinism’s particular flavor of totalitarian practice, the Archipelago is indelible; while Solzhenitsyn later squandered the towering moral grandeur he’d earned in having preferred this particular bill of charges, the black majesty of his accomplishment cannot be denied.
I hadn’t wanted to include any war writing on this necessarily brief list, but Herr’s electrifying, mournful take on the doomed, dooming American involvement in Vietnam earns its place for its extraordinary way with language. No one has ever bettered it on conveying the jargon, the slang and the sensibility of the American way of war and empire, most likely because very damn few of those who set out to do so ever allowed the horror inside deeply enough for them to get anywhere near to the truth of things.