nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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American Wife

Not me, but the title of a book I have just finished. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld was published in 2008 to great critical acclaim. Reading it in our New York apartment, it seems a good book to start our time here. The story of a fictional (but loosely based on Laura Bush) First Lady, who looks back on her life and how she got to the White House from her humble Wisconsin beginnings. I enjoyed it, it’s got a nice tone to it and although I was a bit surprised that the rise of Charlie Blackwell to State Governor and then President was covered in a few pages of the 600 page book – you’d think it was a fairly important plot line. I compare the experience of Alice Blackwell, fictional First Lady to the current First Lady, Michelle Obama. She is a hugely impressive woman: she went to Princeton (as does the fictional President in the American Wife) and Harvard Law School and had a very successful legal career before entering the White House in 2008. The First Lady in American Wife was a librarian who gave up her job when she got married – how life has changed for women now, not that I’m knocking being a librarian, of course. Last Sunday’s New York Times got its priorities right and dissected the First Lady’s wardrobe, extolling her preference for sleeveless dresses (well, she has the arms, no bingo wings there) and a fondness of Michael Kors (no longer on Project Runway’s judging panel, for anyone interested, but now proud owner of massive store on London’s Regent Street). Good to see the US press is as obsessed with high profile women’s wardrobes as they are in the UK – I think of Kate Middleton in particular (let’s see what her pregnancy wardrobe brings us). ┬áSamantha Cameron by way of contrast, as the UK’s First Lady, gets nowhere near as much attention as the First Lady in the US and she’s more stylish than all of them.



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A tale of two libraries

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”┬áDickens may have written one of the most well known opening lines in English literature when he published A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, but it was an American writer, Mark Twain, who took a trip to NW10 (just over the border from NW3) in 1900 and opened Kensal Rise Library. In 2012, the local community is fighting to keep the library as a community asset after Brent Council withdrew library services from the building owned by All Souls College, Oxford, in a bid to save money (I note that in today’s local government finance settlement, Brent’s grant will reduce by a mere 0.5%). I checked in on progress with Kensal Rise Library’s local campaign and was heartened to see that All Souls will allow the community to use 1500 square feet of space for a library in perpetuity. Kind, but they will make a lot of money out of the sale of flats above that space when it’s sold to developers. The reason I write about this is the contrast with NYC. Today the New York Public Library published its plans to develop the iconic 101 year old building on 42nd Street and spend over $150 million to bring it up to date and, for the first time, lend books to the public (currently only branches do this). Shutting down and selling the buildings housing two other libraries and using capital money provided by New York City, a modern lending library will open to the public in 2018. I was saddened by the closure of public libraries in the UK and in NW3 the community rallied round and brought the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries into the modern age of community resources, run by local people for local people. I just hope they survive past 2018 when New York opens its famous public library, after its extensive programme of works, run by the city for the city.