July recommendations

Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain by Barbara Strauch, Penguin, £9.99

This book is for everyone who walks downstairs, then has to go back upstairs to remind themselves why they went downstairs in the first place. It reassuringly describes new research into neuroscience, explaining that absent-mindedness of middle age develops at the same time as a new way of understanding the world, the bigger picture that only comes with experience. Our brains actually start to deteriorate at around the age of 78, and much later as long as we exercise them in the right way. Although the minds that crumble earliest are those belonging to self-centred people; they don’t develop the insulating layer that seems to increase our brains’ “bandwidth” leading to an intellectual peak at around the mid-fifties that lasts until the seventies. It’s what gives older people expertise, as long as they’ve been inclined to learn from their experiences along the way.
So yah boo sucks to all you smarty-pants youngsters; you’re far too inexperienced to make good decisions about important issues. This includes Cameron and Milliband now, and Blair at the time when he decided invading Iraq was a good idea. We might not be able to memorise a shopping list, but that’s OK. We can make balanced decisions about what to buy, and write it down. Sarah McCartney

Richard 111, Old Vic until 11 September. Kevin Spacey is magnificent. Astonishing performance and production, one of the greatest ever. It won’t be easy to get a ticket but you really ought to try – it’s not to be missed. With a news background of Gaddafi and Murdoch, it’s absolutely of this moment. John Simmons

Branding 2.0

Branding continues to move into new and interesting territory. The most sophisticated and inventive agencies are taking practice way beyond the creation of logos, colour palettes, tone of voice guidelines and a big, fat identity ‘rulebook’. Inside organisations, visual and verbal expression is increasingly part of a deeper programme of activity where communications meet operations, culture and management. Externally, products and communications have the potential to connect with customers and the wider world in all sorts of new and productive ways. Some call this ‘Branding 2.0’. I’m not too keen on the name (we’re not talking about a software iteration), but Branding 2.0 is useful shorthand for what brand and branding need to become in a fast-moving and increasingly interactive world. D&AD is doing a decent job of hosting discussion about branding and how it is changing. Simon Manchipp is emerging as one of the clearest thinkers on the subject, and he recently chaired a lively D&AD event that brought a number of experts together to share their views. Tim Rich

Seeing Stars by Simon Armitage, Faber and Faber, £6.99

This is brilliant, and always a pleasure to recommend Simon Armitage: I’m sure there are still plenty of you out there who treasure the memory of his sensational reading for 26 a few years ago. Seeing Stars is hard to classify. They are a sequence of short pieces, typically no more than a page long, more prose than poetry, but infused with his poetic sensibility. Many are hilarious, some are poignant, all are marvellously observed. They are like your favourite chocolates, you just carry on gobbling them up until they are all gone. If poetry feels just a bit too hard core for your summer reading selection, then tuck this away instead. Martin Lee

The Edinburgh Art Festival (4 August – 4 September) is the newest of the Edinburgh festivals and growing in stature. It’s just got a fresh and festive new identity and this year’s programme is brilliant. If you do come, make sure you get hold of the Art Festival’s specially commissioned map -it cleverly links to the city’s contours and contains some witty legends dotted here and there. Now, here’s a day’s art circuit I’d recommend to friends. Arrive at Waverley Station and head for Market Street (Exit 3 on the Edinburgh Art Festival Map). Look up and around you to get an immediate sense of Edinburgh’s Babylonian planes and elevations. Then fortify yourself with a strong coffee at the Fruitmarket Cafe before doing the Market Street double whammy – Fruitmarket and City Arts. David Mach’s Precious Light must be a must-see for anyone remotely affected by the language of the King James Bible. Can’t wait. An hour or so later, up Martin Creed’s marble steps , turn left, right and right again onto the Royal Mile for a bit of a retail break at Royal Mile Whiskies. An elemental island malt will help you wax lyrical (come the late dusk) about the next gallery destination. But first I’d recommend a scrumptious bowl of soup and half sandwich at The Edinburgh Larder on Blackfriars Street before crossing the Cowgate (down then up as J. Maizlish’s map so rightly charts – with a slight swing right en route to see Chris Moore’s decoding site specific) to the Dovecot on Infirmary Street to see Land, Water and Language. Plenty of good restaurants there to end the day like Mother India with its sub-continent tapas or the famous Mosque Kitchen for a cheap and yummy curry. Call me and I’ll join you, I’m just round the corner. Stuart Delves

At Home by Bill Bryson, Random House, £17.91
I’m a big Bryson fan – I love his blend of fascinating facts and polished prose. “At Home” delves into the backstory of the domestic spaces we take for granted, unearthing much intriguing trivia along the way. It’s turned me into a crashing bore, regaling anyone who’ll listen with the history of staircases or the contrasting lavatorial habits of different nationalities. Above all it’s just so readable – I wish I could write like this. Roger Horberry

The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era, by Teressa Iezzi, Advertising Age, £12.00
This book makes me want to fall to my knees and thank the Lord I don’t work in advertising. That probably wasn’t the author’s intention, but there you go. Not that it’s a bad book – it’s very good – it just describes a new paradigm (sorry) in which anyone over 30 might as well shuffle off the the knacker’s yard. Summary: “copy” is long dead. Today advertising is driven by a new sort of idea – deep, rich, multifaceted narratives that play out across any number of media (including perhaps copy). The rise and rise of digital has massively increased the confusion about where advertising is going and what it even is. Contributors keep praising this brave new world, but many of them seem to be doing it through gritted teeth. “The Idea Writers” is pleasingly written and recommended reading for anyone in adland or digital copywriting, but it made me feel ancient and more than a little relieved I work in design. RH

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