Monday, November 7, 2011

Spotted: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A bobbing head in a fluffy white hat, only occasionally visible above the seething hoards packed into the subterranean clown-car I rode for today's morning commute.
Wasn't there just a thing on NPR about how the NYC subway sucks more than ever? Yes, yes there was.
But don't worry, things haven't gotten that bad... "We take every derailment seriously," assured one MTA official.
And if you're really into silver linings, overcrowding on the subway just might be the key to counteracting the breakdown of the American Family: "Another shove, Madame, and I'll have to marry you," one passenger was heard to remark.
But for those who are less-than-eager to enter into matrimony with some random groper... reading remains an option (provided they can find a few inches of space near eye-level and free of human flesh).
The book in a nutshell: Mindy Kaling's Bossypants.
Mindy Kaling in a nutshell [via the publisher]: "the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress [noted for her work on The Office] prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers."
For what it's worth: I've heard first-hand that the book is pretty funny. And at a signing, Ms. Kaling complimented a colleague of mine on her fashionable handbag. So there's that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spotted: Sunny Chandler's Return by Sandra Brown

Where: A-train
Who was reading: A young woman with rigid posture and cat scratches on one hand.
To be fair... the scratches could have come from any clawed animal.
In Latham Green, Louisiana we lay our scene [an excerpt from chapter 1]:
"Who is she?"
"Her name is Sunny Chandler."
"You know her?"
"Since third grade."
"Might have been second grade."
"So she grew up here?"
"Where's she been?"
"All your life?"
The first man frowned as he looked down at the second man...

Criminy! What an opening! Where HAS she been? And why does this mysterious "first man" want to know? Is he attracted to her sexually? The cover art certainly evokes flames of passion. And what about that "second man," he seems to know an awful lot about Sunny Chandler. A suspiciously awful lot. What actually happened in third grade (or possibly second)? And how will first man get his lasso around slippery Sunny, when the secrets that surround her make her harder to pin down than a greased pig?
Only one way to find out: Read the book! ...Or actually, check to see if they made it into a Lifetime movie yet.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spotted: Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A bony brown-haired woman in a brown quilted coat. Her mouth had a pinched look, as though she was holding back a rather sour epithet. Something in "poor taste" no doubt.
Speaking of epithets... I was tempted to vocalize a few myself at this other random woman who kept creeping into my personal space. I'm used to being caught in a crush, but she had this gargantuan mass of itchy, floaty hair that kept drifting into my face, and dandling against the exposed skin of my wrist. By the end of the ride, I was all acrawl with prickly, imaginary lice.
Licelady wasn't reading. Of course. But if she had been, I assume the book would have been "Of Mice and Mange."
Moving on, Chango's Beads
Q: Is it just me or does that cover look weirdly tall? 
A: It is not just me, it IS weirdly tall. 5.98 x 9.01in to be exact.
As in, you must be this tall to read. Recommended for ages 18 and up--according to the publisher's website. 
Could this be a ploy to lure young readers to the book by infusing it with the heady thrill of that which is forbidden. I'm going to go with yes. Definitely.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Well I'll be damned! THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

Subtitle: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.
You mean the Oregon Country Fair? No. 
Burning Man? No. 
The 1893 World's Fair in Chicago? That's the one!
Where: A-train.
Who was reading: A massively tall woman with her hair in a  bun sprouting tendrils like a potato too long in the drawer. She had on a 3/4 sleeve jacket (annoying!) and the sort of ankle-boots one wears when one is an elf going on a quest to a gallery opening on the West side of Bushwick.
Murder: The book tells the story serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes, who used the World's Fair to lure victims to their death in his "World's Fair Hotel," affectionately nicknamed, the "Murder Castle." Instead of the premium channels and in-room jacuzzi tubs commonly found in today's upscale lodgings, Holmes outfitted his hotel with a gas chamber, dissection table and crematorium to dispose of the bodies. Skeletons were sold for a tidy profit to the medical community. 
Magic: Not sure where magic comes in, but here's a little-known publishing secret: stuff on the cover doesn't always have to make sense. 
Madness: Some people thought Holmes was a little unbalanced. And surprisingly, not all of his guests were 100% on board with giving their lives up to (mad) science. So things got a little dicey down Murder Castle Way.
Did I mention this is based on a true story? No? Well it is.
Anyway, good luck getting to sleep tonight. And should you indeed succumb to the sandman's lullaby, I ought to mention that the ghost of Dr. Holmes will be happy to give you a wake-up call....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spotted: Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

Where: Q-train
Digital reader: Kindle
Who was reading: A beer-bellied man in an aqua dress shirt. His nails were whittled practically to the bone, and wedged into fleshy little recesses atop noticeably plump fingers. He had the right amount of scruff on his face, but it was more haphazard than sexy.
Has anyone else noticed how a bunch of cool shit seems to be coming out of Canada lately? Author Steven Erikson is from Canada too. I was amused that the book's write-up on Wikipedia links to an article explaining the concept of Canada: "a North American country consisting of ten provinces and 3 territories..." Helpful.
The wiki also features a totally killer book synopsis, explaining just a fraction short of nothing:
"Dire portents plague his nights and haunt the city's streets like fiends of shadow. Assassins skulk in alleyways but it seems the hunters have become the hunted. Hidden hands pluck the strings of tyranny like a fell chorus. Strangers have arrived, and while the bards sing their tragic tales, somewhere in the distance can be heard the baying of hounds. All is palpably not well."
OooOOooo, Spooky! And since this is book 8 in an epic fantasy series, you only have to read 7 other novels before you yourself can palpate the unwellness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Real-life MOCKINGJAY Occupies Wall Street

Where: A-train
Who was reading: A large man in a sweeping black coat/cloak(?) sure to fire the envy of many a Neil Gaiman fan. From his mandible sprouted a rambling bramble-bush of beard and from his cranium, dyed black hair hung in rebellious waves.
Unsurprisingly for such a wild-haired gent, he boarded the train near the "Occupy Wall Street" encampment.
Suzanne Collins's Capitol vs. Wall Street Capital-ism:
The Capitol forces 24 children to engage in a fight to the death on live television each year. Viewing is mandatory, and serves as a tool to repress popular revolt.
Capitalism causes thousands to die of diseases that are easily preventable, and starvation where food is abundant, by allowing essential resources to concentrate in the hands of a few, while providing inadequate side-payments and/or social safety nets to support those in need.
Capitol is worse. Clearly. All those Hunger Games viewers should be reading a book—Lord of the Flies, say—instead of zoning out in front of the idiot box.
Violent books > Violent television. Always.

Friday, September 30, 2011

This train is headed... TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

Cover of the 1st edition
Where: B/Q platform. Soon after I spotted this reader, she boarded a briskly running B-train while I was left waiting for the Q to saunter into the station 10 minutes late like a stoned highschooler.
Who was reading: A tall blonde with short floaty layers of hair that drifted around as though touched by an errant sea breeze. Of course any current in the air would have come from deep within the subway tunnels, so less "sea-breeze" than sewer's sigh.
Invisible breeze aside, what about her really blew you away? She toted a tote-bag emblazoned with an artist's rendering of the storefront of Shakespeare & Co. booksellers.
Did she really? Totes.
But isn't this supposed to be a post about a book? Why yes, yes it is.
So, Fun Fact: This introspective tour de force by Virginia Woolf stole 15th place on Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels, though it only ranked 48th on the companion list selected by readers.
3 books readers ranked higher: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Battlefield Earth by L. Ron. Hubbard, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
And that's why... we have boards of educated persons to tell us what's good.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Spotted: Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung and Aniella Jaffe

Where: N-train
Who was reading: Woman in black shorts with white polka dots and a gauzy white ruffle shirt.
All just for Shoe: She had these incredible high-heels hewn of rubber and chrome—I'd say they were at least a decimeter if they were an inch. And the heels themselves looked like those rubber prongs that poke out of walls. You know, the things that prevent your doorknob from smashing into the wall repeatedly? Dead useful, those.
Forever Jung: This pseudo-autobiography chronicles the life and work of famed psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, exploring in depth his lifelong study of the human psyche. Co-author Jaffe was hired by Pantheon to write the book, but as it progressed, Jung himself became increasingly invested in the project and ended up writing several chapters.
Too many contributors in the kitchen? When Jung passed away, the still-unpublished manuscript was contested on several fronts:
"Jung's family, in the interest of keeping Jung's private life from the public eye, pushed for deletions and other changes. Those involved in its publication demanded massive cuts in the text's length to keep the price of printing down. JaffĂ© herself was accused of censorship when she began exercising her Jung-appointed authority as editor to reword some of his thoughts on Christianity she deemed too controversial (via Wikipedia).
Yikes! And I thought it was a catastrophe when the copyeditor tries to insert too many commas. But eventually they published the darn thing, and based on a quick survey of Amazon reviews, the book has come to mean a great deal to a great many people--which is great!
"Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore the equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable--perhaps everything." –C.G. Jung

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spotted: Hark! A Vagrant by the inimitable Kate Beaton

Where: The back room at Korzo Restaurant in Park Slope. Jazz was happening there.
Who was reading: Some guy. Comic geek, naturally. But what's supercool is that I also saw him at the Hark! release party earlier that night. 
What are the odds... that two people, of their own independent volition, migrate to the same obscure jazz show in Brooklyn from a comic book signing in Soho?
Actually, not that slim. Weird birds flock together, now, don't they?
For those of you unfamiliar with Kate Beaton... What the heck are you doing reading about some doofy book sighting?! You should be out buying the book, or blissfully drowning yourself in her archives! Archives that include such gems as the following:
Hark! A Vagrant is a webcomic-turned-book that primarily features historical and/or literary figures (with the occasional David Bowie strip thrown in). Beaton looks at history through the lens of our more modern sensibilities, often to great comic effect. She plays with context and bends well-known personalities as it suits her, notably in the case of Nancy Drew. Here, she fleshes out the action scenes depicted on the covers of Carolyn Keene's  beloved Nancy Drew books, showing what someone who has not read the books might imagine them to depict—assuming, of course, the imaginer is completely insane.
Kate Beaton's is one book I'd like to spy more often. And maybe, just maybe, some self-styled Nancy out there will spy me right back.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spotted: Delizia: The Epic History of Italians and their Food by John Dickie

Where: B63 bus from Sunset Park to Park Slope, Brooklyn
Who was reading: A wispy sort of brunette with a wilting updo that would have been well suited to one of Jane Austen’s heroines.
Phrenology may have gone the way of the dodo… but for those who actively practice and adhere to the tenets of Rhinopsychology (ie. me, and maybe my mom?)—the bony contours of her schnozz showed unequivocal proof of great personality and intellect.
A People's History of the United Steaks: Delizia is as much a social history as it is a tale of cuisine, establishing ties between the flavor and character of a people in turmoil and the edible matter  with which their teeth, tongues, and esophagi came into most frequent contact over the years.
The Sunday Times of London called it: "A book that is as much a feast of horrors as delights...[Dickie's] book is hard to fault: densely researched, enlightening, and consistently moreish."
Includes recipes! Such as the Silvio Berlusconi-inspired "Bunga Burger": an old cut of mutton sandwiched between two hot tamales and advertised relentlessly across all channels of media. It's worth noting that many Italian traditionalists find this particular dish distinctly unappetizing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spotted: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: An old man whose skin was crinkled and yellowing like an ancient scroll. He wore a hempen button-up patterned with new-agey swirls resembling paramecia, and sweaty coils of graying chest-fur peeked out from the V where the top buttons joined. An arm dangled listlessly across his lap like a sleeping baby.
Why anyone would leave their baby in a petri dish of paisley paramecia... is beyond me. Maybe it toughens up the immune system?
Anyway, that book title seems a little over the top, no? In fact it takes pride of place among the  great deceiving titles of our day, a venerable list that includes such varied tomes as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and The Neverending Story.
They should have called it "All the Ways the World Can End." That's the major takeaway I got from the book in any case; that life on earth is perilous and accidental—constantly on the brink of collapse—yet at the same time humorous and fascinating. 
Especially (and this is the key) when you filter it through the droll voice of Mr. Bill Bryson. That man writes nonfiction like it's a pop song. Catchy.