Value review: Stephen Bayley is a dazzling writer

Stephen Bayley is a dazzling writer: Value may be too late to help you with the last lockdown, but it will assuredly help you cope with the next

Value

Stephen Bayley                                                                                 Constable £18.99

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So how did you spend lockdown? Author and critic Stephen Bayley evidently spent his considering afresh what is truly valuable in life, and how to take joy in the ordinary; and in this witty, astringent primer for life, he lays out his conclusions for our collective delectation.

‘Every day is precious, every day is all we’ve got, so why not make it perfect?’ is the author’s mantra. And in Bayley’s view, there is no human activity so humdrum that it cannot offer beauty, pleasure, or meaningful reflection, from queuing at the checkout (all you need is ‘a fine mixture of stoicism, curiosity, tolerance and whatever is the opposite of pride’) to making a cup of coffee, especially if it’s in a beautifully designed espresso cup.

And who among us hasn’t soaked up the endless hours by the zenful ceremony of cleaning the fridge? Margaret Thatcher admitted that this prosaic ritual was a rare example of an activity that could be begun and finished to total satisfaction in the course of a single evening. 

Margaret Thatcher (above) admitted that cleaning the fridge was a rare example of an activity that could be begun and finished to total satisfaction in the course of a single evening

Margaret Thatcher (above) admitted that cleaning the fridge was a rare example of an activity that could be begun and finished to total satisfaction in the course of a single evening

Even a period spent contemplating the sleek curves of your iPhone becomes a philosophical rapture in the author’s hands (Steve Jobs once said that you know a design is good if you want to lick it).

Time on the loo can also become a value-creating experience – as long as you have a bolt on your bathroom door. ‘A device with power and authority,’ he rhapsodises, ‘a satisfying mechanical demonstration of how pleasing a sense of seclusion and security might be’.

Bayley is a dazzling writer, by turns elegant, iconoclastic and wickedly subversive, and with a style and panache that rivals his favourite household objects. But there are profound truths wrapped up in his literary razzle-dazzle. 

Value may be too late to help you with the last lockdown, but it will assuredly help you cope with the next.

 

Women Vs Hollywood

Helen O’Hara                                                                                        Robinson £18.99

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She was the author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and one of Hollywood’s most promising screenwriters, but Anita Loos’s career was sabotaged – by her own husband. 

‘As Loos’s star rose through the 1920s and his lagged behind, he developed hypochondria,’ writes Helen O’Hara in her frequently jaw-dropping history of women in Hollywood. 

A leading psychiatrist told Loos: ‘The only cure for your husband is for you to give up your career.’ She didn’t retire but often put her work on hold to soothe his wounded pride.

Helen O\'Hara examines the role of women in the film industry in forensic but fascinating detail \u2013 including the advent of sound through the golden age of the likes of Marilyn Monroe (above)

Helen O’Hara examines the role of women in the film industry in forensic but fascinating detail – including the advent of sound through the golden age of the likes of Marilyn Monroe (above)

O’Hara, a film journalist, tells numerous extraordinary stories in this detailed and colourful book. She examines the role of women in the film industry in forensic but fascinating detail – from silent movies (where, surprisingly, women were free to write, direct and star) and the advent of sound through the golden age of the likes of Marilyn Monroe to the big franchises and the #MeToo era. 

Many of the accounts – of rapes, forced abortions, careers destroyed – are enraging. But they are presented clearly and framed in intelligent, balanced arguments.

While we’re now aware of some of the more high-profile abuses of power, O’Hara reminds us just how difficult it has been to bring the guilty to justice. It took more than 60 accusers to come forward in the Bill Cosby trial, and more than 80 for Harvey Weinstein. 

‘Over 20 women have failed to make much impact on Donald Trump. What is the magic number?’ she asks.

She also points out that Hollywood’s evolution is far from complete. ‘In 1917 alone, Universal Studios would credit eight female directors. In 2017, the same studio made only one film with a female director, Pitch Perfect 3.’

Women Vs Hollywood is a powerful, sobering and vital work. Essential reading for anyone interested in the film business.

Ellie Wood  

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