Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian newspaper, visited St John’s Wood Library last week to talk about his book Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.
The idea to invite somebody as busy as Mr Rusbridger to our neck of the woods came after a library customer asked us for his just-published memoir. The customer said the book sounded very intriguing and had received much praise… and that she thought Mr Rusbridger lived in the neighbourhood. Would he perhaps be willing to ‘stop by’ to promote his book? The Guardian is very transparent about their employees’ email addresses, so it was not difficult to send a message to the man himself – to which he replied quickly, accepting our invitation!
On the day of the presentation we compulsively checked the news to see whether a crisis was looming, so that we might be prepared in case our guest had to cancel his appearance. The news gods were on our side, and Mr Rusbridger arrived punctually in a Smart car.
In a diary spanning eighteen months, the author traced his endeavour to learn to play Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op 23 [Listen online via Naxos Music Library – just enter your library card number for access]. As he himself admits, the diary itself might not be very interesting to most people (with the possible exception of musicians), but we found that his writing makes the story an engaging read – in fact it’s very difficult to put down!
In addition to describing the beauty and friendships brought by music, Rusbridger also gives the context for his project, as well as behind-the-scenes stories from his professional life. We read about his job as editor in chief of a major news media company during some turbulent times for both the profession and the world, how lonely it can get at the very top, and about his vision during the digital revolution – one of several revolutions he mentions in the story. The book is also about becoming middle aged, finding time for ourselves in a busy daily schedule, the plasticity of our brain and how it is wired, and the role of amateurs’ passions.
This story is very engaging not just because he has observations about many different topics but also because he is very nice and inspiring company. We found his unassuming manner and soft-spoken voice in person matched the impression we had got from the book: systematic, thoughtful, intelligent, persistent, patient and humorous.
Luckily the world was a calm place for a couple of hours, so our guest had time for questions and a little bit of chatting… but not wine – he was on his way to another meeting.