With the Writers in Residence series, Alain de Botton and Visual Editions sure have hit on an awesome recipe. Take one rather brilliant writer, mix with a mysterious organisation, throw in some tasty design and some crisp photography, and you have yourself one extremely readable publication.
For the third edition, Douglas Coupland whisks us away to France, Canada, China and the United States to learn about “a company you’ve most likely never heard of.” Intrigued yet? What if you also discovered that “were it to vanish tomorrow, our modern world would immediately be the worse for its absence”? I mean, he’s got me gripped with these lines, which are cleverly printed across the front cover.
Kitten Clone takes us inside Alcatel-Lucent – a company fundamental to the design, build and maintenance of the internet – past, present and future. It leads us down corridors of tangled cables to offices of neatly cubed work spaces, Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur’s camera dwelling on lamp-lit bookshelves and perky pot plants. Reassuringly closer to the size of a magazine than a paperback, Jeremy Leslie’s sophisticated design puts text and image on equal footing and renders both much more inviting.
Why read this? Why write it? Because we don’t just need stories which are sensational or timely. The ordinary can be fascinating too. Most people would creep under the duvet and refuse to reemerge if ordered to spend a week at Heathrow, but Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport which started the series proved that an honest, detailed and deftly written observation of just about any organisation could be deeply interesting and an important document of the world around us.