“Here we all are then, together and not together, making our own way through streets that are at once more crowded and emptier than they have ever been. Moving from one place to another, each of us assuming that the people around us want nothing to do with us.”
For our May book of the month, we’ve picked Andy Field’s Encounterism: The Neglected Joys of Being in Person. Breaking away from our usual fiction picks, this debut piece of non-fiction provides a wonderfully personal, reflective, and investigative narrative that many of us need right now. Encounterism is a reflection on the human interactions we have missed (and continue to miss) due to the pandemic, weaving in social and personal histories, stories, and research.
Field has structured Encounterism around 9 themes, all connected to different styles of ordinary human encounters:
- Salons, hair dressers & barbers
- Chance encounters with strangers on the street
- Phone calls
- Clubbing & music venues
- Public parks
- Holding hands
The themes may be broad, but each chapter delves satisfyingly deep into each one, taking us on tangents through anecdotes, histories, and statistics. The opening chapter on salons, for example, tells Field’s own relationship with his hairdresser Susana, and brings in numerous stories about hairdressing — from Samson and Delilah to the opening of Open Barbers, the UK’s first queer and trans-friendly hair salon. “Salons are rooms suffused with care”, reflects Field, “it is a care manifested in many different ways, as learning, as friendship, as community.”
Field’s reflections are a necessary — but gentle — reminder of how stifled our interactions were during lockdown (and, for many, still are). Although looking back on that time is painful, Encounterism’s focus on the core of human connection helps to make the process more bearable, so that we might appreciate even the smallest interactions a lot more. The book is also by no means a lamentation on things lost — it is clear Field’s priority in writing is to appreciate, acknowledge, and celebrate the value of face-to-face interaction. Encounterism is as joyous and uplifting as it is insightful and reflective.
‘Andy Field’s book reawakens us to the neglected majesty, charm and beauty of the everyday. His book returns us to a childlike state of wonder. It’s profoundly charming – and, in the best sense, lovely.’ – Alain de Botton
Encounterism: The Neglected Joys of Being in Person is published by September Publishing
9781914613234 // HB // £18.99 // 4th May 2023