I am thrilled to post a book review of The Address Book! The Address Book by Deirdre Mask is the first book that I read in 2021 that I loved from start to finish. I was pretty shocked that a book about street addresses could be so interesting from cover to cover.
Lively anecdotes keep the narrative entertaining.
Stimulating information and analysis, such as the Five Things I Learned from The Address Book listed below, intrigued me further on the topic.
I’m jumping ahead, though.
Let’s get into a general book review of The Address Book first.
Book Review of The Address Book by Deirdre Mask
In the introduction, Mask starts in West Virginia. Anecdotes are amusing and enlightening. From the beginning she establishes that this topic can be surprisingly polarizing. From this launching point she takes readers to India and Haiti. In these places she looks at what addresses can mean for communities without significant infrastructure.
I love the global perspective that Mask provides in this book. She continues in the next section to four cities and two countries. In fact the countries, Japan and Korea, provided the most fascinating observations for addresses. Mask discovers that how citizens in these countries navigate is not like the Western thinking in a linear direction. In other words, they don’t navigate by street name. She digs further to explore how Westerners and Japanese learn handwriting at a young age could influence how we think about space. Korea provides a counter-example because of their unique history with Japan and western-style alphabet. Mind. Blown.
There’s more! In fact, those last chapters are just part of the introduction. The influence of addresses on politics, race, and class come up next in the book. I won’t spoil all the ground that Mask covers in these sections. Her research leads her to examine an unlikely connection between Iran and Ireland. She analyzes the challenging history of Germany. And she receives a nuanced response to street signs in post-apartheid South Africa. Several other cities and countries also merit their own chapters and discussions.
If there was one thing that I was disappointed with in the book, it is that there was not a South American perspective or one from Oceania. This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation that the global perspective is so striking that the absence of these two regions is more pronounced. I am curious how a discussion about addresses would be enhanced by including some representation from these two regions.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe by the end of the book that there was so much connected to addresses. It is an intriguing lens through which to see a community.
5 Things I Learned from The Address Book
Since the overall topic of this blog is learning it seems like a good idea to periodically reflect on what my reading has taught me.
Plus, this part is fun. Some facts below are significant to examining the importance of addresses. Some are just interesting tidbits that come along the way. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have an answer for an obscure trivia challenge!
- “Street addresses boosted democracy, allowing for easier voting registration and mapping of voting districts. They strengthened security…Researchers found a positive correlation between street addresses and income, and places with street addresses had lower levels of income inequality than places that did not.”
- In the beginning of the postal system in England the person receiving the letter had to pay the postage. This arrangement, as you might imagine, was particularly difficult for the working classes.
- Tokyo doesn’t name its streets; instead, it numbers the blocks. This is particularly frustrating for Westerners visiting the dynamic city. As Mask continues to explore this distinction she makes some intriguing connections with handwriting systems. Mind. Blown.
- This observation was cause for considerable pause, especially as it was connected to Nazi Germany. “Street names are, in a way, the perfect propaganda tool. Saying them requires no thought or consideration, and, better yet, you are forced to use them every time you give directions, write your letters, or apply for virtually anything at all. The state can literally put words in your mouth.” A sobering analysis of a seemingly innocuous part of daily life.
- Did you know New York City has a vanity address program? That’s right, for a *small* fee, you can own a more luxurious-sounding address even if you don’t actually live at that location. Bit of a bear for emergency services, but a real boon for real estate apparently.
Okay, that’s an eclectic hodge-podge of information. Perhaps that’s one reason why I liked this book so much. Each chapter introduced a new angle for thinking about addresses.
Overall book review of The Address Book? Great book. Highly recommend.
Ready to grab a copy?
Better World Books
Other Non-Fiction Book Reviews
If you’re a non-fiction nerd like me, you might also like Unseen City by Nathanael Johnson or The Body by Bill Bryson.
Leave a Reply