No-nonsense Guide to Equality
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the guardian Fri 13 April 2012
The No-Nonsense Guide to Equality by Danny Dorling (New Internationalist, £7.99)
Palaces are nice to look at, but we should be as grateful for sewers, which make everyone's lives better. "The happiest and most sustainable societies left no trace," this author writes, "as pyramids and castles are only built by enslaving the poor." I wonder just how "sustainable" those magic societies were, given that they have since vanished entirely. Still, most of this book is an approachable compilation of statistics and historical arguments showing that more equality makes everyone happier, healthier, and "more able".
The US has three times the child mortality of Japan or Iceland, and (along with the UK) has much higher murder rates and imprisons a greater proportion of its population than more equal countries, but there are many achievements of "greater equality", too, that are worth celebrating, and not just in Sweden or Cuba. Dorling also explains the picturesque concept of "bicycling", which means (in apes) bowing in submission to a more powerful ape who has just kicked you, while kicking out in turn behind you at someone even lower down the pecking order. On a train or in a coffee shop, do look out for bicycling apes. Now I seem to see little else.
Correspondence: Max Frisch & Friedrich Dürrenmatt translated by Birgit Schreyer Duarte (Seagull Books, £13)
At the beginnning of this correspondence, which started in 1947, the established Swiss playwright Frisch is wonderfully encouraging to the new talent Dürrenmatt ("a host of arseholes will rise up against you, you know that, but it will be truly enjoyable to see and hear this host"), and continues to exude bonhomie, while the younger writer usually seems the more clotted and analytical, though he has moments of jollity ("It's wonderful to work with a secretary: you play ping-pong and she's typing"). All is well until the mid-1960s, after which, as the letters (and the gaps between them) record distressingly, things fall apart in literary side-taking and drunken harangues, until Dürrenmatt writes to Frisch in 1986 an almost unreadably sad final letter: "We both did well in un-befriending one another."
Peter Rüedi contributes an excellent biographical essay with the melancholy title "Almost a Friendship", while at the back is a set of charming photographs of the two writers together. They feast contentedly or laugh over a play (it's not clear whose), resembling a literary Two Ronnies.
How to Take Care of Your Clothes by Claire Leavey (Retro Metro Technobooks, £3.95)
How did famous Swiss writers achieve that perfect rumpled-tweed-jacket look time after time? By following the "advice from the ancestors" herein, you can do the same in this age of austerity, where perhaps not even Guardian readers all enjoy the equality of being able to afford a new wardrobe by Marni for H&M this season.
Emphasis is here put on brushing, pressing ("not ironing"!), hand-washing, sponging, and starching your threads, cunningly applying "Biobar Super Soap" and "Moth Oil" (not actually made from moths), and avoiding the "satanic inventions" of single-dose liquid-detergent sachets. Despite the thrifty tone, it will still apparently help to own a "sewing room" and even an "orchard", on whose trees it is best to air all your cashmere jumpers. White straw hats "can be cleaned very successfully with hydrogen peroxide" and an old toothbrush, while your black straw hats need olive oil. It doesn't say anything about what I should do to keep my neon-green straw hat looking funky while frantically bicycling.