- The BBC’s Pride & Prejudice mini-series
- Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley (to compare)
- Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway
- The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (because I remember nothing about it from senior year summer reading)
- Austenland by Shannon Hale
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Amsterdam seems to be the benchmark for urban cycling as a popular form of transportation. Mapes, who travelled to Amsterdam and interviewed various local officials, finds that cycling is an efficient and safe means of traversing the Dutch capital. In the Netherlands, few people wear helmets, and intersections often garner yield signs as opposed to full stops; yet accidents involving bicycles are much lower than in the United States. Crowded streets are often lined with cycletracks that run parallel to the streets designed to keep cars and cycles separated. These cycletracks keep bikes away on congested streets but still visible to motorists who may be sharing the road with them on the next street.
Mapes follows his study of Amsterdam with case studies in Davis, California, Portland, Oregon, and New York City. Each city has a distinct method of dealing with cyclists, but Mapes stresses the need for more educated drivers and cyclists. Young cyclists seem to ignore traffic laws out of rebellion—you might have seen these riders each month as they crowd the streets during Critical Mass rides. Critical Mass comes from the idea that Chinese cyclists crowd busy intersections until there is a critical mass of riders large enough to stop the flow of opposing traffic. Throughout America, Critical Mass riders take to the streets in protest of what they deem unsafe riding conditions, but many riders drink and party on the route which sends the wrong message.
Cycling culture is growing and is affecting the way cities are being designed. Roads are being redesigned with green boxes in front of traffic lights which create space for cyclists to line up in order to avoid right-turning vehicles. Other changes involve attempts to prevent suburban sprawl by seriously limiting development beyond certain distances from city centers. The hope is that within a certain number of miles people might be more included to bike or use public transportation.
What I felt was missing throughout this book was an account of the policeman who violently shoved a rider during Critical Mass ride. Maybe the story was only news in NYC, but I still thought it perfectly exemplified how when cyclists and the public are at odds no one wins.
This review might feel more like an essay, but I think Pedaling Revolution touches on very important subjects. This is a worthwhile read for anyone in a city who either rides a bike or has been angered by an aggressive cyclist. No side is right and no side is wrong.
Friday, June 26, 2009
The whole premise sound incredibly trite. It is incredibly trite, but the writing of Roy Pickering makes Patches of Grey an extremely worthwhile and compelling read. Pickering’s characters are so deep and fleshed out that they don’t fall into horrible clichés. We are lead to believe that Lionel, Tony’s father, is a stereotypical underachieving urban father with a drinking problem. But quickly Pickering delves into Lionel’s past and things aren’t so easy. Lionel is haunted by his past and the feeling that he has always been inadequate for the ones he loves. Instead of explaining this to his family he beats them down with verbal and physical abuse in hopes of lowering their expectations in a “white man’s world.”
The plot moves with incredible swiftness. Though we may know where it’s all going on the outset, Pickering’s love for his characters makes us empathize with all of their plights. By the second chapter we are engulfed in a world of gang violence and broken hearts; it appears sappy but it isn’t. Patches of Grey reminds me of The Outsiders. Pickering mirrors S.E. Hinton; each author has a deep understanding of the culture they are representing.
I want to call Patches of Grey a young adult novel, but I don’t want to diminish its power and quality. I only label it so because its themes are important for teens to read and analyze. Pickering doesn’t pander to his readers; he presents all the information through his character’s commentary of situations.
Patches of Grey is only available on Amazon at the moment, but hopefully we’ll find Pickering’s work on the summer reading shelves of B&N soon.
Review copy provided by author.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close feels crowded. Foer tries to manipulate every word of the text so much so that the whole piece becomes contrived and false. It takes too much time to sift through Foer’s tricks, distracting the reader from the story. Instead of growing with Oskar we are forced to witness his journey from a removed point-of-view.
Throughout the novel Foer drops in images of locks, single worded pages, and other distractions that don’t give a greater sense to his story. The entire novel ends with a flip book which attempts to bring the entire piece full circle, but it just feels tacked on. I would like to see a sample of his writing that is completely devoid of any post-modernist tricks; I wonder what the sentences would look like.
My difficulty with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is that Foer relies too much on gimmickry and not enough on real characters. Oskar is intriguing with his anecdotes and perspective, but he doesn’t feel like a person. Oskar’s journey is too broad and meandering with no real resolution. The resolution Foer does provide seems watered down compared to the sprawling nature of the rest of the novel.
But if you liked Foer before you’ll probably enjoy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. You’ve likely already read it. He is a polarizing author with an extremely devout fan-base to which I don’t subscribe. I’ve always felt a little cheated while reading his work and that opinion hasn’t changed. Instead of honesty we are presented with a rambling conglomeration of literary tricks and games with no substantial meaning.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
When I think of poetry, I generally believe that it’s the most personal of the creative art forms – the closest to the expression of self through abstractions and highly selective diction, an eye on the I. The paired down language is key; and through metaphors and emotive techniques the poet is able to create an entire world, sometimes in just three lines.
So when I approached Darwin: A Life in Poems, I was a bit jarred. Even knowing that the project was to give the reader a biography on Charles Darwin through verse, it still felt somewhat off that this was not going to have the poet’s personal reflections. (I do realise that many poets don’t necessarily use themselves as the narrators of their own poems, but it’s still quite common.) But it didn’t take long to convince me that this is a highly intelligent and original way to create and reveal a biographical story.
Two hundred years ago, Charles Darwin was born. His story starts like most: He was raised in a small country town in Shopshire; he studied at Edinburgh then Cambridge (ok, that’s not like most) and originally trained to go into vestments (clergy or medical), but decided that the biological sciences were more fascinating; his father disapproved yet accepted the change since the Cambridge dons thought his son was one of the brightest students. Darwin travelled to the Galápagos, observes some birds and beetles, returns home to marry a childhood (and cousin) sweetheart, has a couple of children (some that don’t survive past a year), and formulates a theory that changes the world.
In Padel’s hands though, we are transported not just into these standard facts; she takes us closer to the Darwins’ marriage bed, to the inner mind of Darwin – not just as he was formulating his theory on natural selection, but as he thought of being separated from his wife or of being what seemed deathly ill his whole life. One of the cleverer poems, ‘Survival of the Fittest’, one of the major theories that Darwin is famous for, doesn’t deal just with the cold, scientific facts that brought him to such thoughts; no, it’s much more personal than that: ‘Was it because of him that Annie [his daughter] died? / “My dread is hereditary ill-health. / Are marriages between first cousins doomed / to deformity and illness? Effects / of inbreeding – only the fittest survive?”’ Darwin (and Padel) make it seem that he derived his theory through his family life, not his voyage on the Beagle.
Padel is methodical; her lines are timely and well-timed. There is a wonderful cadence to each verse, as if we’re being read some sort of melancholic bedtime story. Words are to be relished, not to be rushed. Padel makes sure that we understand Darwin from all angles – scientifically, as a son and brother and husband and father, religiously. Emotive effects are strong, especially when Darwin thinks not of his science but of his wife and of his children.
Closing this book, I immediately took an interest in Darwin’s writing. I’d be curious to know whether Darwin was truly as poetic as Padel (his own great-granddaughter) makes him out to be. Her introduction says that most of the writing is his own, but words were changed in order to make it ‘poetry’. But I don’t think that takes away anything from either’s talent.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Ames seems to represent the age we’re living in: an age of instant honesty, where people/authors aren’t afraid to admitting their quirks and problems and secrets to an audience, where fiction and memoir and journalism don’t have any indelible lines that separate one from the other. He’s blunt with his sexual ‘deviance’ – and his friends’ too.
The first story, ‘Bored to Death’, is a Paul Auster-meets-Raymond Chandler detective tale, where the narrator pretends to be a private investigator to help a young woman find her missing sister. What starts off as a laugh becomes something quite sinister. (It’ll be amusing to see what HBO cooks up for this, as the story is the basis for a new series forthcoming.) This is probably Ames at the top of his game here, mixing all kinds of genres and techniques in order to tell this tale.
The journalism in the book probably is my favourite – although that’s pretty unfair to say, because every piece of writing in this collection is pretty solid. Ames gives us insight into the relationship of Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, the celibacy and magnetism of Lenny Kravitz, the wonderful questions asked at an oral sex workshop, and the pure absurdity of a corduroy appreciation society meeting (Ames wears corduroy trousers as part of his ‘costume’). And there’s a pretty amusing piece on his boxing experience as ‘The Herring Wonder’, which is a career I hope he revives – although that’s unlikely as his age probably won’t allow for it.
What I found to be rather intriguing was the fact that his fiction, what he labels as ‘short stories’, don’t have the same type of comedy within. They’re actually quite sad and morose – in still a bright way. It’s evident that he’s employing bits of his life when writing his fiction (some of the aspects in the journalism and personal essays sections make their way into the stories) but, in this genre of storytelling, he decides to make said bits to have more of an existential quality. Like in the comic that ends the book, the refrain is ‘I wondered if maybe this time, a neighbor would come check on me. But no one came. Doesn’t anyone care that I’m dying in here.’ It sounds like it’s right out of Dostoevsky.
Ames is one author I would carry everywhere. The Double Life Is Twice as Good made me laugh out loud, so I’m sure I got a few stares on the subway. And since Ames and I are neighbours, I hope to cross paths with him on the street one day. Plus, isn’t the jacket just perfect?
Friday, June 12, 2009
The narrator, Will, and his friend Hand decide to take – in a week’s time – a worldwide trip with the extra thousands of dollars in cash they have in order to a) see the world and b) travel non-stop and c) dole out their money to those who need it. Of course, as with any roadtrip novel, things don’t go exactly as planned and the boys don’t get to see much of the world at all – West Africa and the Baltics end up being their only stops, even though their main desires included Greenland, Mongolia, and Cairo.
What bothered this reader about the narrative were the conceits of a) the travelogue and b) the first-world characters believing that they should be charitable to the second- and third-world ones. I never enjoyed the antics received when Will and Hand made their way into a new country and had to figure out the locals. I wasn’t sure if this was an honest portrait or if the author just needed a way of exploring ‘otherness’.
Because the characters weren’t able to spend days or even hours in a location, there really wasn’t a development in the secondary people to the story. Therefore the Senegalese children or the Russians in the Baltic nations were never fully explored; they just became caricatures that perhaps were supposed to represent their respective nations’ plights.
Removing that issue though, the novel then becomes a story about a relationship of two friends: the strains that have been put on it, how they grow closer, how one actually learns how to fully trust another. If Eggers was looking to represent that, then kudos. Otherwise it’s a bit bothersome.
(And I did enjoy the following quip: When asked why they [the main characters] were in Senegal, they respond: ‘Because it was windy in Greenland.’ In regards to the book, that’s a pretty hysterical refrain.)
Monday, June 8, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Still, almost all of the people whose book recommendations I trust continually sang the praises of The Ground Beneath Her Feet. They told me, if you read one Rushdie book, make it this one. From the first page, I immediately recognized Rushdie’s style – sentences teeming with pop culture, historical and literary references, first person narration neglecting to omit even the most intimate details, complete with allusions to future plot twists that compel us to continue reading.
It took me a little while to settle into this style, much like it might take a coddled western teen to settle into India’s densely humid spring monsoon season. Each paragraph can dissected on its own as a fully prose poem, which, while invoking a considerable amount of awe, isn’t a style that I typically enjoy. Still, the novel grew on me, and I found myself becoming rather attached to the unapologetic, reflective, oft hilarious narrative voice and the mythical characters and story it was retelling. Rushdie rewrites the classic Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, casting them as rock gods in a contemporary global setting. We follow Vina Aspara and Ormus Cama through the eyes of Rai Merchant, Vina’s faithful, doting companion from childhood (naturally also in love with her), as the two rockstars captivate the world with their tale and their music.
Though still not a favorite book of mine, I still somehow feel like this is a must read, if only to sample Rushdie’s unique style and perspective. I’ve resolved to read it again, more patiently this time around.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Small is still haunted by the first sixteen years of his life when he lived in fear of an oppressive mother who considered strict silence the mark of a good home. Small’s father, a physician, tries his hand at taking control of family issues only with disastrous and life threatening results. After a botched surgery leaves young David with almost no voice, home life nearly disintegrates until David finally emancipates himself from his captors.
Stitches is told in a gothic and macabre manner. Distinct blacks and whites throughout the images give the impression that Small sees his past in a similar fashion; there are good moments and bad moments and nothing in between. Other reviews seem to consider Stitches “redemptive,” but I only found anger poured into every page. I don’t get the sense that Small has truly come to terms with his past; he has, however, found an avenue to tell his readers about his origins.
David Small’s artwork is masterful. Each page clearly depicts the haunting images of Small’s memories. Many of the drawings seem akin to Eisner which is probably the gold standard for autobiographical artwork. Negative space, which is used abundantly, makes single moments extremely powerful and resonant.
Unless you are intrigued by Small’s artwork I don’t recommend reading Stitches. Memoirs are profuse among the bookshelves, and David Small adds another work to that already long list. Though I empathize with Small’s unfortunate upbringing, he doesn’t craft a singularly impressive composition that merits everyone’s attention. Perhaps, he has simply released the demons that plague his thoughts. And to that, bravo!
NOTE: Seeing as I am the one who reads comics I will try to write reviews of them when I can, but I plan on limiting my coverage to singular novels. Following serials would be too time consuming and often repetitive.
AVAILABLE SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
W. W. Norton & Co.
344 pages, Hardcover
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009