The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone – Olivia Laing

Image Credits: Canongate Books Ltd.

“I don’t believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it’s about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.”

I think I have previously expressed the thought that certain books find you at the right time, when reading them takes on a particular significance. This definitely happened in the case of “The Lonely City”; I bought the book in March 2016, a few days after its release, and amidst the various events of the years to come, which were not easy for so many reasons (pandemic included), I forgot about it for a while, partly because I already had a long stack of previously purchased books to read. The book followed me through various house moves and it was only last month that I happened to see it on my shelf and decided to read it.

The Lonely City takes on a completely different meaning in the aftermath of the pandemic, where we have all experienced loneliness on different levels due to forced isolation. It is precisely after the pandemic that the need to escape from loneliness has increased; predominantly taking on a negative connotation, loneliness is fought against in various ways (also thanks to new technologies and social media, which, however, also have dark sides and often make one feel even more lonely), instead of being seen as a natural condition that can be inspiring and allow human beings to develop their talents and personalities. This is precisely what Olivia Laing’s book is about: the British writer recalls her time living in New York, alone in the city that never sleeps; since she was raised by a homosexual mother, Laing’s personal story influences the text, and the author recounts how the visual arts mitigated her loneliness. In her memoir, she analyzes the lives of a number of LGBT artists, especially the ones that were part of New York’s East Village artistic scene. The account of these artists’ lives intersects with the writer’s personal story, focusing on loneliness in the city.


Murder On The Orient Express

Image Credits: Harper UK

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

During the course of last summer I read my second Agatha Christie book and I really enjoyed it; Death On The Nile is a great mystery novel and I have also reviewed it on the blog. While I really appreciated the twists and the setting, reading Murder On The Orient Express, my third Agatha Christie book, has been an even better experience, since I was already familiar with the character of Hercule Poirot and the writer’s style.

To me, this book confirmed Agatha Christie’s genius in building the plot and creating the right amount of suspense in the process of solving the case. I am very fascinated by the fact that, even though this novel was published in 1934, it feels very modern and the language used by Christie makes you feel like you were reading a modern novel, as if it were set in present times.

The book takes place aboard the Orient Express, a train that used to connect the Middle East to Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling from Istanbul to London by train, along with a series of passengers that make for very interesting characters; they come from all different places and each of them has their secrets and peculiar traits. When a murder occurs, Poirot and the other passengers find themselves stuck on the train while traveling through Yugoslavia due to a heavy snowfall and it is very likely that the murderer is still on board.

As Poirot begins to investigate the murder, which immediately appears to be related to a crime case in the USA that occurred a few years before the events in the book, the passengers are being interrogated by the detective, and it is clear from the outset that most of them have something to hide… During this investigation, Poirot is accompanied by Monsieur Bouc, his old friend and director of the Wagon Lits; while Bouc immediately jumps to conclusions about who the perpetrator of the murder might be, Poirot prefers to wait until he is well informed about the facts before expressing an opinion on the matter.


Naked Fashion – Safia Minney

Image Credits: New Internationalist

“Creativity, compassion and consumption have to learn to go hand in hand.”

I first heard about social entrepreneur Safia Minney and her label People Tree in 2013, when she created a fashion collection in collaboration with actress and activist Emma Watson. At the time I had just started working in Milan’s fashion industry and articles about sustainability had begun appearing in the imported fashion magazines I would purchase at the newsstand.

I had been out of high school for less than a year and was starting to take my first steps in fashion, so I was interested in the topic of fair trade but had not considered it in relation to my consumer habits. Anyway, when the Emma Watson x People Tree came out I bought a white and blue scarf from the collection and along with it came the brand catalogue; I was surprised at how great the clothes look, since when fair trade collections first appeared in the fashion industry most of the garments didn’t look fashionable and were quite plain. This collection by People Tree looked very preppy and vibrant, so that’s what led me to purchase the “Naked Fashion” book. Well, as the years went by, I moved house three or four times and the book always followed, but I didn’t get to read it until about a month ago. I have just finished a Fashion Business specialization course with New York’s Parsons School of Design and most of the course focused on the theme of sustainability and the need for an ethical supply chain, so when I spotted “Naked Fashion” in the fashion corner of my personal library I immediately picked up the book and read it. About time!

Although there are some points in the book where you definitely notice it was written more than ten years ago (the topic of social media is barely mentioned and the book is now out of print, but used copies are still available online), I think most of the themes it deals with are now more relevant than ever. We are living in a post-pandemic era, and climate change issues have gotten worse in the last decade; the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry, social media and influencer sponsorships have led to an era of excessive consumerism, especially fast fashion brands, while most of the clothes end up in landfills and pollute the oceans and the air we breathe. However, we must recognize that there have been significant changes, partly determined by the new generations who are interested in environmental issues; many surveys show that Millennials and Generation Z prefer to buy garments that last longer and are of better quality, also showing a particular interest in second-hand fashion.


Joyful: The Surprising Power Of Ordinary Things To Create Extraordinary Happiness- Ingrid Fetell Lee

Image Credits: Little, Brown Spark

“From the moment I first started studying joy, it was clear that the liveliest places and objects all have one thing in common: bright, vivid color. Whether it’s a row of houses painted in bold swaths of candy hues or a display of colored markers in a stationery shop, vibrant color invariably sparks a feeling of delight.”

Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” is probably one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It is different from your typical self-help book where you are encouraged to find positivity within yourself, but instead chooses to focus on how your surroundings and the outside world in general can provide an uplifting mood, influencing how you feel inside. I have read the first American edition of this book but I have noticed that the Italian edition has added a subtitle on the cover that translates as “Forms And Colors That Make Your Life Happy”; in fact, throughout the book the author emphasizes the importance of bright, vivid colors and harmonious shapes in having a positive impact on our mood and well-being.

Fetell Lee mentions the city of Tirana (which I visited about four years ago), where the mayor has carried out an urban redevelopment project that includes repainting building façades in bright colors and artistic designs; this has led over time to a drastic reduction in crimes like theft and can be linked to the improvement of the buildings and the feeling people get from living in a city that is pleasing to the eye. I always feel better when I am surrounded by beautiful things; I know it is not the solution to all the problems one might face, but it definitely helps to feel at peace.