Soft City by Jonathan Raban
for all you ‘informal’ people
Soft City records one man’s attempt to plot a course through the urban labyrinth. Holding up a revealing mirror to the modern city, it is used as the locale for a demanding and expressive personal drama.
A vivid, often funny portrait of metropolitan life, Soft City is part reportage, part incisive thesis, part intimate autobiography, and a much-quoted classic of the literature of the city and urban culture. In an age when the big city is becoming less popular than ever, this is a passionate and imaginative defense of city life, its “unique plasticity, its privacy and freedom.”
Meticulously researched, Soft City is an insider’s guide to the stresses and strains of city life. Flicking between many cities, but primarily London and New York, Raban shows the true horror and, to an extent, joy of life in a modern metropolis. The reasons why people flock to cities, why some stay and why some leave are some of the many topics covered. The book takes the reader on a journey into memory and explains how one’s own “soft city” is built from memories of the streets one has actually visited or streets one imagines; those one has loved and are gone. It also describes how we negotiate our own “soft city,” how “my city” is different from “yours” and “everyone else’s.” How we also build associations with places, corners, alleyways and how this builds a familiarity without which we fail to survive our visit to the city. Raban goes on to describe this mind construction as a kind of stage set that we create and in which we play out our part; some of us succeed at this game but many of us suffer from a sense of dislocation and lack of community. All cities are theatres; all cities have their stories so how do you play your own individual part?