Last week I had the good fortune of stumbling across a post by The Londonist listing a free (free!!) event hosted by the Foyles on Charing Cross Road: Amit Chaudhuri and Craig Taylor in conversation with Alex Clark. Craig Taylor, for those of you who aren’t fangirls, is the Canadian author of Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It. I asked for it for Christmas last year and have been extolling its virtues to anyone who will listen ever since. So naturally I jumped at the chance to hear the man behind the work, and dragged a couple of Canadian friends to the third floor Foyles gallery this evening to see him (and Amit Chaudhuri of course, who was brilliant and evocative in his own way, reading aloud from his book about Calcutta – see more here).
On paper, Londoners is 80 interviews with London-dwellers, condensed from 200 conducted over five years. In actuality, Londoners is magic. Each chapter is a different person’s story, meaning you can zip through one before bed or binge on a bunch at a time. From airline pilots to manicurists, to driving instructors, to hedge fund managers, to antique clock restorers, to a Buckingham Palace Guard, to the voice of the London Underground – it’s all in there. Wit and insight from people you didn’t even realize you wish you could meet, if only to ask where they are now (the one drawback to the format is that you’re afforded only a glimpse into their lives, and are always left wanting more. What happened to the homeless man who came in from Leeds? DID HE FIND A JOB??)
This is the first book I’d recommend to anyone living here, partly because of the way you’ll relate – you’ll recognize a bit of yourself in the various stories, and there’s something neat about being part of a shared experience. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll find yourself noticing your fellow Londoners more, instead of waltzing on past. I think just that bit harder, when I walk by a street cleaner or a rickshaw driver on the way to work, and wonder how their thoughts compare to their counterparts in the book.
After all that, Craig admits he still hasn’t really figured out what it is, exactly, that makes up a Londoner (fair enough – tall order for anyone). He offered some wisdom on writing about places: all books on cities are failures, because there is no possible way one could truly paint a full picture. But he finds this liberating, and I’m taking this as encouraging news for all city bloggers out there!
We got to chat with Craig for a couple of minutes at the end, and it was lovely that someone who has created something so beautiful and poignant was so quick to laugh and down-to-earth. He says London is pretty much home now, and that while he misses his family in Canada, he talks to them practically every day (which I take as evidence that I was SO WRONGLY made fun of in grad school for doing the same thing).
After we mentioned that we went to university in Toronto, Craig smiled knowingly and said something along the lines of “Ah…the Brunswick House”. This is hilarious for reasons only known to Torontonians, so for anyone else I’m afraid you may have to wait until THAT book gets written to figure it out 😉 Now if you’ll excuse me…gotta go call my mother.