Pamflet x Twin: March Books

04.03.2015 | Literature | BY:

China is a rising economic force in the world, but little is known about the social and emotional lives of its young people. In Little Emperors and Material Girls (I.B. Tauris, £14.99) Jemimah Steinfeld gives a fascinating insight into a generation that has grown up in a post-Communist society and is the product of the one child policy. Attitudes towards love, sex, careers, family, money and politics are revealed through a series of amazingly candid conversations with Steinfeld – a journalist who lived and worked in China – and backed up by powerful statistics. This is a country with a population of 1.4 billion, with 300 million under the age of 30. In clubs, coffee houses and restaurants she meets ‘leftovers’ (unmarried women over 26), ‘bare branches’ (men without children) and China’s cash-flashing rich kids, known as fu’erdai. They talk about internet dating, parental pressure (especially on gay kids whose parents expect them to marry and continue the family line), financial struggles (turns out it’s as hard to pay the rent in Beijing as in London), sexism and punk rock. They describe feelings of loneliness and alienation, frustration and anger, but also hope and ambition. If you want to know what the future of China looks like, read this book.

Fashion + women + social history: Julie SummersFashion on the Ration (Profile Books, £16.99) ticks ALL our boxes. A detailed account of the crucial role fashion played during WW2, this book brings rationing, clothing coupons and that familiar phrase, ‘make do and mend’ to life through personal testimonies, photographs and Summers’ evocative prose. The tenacity of the men and women on the home front is revealed through anecdotes; Vogue’s staff finishing an issue in the basement after their offices were bombed in the Blitz, Barbara Cartland buying wedding dresses for women in the services to borrow from a ‘wedding dress pool’. Fashion mags acted as tools for disseminating important information from the government, but also as morale-boosters – urging women to make the best of their restricted wardrobes and promoting the idea of ‘beauty as duty’, for their own sakes and for the pride of the nation. Summers analyses the roles of the top designers including Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell in designing utility clothing (essentially the first designer/high street collaborations). Perhaps inevitably alongside this, the female silhouette changed and fussy frills were out, clean lines and simplicity were in. In a fascinating fact from social history, Summers reveals that for many poor people, the quality of their wardrobes improved thanks to the introduction of coupons and utility clothing which raised the standards of production and distribution. The influence of these seismic changes to the fashion industry, both in terms of aesthetics and manufacturing, can still be felt today.

Our glossy book of the month is Improbable Libraries by Alex Johnson (Thames and Hudson, £14.95 hardback). As public libraries all over the world are shutting down or shrinking, Improbable Libraries is a timely celebration of book-shrines in all their guises. Library-lover (and proud son of two librarians) Alex Johnson is not remotely nostalgic in this collection and instead shows what book recommending, lending and displaying can mean today. He mixes up images and essays on everything library, surveying mobile units, tiny bibliothèques and grand academic institutions. He uncovers some surprising book depositories in repurposed spaces (old phone boxes for example) and somewhat less surprising literature exchanges tucked away in corners of pubs and cafes. Whether personal or public, what a library is or can be is changing and it’s all optimistically documented here. These valuable community spaces, private sanctuaries, luxurious garden book dens and educational lifelines (like the incredible travelling camel library in the Gobi Desert) aren’t going anywhere. Browsing through these dreamy book-nooks made me think that the rather conventional alcove shelving project I’m currently working on could probably benefit from a little bit of these Improbable Librarians’ imaginations.

Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Phoebe Frangoul are the co-editors and co-founders of the London grrrl-zine and literary salon Pamflet. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @Pamflet. 

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