Book reviews: I Speak of the City| Made To Last| From the Holy Land to Graceland

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Michael Kerrigan reviews the latest releases

I Speak of the City by Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo

Chicago, £31.50 * * * * *

“What my eyes beheld was simultaneous,” wrote Borges; but “what I shall now write down will be successive, for so is language”. That’s a challenge for anyone who hopes to capture an immediate reality of any kind. When that reality is as multifaceted as that of Mexico City in the moment of its emergence as modern metropolis, the enterprise is that much more intimidating. But also more exciting, Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo believes. He approaches his subject in a series of essays – literary, historical, sociological, scientific and artistic – making a succession of passes over an extravagantly complex and ever-changing city scene. From Diego Rivera to the ratcatcher, from poetry to prostitution: this book gives us a vivid sense of a great city – and a great idea – being born.

Made To Last by Mark Palmer

Profile, £20 * * *

Bourgeois Britain has been going back to school in Clarks shoes for generations – solid-and-sensible never goes out of fashion. Just ask Rihanna, who’s been buying up this most functional of footwear on her UK stops; or desert-booted bohemians from Bob Dylan to the Arctic Monkeys. Solid-and-sensible has been the character of the Clarks themselves as well – a Quaker family, they’ve led blameless lives since Cyrus and James Clark set up in Somerset in the 1820s. Market shifts and shoestring financing have at times meant that, business-wise, it hasn’t been so boring, but for most of us Mark Palmer’s history will prove a worthy, well-made and yet underwhelming read.

From the Holy Land to Graceland by Gary Vikan

AAM, £24.5 * * *

The building Elvis left on 16 August 1977 became, the sophisticated sneered, a “place of pilgrimage” – fans flocked out to Memphis to pay their last respects. Thirty-six years later, they’re still coming in their thousands, and you have to wonder whether the comparison isn’t quite a good one after all. Just how fanciful is it to compare the modern hold of shrines like Graceland with the tomb of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury or with Lourdes? Gary Vikan produces an improbably persuasive essay.