City of Glass was the first Paul Auster I was introduced to, in college. I loved it; he packed so much into such a short novel.

Last month (or was it March! Yikes!) I borrowed this from [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss: City of Glass, the Graphic Novel.

I was intrigued and even slightly horrified at how could someone do such a thing? But [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss gave it a thumbs-up, and sent it home with me, and I have to say, it is successful.

The Guardian does an excellent job reviewing it. I am lazy and it is late, so I will let you read that.

I liked it; I liked the visual motifs (the childhood drawings do indeed pack more of a punch with each repetition) and Quinn's story was adapted to visuals quite well.

But when I finished, it felt... lacking something.

The novel is told by a nameless narrator, telling the story of Daniel Quinn, a writer, who is mistaken for a private eye named Paul Auster, whose identity he takes. He proceeds to meet the real novelist Paul Auster in the novel, discussing Auster's work on reinterpreting Cervantes' Don Juan to find out who the real narrator of the story was. This layering could feel trite, and fortunately neither version of the novel feel this way for me; but there was a quality to the text-only version, where the only way to untangle the layers was through mentally visualizing them, that is different when you see Daniel Quinn sitting across from Paul Auster (who looks just like his dust-jacket).

The project was conceived by Art Spiegelman, who also wrote the introduction. I'm curious whether the "Neon Lit" project stalled out at two books; the #2 in the series didn't really appeal to me.
[where did this post go? I thought it got posted last night, but here it is in the unsaved cache. Fortunately!]

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is a breezy read through the world of American Chinese food. The main takeaway (sorry) is how the American Chinese food experience is so... actually... American. She examines nearly every facet you might imagine, and many I have never considered (those awful "soy sauce" packets without any soy at all: where do they get made?)

In the end, I was entertained, though I skimmed here and there. Will this become a cinema verité documentary? Maybe. Should you read this? Maybe.

So, what did I learn?

General Tso is a real figure from history. In China, he was a General known for his military prowess, a sort of William Tecumseh Sherman of Hunan Province. However, in China nobody eats his chicken. The most famous recipes from the part of the province he comes from are actually with dog meat.

Ms. Lee follows the exodus of workers illegally leaving Fuzhou, a region in southeastern China in the province of Fujian; which she says for the past two decades has been the source of the vast majority of Chinese restaurant workers in the US. She follows one man's travels over-land, on a barely sea-worthy ship, to the shores of New York City and then to jail for a number of years, then eventually freedom in the US. She spends a while discussing restaurant workers, how they have made new lives in big cities (the impression she gave was what a large fraction start in New York City), and some of them have fanned out to settle across the country, buying restaurants in tiny towns and trying to make a go of it.

And in the process she more or less explains how it came to pass that there are 43,000 Chinese restaurants in the US; more than McDonald's, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined.

She has an obsession with fortune cookies. That obsession led her to visits to San Francisco, China, Japan, and back to her back yard in New York City, explaining the history of who currently writes the fortunes, who invented the style of cookie (they were Japanese) and how they became a so-called Chinese tradition. She even gets into the history of the fortunes, visiting the Japanese shrine which originally folded a fortune into a cookie.

She might have the best job in the world, given her interests. The New York Times has flown her world-wide to produce these stories; she even gets a chapter out of "what is the best Chinese restaurant in the world?" Which involved yet still more travel, to try world-wide Chinese restaurants which are neither traditional Chinese nor cheap Americana. I will give her credit for determining criteria for choosing the best, not an easy task, but I don't feel enlightened from the reading of the experience.

She visits "the lost Chinese Jews of Kaifeng," a destination during the Jewish diaspora, and site of a synagogue from 1163 until the 1860s. There are a small number of Jews still living there. She asks the oldest living resident of the old epicenter of Jewish life in Kaifang why American Jews like Chinese food so much. "With a glint in her eye, she slapped the wooden table. She knew. I leaned in. This was the insight for which I had travelled thousands of miles, walked along a highway at midnight, and scoured alleyways. Her Buddhist koan-like response was profound in its simplicity: 'Because Chinese food tastes good.'"

The most interesting chapter for me was the history of the delivery restaurant in New York City. She says before the 80s, there were basically no delivery restaurants, period. Anywhere. One enterprising Chinese restaurant figured out the formula, and within a few years, the entire restaurant culture had changed. (The last time I was in Manhattan, I had a diner deliver to my hotel. Which, in the end, I should thank that Chinese restaurant for. Even if in the process, innumerable apartment owners may have been thoroughly teed off by sheaves and stacks of restaurant menus left in their lobby...)

This is not a cohesive review, for which I am sorry. But I have an excuse: [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball has taken my copy of the book. Perhaps I will take it back to revise the review later.
da: (bit)
Unclutterer reports that O'Reilly tech books has an ebook promotion for $4.99 per book you already own. This looks quite useful to me:

- O'Reilly ebooks come as a bundle of three common formats (mobi, pdf, epub)
- they are un-copyprotected, a.k.a. not locked to existing software/hardware readers
- while only a fraction of their books are currently available in ebook, some others are also available as pdf

To get the $4.99 books, you need to make an account on their site, register the ISBNs of your books, add them each to your cart, and use the 499UP discount code. I tested one book, and it appears to work.

I may just have to get busy with our barcode-reader at work, since that's where my O'Reilly books live now. I figure at least a dozen of my books are worth future-proofing in case I eventually buy a portable bookreader. :)
I finished the audio-book version of Stumbling on Happiness on the drive back from my parents' place.

I wrote about Daniel Gilbert last August when he was interviewed on Tapestry, the CBC radio program on faith and spirituality (and so did d., which I link to from that post). Re-reading my impressions at the time, I conclude his book made a much better impression on me than it appears his radio-interview and TED lecture did. In no small part because he was able to set out his arguments completely, not constrained to 30 or 20 minutes. (Good gawd, he sounds strident and pressed for time in the TED talk.)

I took out of the library both his book and the unabridged audio version (read by Gilbert). The book copy was recalled so I only read a few chapters in print. I recommend either, or both. It made a fine accompaniment to driving many hours on the 401.

The book is pleasantly engaging, with a very accessible style that I only occasionally wish had been more terse. He mixes in with his psychology research a smattering of jokes I actually found funny- occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

I'm torn on how much I'd like to say about the content. Others will have written better than I can. I think Gilbert writes most effectively about unexpected psych research results. For example (and this isn't an exhaustive list of the good stuff, it's just off the top of my head) :

* People overestimate their emotional reactions to future events. Our psychological "immune system" kicks in when awful things happen, making them feel... bad, but not as bad as you'd expect them to.

* However, the psychological immune system won't kick in under a certain threshhold. So a slightly bad event can fester in your mind worse than a really bad event.

* We, obviously, edit our memories; and we do so in a way to self-validate our beliefs. The fascinating thing to me is that we also edit our predictions of our feelings from before-hand, so we can self-validate the way we ended up feeling. "We remember feeling the way we thought we would feel, whether we felt like that or not." We're really a mess when it comes to accurately remembering feelings, and Gilbert mentions a few "emotional blind-spots" which consistently trip us up.

I liked this interview with him; it gives a fair sense of his writing style.

Something else I appreciate: when I got to the end, I wished I had a study group to help hash out my thoughts on the book. It turns out, and I think I read this last year, that Gilbert posted a study guide to go along with the Harvard frosh class he teaches based on the book. I can probably get access to most of the articles he cites.

So I'm pondering whether to try and find a dozen other people who just read this book and see what we might do with it.
The Geographer's Library is Jon Fasman's first novel; I will probably read his second when it comes out in October.

It's rare for a mystery novel to draw me in. Successful points: a likable but somewhat unreliable narrator, wide-ranging storylines (Moscow, Siberia, Estonia, Turkey; 1200 through modern times) and just a bit of magic.

The narrator is a small-town New England weekly newspaper reporter, newly graduated from school. One of the profs of his school turns up dead, and he's asked to write the obituary. Paul feels like the story isn't adding up, especially after the town coroner is murdered, and the more he digs, the less sense it makes. Apparently the prof was twice arrested for shooting a firearm on campus, but the police were convinced to squelch the investigations.

Add a love interest, a professor who knows a bit of the story but wants to know what else is happening to his department, and a gung-ho police-person, and you have a fairly standard potboiler. (Ho hum).

But what makes this story work for me is that chapters alternate with a history of the court geographer of Sicily from 1200 who gathered a library of alchemy instruments. The stories of these 14 instruments as they pass from hand to hand through the ages is what does it for me- there's a gradual sense of fate about it, but also the work of a shadowy hand in action. The eventual denoument for Paul feels a bit... cheap, as he really shouldn't have survived it, but that he does. I guess somebody hsa to live to write the story.

It feels a bit like a less intense Cryptonomicon with less math and many fewer pages (375 or so). If you like Neil Stephenson, but don't mind a bit of alchemy, it's possible you'll like this. It was a quick read.

This book came from the remainders at a book-sale last fall; I flipped to a random page and the writing style drew me in. Something made me think it would be a good choice for [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball's dad for Christmas. He liked it enough he wanted to give it back so I could read it. And I'll give it back to [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball's mom when she's here next weekend, for his dad to give to someone else to read. I'm not sure it's as successful a novel as all that, but it was a good find on the remainders shelf.
The author of Unlikely Utopia: the Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism spoke here last night.

[...and I'll fill in the details later.]

[and I suck. I didn't get to this until today, Sunday the 18th, and I barely remember any of the talk's details.]

Michael Adams is an engaging speaker (as well as a good writer, judging by Fire and Ice.

The point to the talk was that pluralism has been successful in Canada in the second half of the 20th century in a very different way from in the US or Europe; and it has been surprisingly successful at integrating immigrants in important ways. Case in point: you might judge first-generation Canadian integration by their civic involvement- as a measure of how strongly people feel connected to their new communities.

Measuring foreign-born members of Parliament is interesting- because not only do they need to *want* to run for office, they need to successfully *win* office, and the statistics usually describe highly mixed-ethnicity MP ridings, so they're not winning solely among their own ethnicity of voters. One example was a Toronto riding with a Chinese-Canadian MP, where the majority ethnicity is Italian.

Anyhow: 13% of MPs are foreign born; first-generation Canadian; versus roughly 20% of the population being first-generation Canadian.

Or in the United States, where 4% of the House of Representatives are foreign-born, versus something like 11% of the population are foreign-born.

This review covers a small wedge of the talk's topics. I might've taken more complete notes, but I didn't. I hope to eventually read the book, and I can review it properly then. But don't hold your breath.
A bit over a month ago, I saw Paprika, and its plot reminded me of one of the novels that turned me on to Greg Bear- Queen of Angels, a police thriller set in 2048 where an illegal device can read the "Geography of the Mind"- a remapping of one person's brain so it will make sense to others. I remember I had been really impressed by this book, when I read it in high school. Well, it seems my tastes change. It seemed so overdone when I re-read it last month. The poetry conceits were just conceits, the characterizations felt 2-d, and I couldn't finish it.

Contrast with Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, which I finished last night. First published in serial form in 1952 (and the very first Hugo Award winner), it has lent elements to science fiction from PK Dick to everything cyberpunk- it's set in 24th century New York City, where portions of the city are ruined by atomic blasts, some humans have developed ESP, and the mega-rich amuse themselves with vaguely magical-appearing extravagances.

The plot has surface-level similarities with Queen of Angels- it's a police whodunnit in a society which hasn't experienced murder in ages- in this case, because the "ESPers" keep track on the normals. The richest man in the world has decided he must kill his major rival, and we watch the esper police agent who tries to track him down.

The first third of the book was highly amusing, with sly in-jokes about 1950s-era New York and really funny slang that seems to be based on a prediction of the 60s. The middle third felt mechanically clunky to me, with the inevitable interplanetary chases. The last third made me grin quite a bit, partly with the awfully anachronistic computer with punch-tape, partly because the esper conceits (written in the style of visual poetry on the page) somehow felt new again after the dry middle part, and partly with plot developments.

This review might be a work in progress, but here are my first thoughts. I'm usually turned off by detective potboilers but I do like Bester's style. And it was fun to try and play "spot the future influences on my favourite science fiction."

cri de fridge

Tuesday, 29 May 2007 10:36 am
http://noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com is great.

I've read one of her stories, "The Swim Team" in Harpers (Jan '07). It was clever, but I need to re-read it before I decide to buy the book.

Now I want to see "Me and You and Everyone We Know."

Nationalism

Tuesday, 23 January 2007 12:12 am
Blame America... and oh yeah, the Jews is a review in this week's Globe and Mail Books section, of a new book, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America by Andrei Markovits. The book sounds challenging: how opinion of the US in Europe has been prejudicially negative (giving a number of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" examples, such as broad public protests in France and Germany against both US globalization and US protectionism). Part of his thesis is that Europe resents America for the dependence Europe had on the US after WWII; and for the changes the US has wrought in Europe since.

But the most challenging part to the book is possibly the chapter on the connections between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, in part due to the US's support for Israel, and due to a belief that the US is run by Jews.
Markovits argues that "all the historical ingredients used to demonize Jews are simply transferred to the state of Israel, which -- in the standard diction of anti-Semitism -- behaves Jew-like by grasping for global power, exhibiting Old Testament-like (pre-Christian) vengefulness. It bamboozles the world, as cunning Jews are wont to do, extorts money from hapless victims who have been fooled into seeing the Jews as victims, exhibits capitalist greed and, of course, indulges in constant brutality toward the weak. Israel thus becomes a sort of new Jew, a collective Jew among the world's nations." And that reinforces anti-Americanism, and vice-versa. Ugh. Markovits points to recent and rising cases of anti-Semitism among the European Left, and I'm a bit worried he knows what he's talking about.

Ultimately, too, I don't understand nationalism terribly well; this was drilled into me some time ago by [livejournal.com profile] zubatac as he tried to explain the nature of Croatian nationalism as a small country within Europe. But since coming to Canada, I do feel a bit... I guess defensive is the right word, sometimes, when the conversation turns to US offences; which might be very similar conversations to the ones I'd be having back in the US, but the difference... I can see this as a bit of nationalism.

I guess I'd like to understand anti-X-ism better, where X isn't a personality trait or a religion, but rather an entire country, and possibly against the people who live there.

I hope to read this book, even if the cover looks totally stupid, and also the author has received laurels for writing a semi-scholarly book on Soccer and American Exceptionalism. Maybe I'll wait for the NYT to review it.

But also, I'm writing about the reviewer for the Globe and Mail, who sounds like a jerk. His end paragraph concerns anti-Americanism driving America further away from the rest of the West, because America cares too much what other countries think of it: "At stake here, however, is much more than mere vanity. The Americans don't really have much else besides that for which they stand." Ouch. That's not only a harsh blow, it has little to do with the book's thesis or his review before that throwaway line. Seems like sloppy writing and sloppy editing, and I'd have expected better from the Globe and Mail.

...Finally, on a related note, today I got a letter from Citizenship and Immigration. It came in a thick packet, so I was convinced they returned my Citizenship application for missing something. But no, it's a letter acknowledging my application, and a study guide for the test I'll take in 8 to 10 months. Yay!
It always starts somewhere small. I just wanted a better todo list. That search, around when I started my new job, led me to this book.

Getting Things Done by David Allen, a California business-coach and consultant, is a 250-page quick read (I skimmed it in three days) on improving one's self-organization and work management. It was an enjoyable read: the writing style is clean, there are lots of examples of the methods in action, and I get the clear sense the book is a distillation of thousands of clients' experiences.

It would be appropriate to describe his methods as holistic, minimally intrusive, and... well, Californian. If you start from his premises, I can see how it could lead to a clearer, more stress-free mind, and possibly more efficient work. I know for a fact that it's helped me organize my own work better.

There's nothing revolutionary in the methods- it's a matter of emphasis. A few points:

* get stuff out of your mind, into a system that you trust. "Stuff" is "anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn't belong where it is, but for which you haven't yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step."

* "discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all the 'inputs' you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for the 'next actions' that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment"

Geeks are big on GTD for some self-evident reasons, and it was nice to see a book on this topic that was compatible with my own proclivities of writing about and categorizing things, without learning complicated rules.

My complaints about this book are few: he uses pull-out quotes, about one a page, which are just enough to bug me. (He does have some great quotes, including one from Lily Tomlin: "I always wanted to be someone. I should've been more specific".)

More seriously, there is an assumption, throughout, that his methods are one size fits all. I suppose this lets him keep the book short and clean; but it would be nice if there was a chapter on variations (and perhaps their disadvantages). Maybe there's a wiki for that. But at least he does single out potentially standalone tips, which is good, with a few instances of "if you take one thing from this chapter..."

I'll have more to say later about how this is working for me. But now I have a bus to catch.
Eleanor Rigby, by Douglas Coupland

This is a daring book; there is a fair chance that by the time you finish the first third, you could give up and decide the protagonist is whiny and annoying. In my head, her voice is just like Sarah Vowell's, possibly because I recently finished reading Ms. Vowell's book. Also, Douglas Coupland's characters all seem to speak with a similar voice as Mr. Coupland himself.

But the narrator is intentionally whiny. She's a boring person who proclaims her boringness as a sort of badge of pride, but also as an excuse. And then, the year of the Hale-Bopp comet, 1997, things change: she discovers she has a son, now 20 years old; who sees visions and has Multiple Sclerosis. And from the part where he becomes the focus of the story, Coupland does a delicate dance to keep from falling into maudlin, or filling out any of the stereotypes he might be tempted to. Jeremy makes a fine character: charismatic, witty, charming... but also, prone to veering into strange territory. Jeremy sees visions of the End Days. Eventually, some of his character comes out in his mom; particularly drawn out by one realization, but you see that evolve in the last third of the book, which takes place seven years later. And by the end, she is very much not a boring person.
Short review. If you like gumshoe mysteries, sci-fi that doesn't bother to explain itself (beyond "this is from the far future") and Deus Ex Machina up the wazoo, you might like this.

You might think this is a negative review, but it's not, really. This was a fun, very quick read. Such as for an airplane. (That's what dan's dad did; when he finished it, he gave it to me.)

I got a few chapters in before I remembered I'd already started reading this, once. But this time I finished it.

I told you this was a short review.

(no subject)

Friday, 20 October 2006 08:46 pm
Sarah Vowell is somewhat of an odd duck. You may know her from her voice-pieces on This American Life. Since I tend to like those essays, I bought her 2002 book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot. (Actually I bought this as a Christmas present for Dan's dad, who also likes her on TAL).

But: in addition to having an urbane and funny sensibility toward life, she's also a history nerd, and actually a bit snooty. But she's an excellent essayist.

This book has nineteen essays about what it means, to her, to be an American patriot. From going to Washington during Bush's inauguration and tearfully singing the Star Spangled Banner on The Mall, with tens of thousands of people (some satisfied, some heartbroken), to writing to a dead Congressman with her memories of him from when she was 8 and she helped on his campaign, this is an occasionally sombre, occasionally hilarious book.

I'm considering getting a copy of my own, actually. For, say, the next time someone inappropriately compares themselves to Rosa Parks and I want to remember one of her rebuttals for that situation . ("Call me picky, but breathing second-hand smoke, unfair dairy pricing, and not being able to mime (or lap dance), though they are all tragic, tragic injustices, are not quite as bad as the systematic segregation of public transportation based on skin color.")

Four of the essays are online as audio stories in her voice. "What He Said There" (about visiting Gettysburg) and "The Nerd Voice" (about Al Gore) are pretty good.

I'm up because my sweetie has to teach too early in the morning, but since I'm up (and conscious): here's a book review I've been sitting on for a while.

I've been interested in the history of Iran since [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball brought home Persepolis in 2004 or so. (Another plug for Persepolis and its sequel. It's a historical graphic novel, owing some debt to Maus, but mostly just a memoir of one girl's experience as she grew up through the Islamic Revolution.)

I've found another book with the general theme of "liberal feminist woman supports the overthrow of the Shah in '79, only to discover the new regeme much worse." It's an engrossing read, certainly exciting. And a quick read- 250 pages.

Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope is by Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni.

Shirin Ebadi is something of a superwoman. She was a judge under the Shah, was quickly fired by the Ayatollah, fought her way back into the courts as a clerk, and meanwhile speaking out for women's rights under the Koran.

In 2003, a Canadian reporter, Zahra Kazemi died in police custody. Shirin Ebadi was her family's lawyer, and was responsible for publicly saying that Kazemi was killed by police, which was a tremendously brave thing to do while living in Iran.

That sort of sets the tone for her life. The Kazemi story doesn't come in until about two thirds of the way through the book. Before, she spends quite a while talking about her family history, daily life before and after the Shah was overthrown, and what a bizarre country Iran became due to the interpretation of the Koran the theocracy chose to follow. At the same time, she speaks loudly and plainly for Iranian citizens' legal rights as they exist under the current law. Excellent stuff.

Salon has a good article about the book, and I'm going to crib the first page of it here:

Shirin Ebadi's new book, "Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope," opens with a chilling scene that underlines just how hazardous her human rights activism has been. In the fall of 2000, Ebadi, one of Iran's leading reformist lawyers, represented Parastou Forouhar, whose parents, dissident intellectuals, were butchered by government assassins. Their killings, part of a string of murders of regime critics carried out by the Ministry of Intelligence in the late 90s, were perpetrated with particular sadism -- the aging couple were stabbed repeatedly and then hacked to pieces.

In 2000, some of those involved in the murders were finally brought to trial. "The stakes could not be higher," writes Ebadi. "It was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that the state had acknowledged that it had murdered its critics, and the first time a trial would be convened to hold the perpetrators accountable."

The victims' lawyers were given ten days to review massive stacks of government files on the case. Recalling an afternoon bent over the dossier, Ebadi writes, "I had reached a page more detailed, and more narrative, than any previous section, and I slowed down to focus. It was the transcript of a conversation between a government minister and a member of the death squad. When my eyes fell on the sentence that would haunt me for years to come, I thought I had misread. I blinked once, but it stared back at me from the page: 'The next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi.' Me." As she recounts, she didn't have time to process the shock, because she needed to keep working. "Only after dinner, after my daughters went to bed, did I tell my husband. 'So, something interesting happened to me at work today'."
Tonight I had dinner with friends K and J, who just returned from a five month walking pilgrimage through Northern Spain. I missed them while they were gone, one reason being the high quality of conversation we sometimes get to have. Tonight was one of those nights; after dinner we played a quick game of Ticket to Ride followed by a good hour-long walk through their neighbourhood.

It's sweet to learn how couples met. K and J got to know each other after an Anarchy Convention in Toronto some time in the 80s.

Jane Jacobs deserves many plaudits, but one I'd not expect is that one of her books (in part) effectively refutes the ethics of Anarchy as a social system. It's called Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. I don't understand the argument; maybe I will when I track down a copy of the book.

We spent a while talking about how unbalanced the culture-wars are: between moral absolutists whose belief-system is threatened unless everyone follows it; and relativists whose beliefs can withstand co-habitating next to people who do not share their beliefs. J. mentioned an article I want to look up about Red Families and Blue Families, which I think was based on some amount of reasonable research.
I just read Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, to try and decide whether I want to see the movie.

It was an... OK (long) short story. It certainly met the weirdness quotient I look forward to in PKD, and the shifting perceptions of what's real. But it was a complete throwback to the 60s/70s, with hippie sensibilities and language, that really made it tough for me to believe it was set in the "future" 90s.

It's not half as good as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it's possibly as good as Minority Report as a short story.

But both of those, I think, were enhanced by becoming movies.

From the preview clip, the film Scanner Darkly looks like Waking Life but instead of lucid dreams, psychodelic drugs and a mystery involving split personalities. I believe the only sci-fi aspects are: the drugs, the feds' "scramble suit" and their holographic detection devices. Meh.

I liked Minority Report. I love Blade Runner. I didn't like Total Recall. I never saw Screamers, Paycheck or Imposter (any recommendations there?) At present, I don't plan to see Scanner Darkly.

Book Review: Fun Home

Wednesday, 21 June 2006 12:02 am
I've been reading Alison Bechdel's memoir, Fun Home. The woman continues to rock.

I don't think I've previously seen a New York Times review so glowing:

If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel's slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, "Fun Home," must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own.

Ms. Bechdel has been working on her memoir since before she started writing and illustrating Dykes to Watch Out For. The effort shows. It's a finely crafted book. The language is considerably more erudite than that of DTWOF. It could have been an affectation, but I think it works. It usually comes across as serious, not pretentious. She invokes a host of writers, including Proust and F. Scott Fitzgerald; she shows that she is both her father's daughter (he himself collected Proust and Fitzgerald) and also gives her another context to be an honest critic of her father.

I loved her description of a family visit to New York City, which she later realizes was shortly after the Stonewall Riots: she knows the absurdity of it, but imagines she could feel "a lingering vibration, a quantum particle of rebellion" in the air.

I also loved her memory of sitting in the living room reading her parents' copy of Dr. Spock, as I did when I was a similar age; she nails the feeling exactly: "Reading [Dr. Spock] was a curious experience in which I was both subject and object, my own parent and my own child."

The topo maps of her home town feel remarkably familiar, since I spent a lot of time staring at the similar one for my parents' tiny town.

And, thanks to the [livejournal.com profile] dykes2watchout4 community, I can report that Fun Home is for sale, in Beech Creek, PA, the town of 800 people where Alison grew up. The house which is a main element of the story; the masterwork of her obsessed and repressed father.

photo from ad; and drawing )

In short: I recommend this book.

Book Thoughts

Saturday, 3 June 2006 11:59 am
Today's Globe and Mail Books section has two new books worth noting:

Iran Awakening by Shrin Ebadi. She's just awesome. From the review:

Ebadi was an esteemed judge in Iran when the shah fell, and she was a supporter of the revolution that brought him down. Like many anti-shah protesters, she had no idea that by helping to bring down the shah, she was "contributing to my own demise." Not long after Ayatollah Khomeini comes to power, she is demoted from judge to clerical work at the Ministry of Justice. Then, she is demoted as a person under "Islamic law" when women are declared half as valuable as men and, among other travesties, unable to divorce without their husband's permission. In typical fashion, Ebadi fights this with a legal strategy. She draws up a post-nuptial agreement that supersedes the country's laws, and she and her husband Javad drive to a notary to make it official and keep their marriage equal.

This — as chronicled in her memoir, Iran Awakening — will be her modus operandi for the next 25 years, eschewing the "chanting of radical slogans" for painstaking legal work that has made her the stealth heroine of Iran, an effective agent of democracy and human rights, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.


Ironically, this book was banned from being published in the U.S.:

She is surprised to learn that U.S. sanctions mean that publishing this memoir in the U.S. could have brought severe penalties, including jail time, for all Americans involved. [...] As winner of the Nobel, she could obtain a special licence to publish in the U.S., but that would do nothing to help other Iranian writers, and writers from other embargoed countries. So Ebadi and her agent, with the help of a legal firm working pro bono, sue the U.S. government, specifically the Treasury Department, to change the regulations.

She wins.


The first chapter of the book is available from the globe and mail link above. It's beautiful. I look forward to reading the rest of it (this will be dan's parents' birthday present to me; they gave me an amazon gift certificate last month...).




The second book is for the foodies on my f-list. Heat
is by Bill Buford, a food-writer for the New Yorker. The full title puts me off a bit; it's Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. But it sounds like an entertaining read. The author is an extremely curious amateur chef, who is taken under the wing of Mario Batali, a somewhat sadistic NYC restauranteur... and eventually surpasses his mentor, at least at pasta, by learning from his mentors in Italy. I expect this book will convince anyone I know who idly thinks of becoming a chef, that they face pain and degradation if they do, at least on the way up...

kid's books

Thursday, 11 May 2006 11:08 pm
One thing led to another and I was just looking for one of my kid-books on amazon.

They have Old MacDonald Had an Apartment Building, which has been reissued. (yay!)

But I realized that the author and illustrator, Judi and Ron Barrett, also did two other books I loved to pieces, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and (probably my favourite), The Giant Jam Sandwich.

Oh, plus Mercer Mayer's Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo. These were the happy stuff of my childhood. I can remember sounding out letters in these, so that would put them at approximately age 4, or a bit earlier.



If, by some chance, you want to raise a kid with an early and strong appreciation for whimsy, these books won't hurt. (Though if you asked my parents, I'm sure they would say they DID hurt, by the 25,000th repetition.)

Mmm. Happy memories.
I've not read d.'s travelogues today (heck, I've not caught up on his 15-post set last week) so apologies if there's overlap.

Yesterday was great )

But today kicked ass )

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