The Book Briefing: Jody Rosen, Anne Gray Fischer

At Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, as Clarissa Dalloway runs errands through London, the narration takes note of the sensory feast she encounters: “the swing, wander and plod” of city life; “the roar and roar” of music, shouting, cars, buses and a plane above our heads. Clarissa revels in “life; London; this time of June. In the novel, “the city is full of people moving about like an ecstatic amoebic organism”, writes Megan Garber, and this phenomenon is accentuated by the heat of the day, which brings people of different classes and professions to the streets.

Summer exposes the best and worst aspects of living in a city – everything is bustling, the parks are packed, the nightlife sparkles, and people don’t feel crowded. But the heat can make overcrowding oppressive, and hot-weather recreation also highlights the many inequalities of American urban life. The summer of 2020, when the coronavirus pushed activities outdoors and in public spaces even more than usual, showed especially clearly how “divisions of class, ethnicity and place” shape our cities. , writes Spencer Kornhaber.

This makes the season the perfect time to pick up one of the recent books that have investigated some of the other forces affecting metropolitan life. In The streets belong to ushistorian Anne Gray Fischer explains that the wide The power available to the police when it comes to crimes is rooted in the “sex police” of black women. by Jody Rosen two wheels good offers a counter-intuitive story of the freedoms the bicycle has brought to cities across continents and centuries. And the warm months reinforce just how commonplace in the public sphere bodies and desirability can be. “To be sexually available is to be receptive to strangers, to how they shock and help us; it is the same to live, fully, in the city”, writes Zoë Hu about Corinne Hoex gentlemen callers. Summer in the concrete jungles of America is a season for sweating through the crowds, standing shoulder to shoulder with neighbors, and jostling against the unseen pressures that have driven you from the start.

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What we read

Adam Maida / Atlantic

The Great Internet Novel was published in 1925
Mrs DallowayThe plot is deceptively simple. On a single day in June, Clarissa Dalloway – middle-aged, posh, wife of a Tory MP – runs errands around London to prepare for the party she will be throwing that evening. The day is sparkling, banal, memorable.


People on stoops and bicycles in New York

Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty

The inequality of summer leisure
“More than ever, the city’s summer events involve local public and semi-public spaces: sidewalks, steps, parks and, in the case of fireworks, the shared sky. The summer of social distancing will also be one of social closeness between neighbors, illuminating divides of class, ethnicity and location – as recreation has always done.


Gears superimposed on cyclists

Atlantic; FPG Photos/Bettmann/Raimonda Kulikauskiene/Getty Archive

The bike ideology
“Anyone who rides a bike does it because that’s how you get to your destination most of the time on your own terms, which no other means of transport allows you to do in the same way. The history of the bike may be complicated, but the reason it’s such a long story isn’t. Everyone appreciates a hint of self-determination.


A black woman walking on a city corner

Detroit, 1965 (Photograph by Russ Marshall)

The Deep Roots of Sex Policing in America
“As movements like #SayHerName shine a light on police violence against black women today, The streets belong to us shows us its deep roots in our history, our laws and our cities.


A painting by Salvador Dali of a shapeless woman floating beneath a man's bare legs.

Salvador Dali / Museo Nacional Reina Sofia / Alamy

The conundrum of sex life in America today
“The narrator’s amorous explorations are inseparable from the public sphere; she undertakes her meetings by going to the tailor’s or the butcher’s, in a sort of circuit of sexual races. The fact that her counterparts are identified by profession reiterates the hidden presence of sex in modern everyday life; it is not surprising that Charles Baudelaire, an eminent flâneur theorist, is quoted throughout the book.


About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Emma Sarappo. The book she is reading at the moment is Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset.

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