Posts Tagged ‘England’
February 21, 2013 | by Zakia Uddin
We traveled from East London in a Zipcar, beating the traffic bound for Lakeside, the out-of-town shopping center. The pier car park was sparsely filled with cars. Abandoned in a corner was a statue of the Virgin Mary the size of an umbrella stand. Out of season, the Essex archipelago lures only the most hardened. By October, the weather is spitting and icy, and its landscape is too bleak and monotonous to qualify as ruggedly beautiful. A Wikipedia entry had told us there are nineteen islands off the coast of Essex, most of them owned by the British Ministry of Defence and contracted to private companies testing ammunitions. The individual entries were nearly all stubs, waiting to be filled in. An archipelago struck a curious exotic note in a place associated mostly with commuting, military test sites, and, most recently, “constructed reality” television.
American import Jersey Shore inspired The Only Way is Essex, a show similarly centered on the intricate love lives of pneumatic people living in an area derided for being culturally bankrupt, despite its proximity to one of the most exciting cities in the world. Jersey’s Essex County was even named after the UK’s own historical Essex, in 1683. Maybe there’s no need to make analogies between the UK’s Essex and anywhere else because its reputation is internationally bad, and we don’t defend it. The county town Chelmsford, where I was born, was voted eighth best place to live in the UK on the prerecession property-porn show Location Location Location. Residents promptly rang in to call it soulless; flashy on one hand and tedious on the other, like a nouveau riche neighbor with dull preoccupations. Read More »
September 26, 2012 | by Eric G. Wilson
I once enjoyed a gamboling lamb as much as the next pastoralist, and hiking, too—through forests, over peaks—but Wordsworth, laureate of the Lakes, has maddened me. In life and verse, he set an irresistible but inaccessible standard of contact: of enlivening intimacy with wind, water, earth, and sun—a marriage of mind and matter in which mind never feels abandoned.
Depressed and isolated, I have craved this union. I have studied Wordsworth assiduously. I have become an expert in the Romantic school of which he is the prime exemplar. For twenty years, I have taught his poetry. I have memorized the daffodil poem, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” This flower I have pressed into a book of his poems. I’ve already undertaken two pilgrimages to the Lakes.
But poet’s abundance has mocked my poverty. When I glimpse the blooms he immortalized, and so gorgeously described—buttery, frilly, dancing in the breeze—they hiss to me: loser. They make the hurt worse, my self-loathing sharper. I’d kill Wordsworth if I saw him on the road.
July 26, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
We are grateful to Open Culture for drawing our attention to this rare film of Rudyard Kipling. From 1933, it shows the sixty-seven-year-old author giving a speech to the Royal Society of Literature (and guests from the Canadian Authors’ Association) at Claridge’s. “We who use words enjoy a peculiar privilege over our fellows,” observes the voice of the (already-fading) British Empire.
July 16, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
When I was twenty, I traveled to London to study for a year at University College. It was shortly after 9/11 and the flight was so empty that I was able to lie down across four seats and sleep. My dorm turned out to be a dreary, brutalist, self-catered affair in Camden Town, and it would take me a while to work out that the pervasive gloom that dogged me day in and out was a product not of my environs but of the onset of the clinical depression which I would not have diagnosed and treated for another two years.
I’m sure I romanticized my former self during this time, but I knew I had changed. I had always taken pleasure in a thousand small things every day: a good cup of coffee, a furious baby, a funny typo, a teenager who couldn’t smoke a cigarette properly, a bizarre exchange on the subway, the fact that neck ties serve no practical function. Read More »
June 25, 2012 | by Randy Boyagoda
Most mornings this past winter—the Boyagoda household already running late—I discovered my oldest daughter reading at the kitchen table: one boot on, gloves, hat, knapsack, and other boot nowhere to be found. So immersed was she, so indifferent to my pleas and threats, that finally I had to pull the book from her grasping hands just to make her finish dressing for the cold walk to school. This experience has made me more sympathetic to my mother, who once spanked me in a grocery store because I wouldn’t stop reading a book. It was by Enid Blyton, the British children’s writer who wrote some 400 nursery, fantasy, and adventure series titles that have sold more than six hundred million copies worldwide, mostly in Britain and the former colonies, including Sri Lanka—where as a girl my mother herself first encountered Blyton. I recently bought one of Blyton’s books for my own daughter. But before passing it on, I decided to reread it.
The book seemed innocuous enough. As with all of Blyton’s adventure stories, it was about boys and girls drawn into mysterious doings while on summer holiday. Bickering but loyal, they best adults who are either distracted and dismissive, or criminals capable of outsmarting everybody but the kids. Working this premise for decades and dozens of stories, Blyton enjoyed great success—at the time of her death, a book club devoted to her work had some 200,000 members in Britain alone. But because that success depended upon such patterned writing, she was also accused by librarians, teachers, and academics of relentlessly dulling the imaginations of her young readers, and of unjustly encouraging those who were reading her from abroad to make identifications that race, geography, history, and politics preemptively denied them. This certainly seems to have been the case for the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; in a 2006 interview with The Times, she explained that her development as a writer was stunted by her early reading: “When I started to write, I was writing Enid Blyton stories, even though I had never been to England. I didn’t think it was possible for people like me to be in books.” Similar notions affect the eponymous protagonists of Jamaica Kincaid’s novels Lucy and Annie John, who both declare they wish they were named Enid, after their favorite author. For both the young Adichie’s and Kincaid’s characters, mimicry and the desire for renaming aren’t simple expressions of literary admiration; they’re also rejections of the children’s African and Caribbean worlds, which have been diminished by their very immersion in Blyton’s books. The Blyton reading experience likewise impacts a colonial child’s maturation in Rohinton Mistry’s novel Family Matters, in which an intelligent Indian boy grows up reading her books and from this develops a dismissive attitude towards the foods and places and names that figure in his Bombay life. When self-loathing and alienation begin to build, he stops reading her; later, noticing her books on his shelves, he admits, “I can’t bear to even open them. I wonder what it was that so fascinated me. They seem like a waste of time now.”
April 16, 2012 | by Jason Diamond
One could hardly call the area around Fifty-second Street, between Park and Madison Avenues in Manhattan, off the beaten path. The sleekly designed New York City Ferrari dealership sits two blocks away on Fifty-fifth, the Cartier American flagship store is one block down in a six-story neo-Renaissance style, and the archbishop of New York conducts holy business at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral just a few skips down the road. Midtown West isn’t exactly a destination for book shoppers—not flush with indie shops like Brooklyn, bereft of the used-paperback vendors who line the streets along various parts of Greenwich Village. But 55 East Fifty-second’s marble lobby, inside the triangle-shaped office building with a Gotham-style green-glass facade, conceals an equitably valuable treasure in the world’s only standing bookstore dedicated to the works of England’s former prime minister, Winston Churchill—Chartwell Booksellers. And while the tiny bookstore might seem at odds with its location, it actually makes perfect sense that one of history’s best-dressed leaders would have a store in one of the world’s most upscale shopping districts.