Monday, 22 March 2021

The Address Book by Deirdre Mask

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

If it hadn’t been for the Jhalak Prize Longlist, I doubt if I would have picked up a book about street addressing. But I am so glad I did! Deirdre Mask takes what sounds like a dry, niche subject and turns it into a fascinating exploration of something most of us take for granted and which in fact impacts every corner of our life.

Why do so many of us live in numbered properties along named streets? Is it inevitable that that’s how addresses should work? What impact do our addresses have on our lives? And what happens when you don’t have one at all?

Mask travels the world in search of the answers to those questions. She visits places from Kolkata to West Virginia that have no addresses. She looks at the different processes that used to acquire / impose them. She goes to Japan to show how, instead of named streets, they have numbered cho, or blocks, with the sequence of numbers often determined chronologically rather than geographically.

She reminds us that the very idea of street numbering was once radical and hugely controversial.

From Victorian London to 21st C Haiti, she shows how addresses have been a vital tool in tracing the sources of disease and contain their spread.

She shows how politics, race and class affect how street names are chosen – but also how the names themselves then impact on how the streets are perceived and how well they prosper.

And she looks at the way that people are using modern technology to address the problem of people and places that have no addresses.

This book is a fascinating mixture of history, geography and sociology – with disparate ideas drawn together in an engaging and accessible way. Hurrah for the Jhalak Prize for bringing it to my attention.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Built by Roma Agrawal, Afropean by Johny Pitts

Avoid If You Dislike: Deep dives into small aspects of our lives

Perfect Accompaniment: A range of city maps from around the world, a cup of tea and a quiet afternoon

Genre: Non-Fiction

Buy This Book Here