Monday, January 31, 2011

Spotted: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A tall Germanic male in weather-beaten shoes that still managed to look expensive and a sleek black coat with the collar pulled up to mid-ear. Clearly a vampire.
And a writer to boot? The gold Uni-ball deluxe behind his ear seemed to support this theory.
Dave Eggers on Colum McCann:Leave it to an Irishman to write one of the greatest-ever novels about New York. There’s so much passion and humor and pure lifeforce on every page of Let the Great World Spin that you’ll find yourself giddy, dizzy, overwhelmed.”
Quoth fellow Irishman/writer Frank McCourt: “Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking heartbreaking symphony of a novel?”
Let’s just hope… he doesn’t go the way of Frank McCourt, rest his soul.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fantasy Fridays: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Where: R-train
Who was reading: A plump teenager, black hair pulled back with a gold scrunchie.
If she could shape-shift into any animal… she would be a young panther—small enough to be mistaken for a house cat, but all the more dangerous for her ability to affect domesticity.
From the Discussion Questions:The werewolfism in Shiver can be a metaphor for many things: losing your identity in a suburban world, cancer, addiction. What else can it stand for?”
What indeed! Perhaps it stands for our collective desire to piss out the fires of civilization and spend our days engaging in physical violence to procure food and pawing indiscriminately at potential mates like those Hardly-Sapiens in Clan of the Cave Bear. Then again, it could also stand for the Publisher’s desire to capitalize on a trendy topic in YA.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spotted: Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Where: B-train
Who was reading: A 30-something woman wearing a blank expression and an oddly shaped knit hat that called to mind an impressionist rendering of a rotted pineapple.
Digital reading device: Nook
Winner of... an ALA Alex Award. Given each year to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults.
Says fellow Alex winner Aimee Bender (in the NY Times): “Room is built on two intense constraints: the limited point of view of the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack; and the confines of Jack’s physical world, an 11-by-11-foot room where he lives with his mother. . . . Jack’s eyes remake the familiar. It is invigorating, watching him learn, and the way Donoghue reveals the consequences of Room through her attention to detail is tremendous.”
This reminds me of... a Louise Bourgeois retrospective I once saw at the Guggenheim. The exhibit featured several miniature rooms, sliced at peculiar angles and decorated with haunting arrangements of mirrors, shrouds and floating chairs. Each room was uniquely disturbing and claustrophobic, and that feeling never fully fled from memory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spotted: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

the author
Where: N-train
Who was reading: A snow-speckled brunette with a fulgent nose ring and rubber rain-boots in houndstooth. She propped the book ajar with a steaming mug of coffee.
Claim to Fame. This book is best known for combining all the graduation cards in the world, and incorporating them into one epic pep talk. 
And while it's hard not to be cynical about something so blatantly intended to inspire, it kind of weasels past your defenses, and makes you feel all positive in spite of yourself
Said Pausch: "If I could only give three words of advice, they would be, 'tell the truth.' If I got three more words, I'd add: 'All the time.'"
The truth? All the time? But what about those of us who can’t handle the truth? I mean, if people never lied, the majority of all novel plots would unravel faster than a poorly wound ball of yarn used as the Quaffle in a Kitten Quidditch match. Much better to leave something as dangerous as the truth “out there” ala the X files.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spotted: Carry on, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Where: N-train
Who was reading: An Asian woman with a brittle, structured hairstyle, wearing a black jacket over ribbed sweater-tights. A quirk at the corner of her mouth undercut the severity of the hairstyle.
What was she smiling at? Could have been this line: “I tell you Bertie, I've examined the darned cloud with a microscope, and if it's got a silver lining it's some little dissembler.”
Or this: “Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welterweight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge. A beastly thing to face over the breakfast table. Brainy, moreover.”
Or even this: “'Yes, sir,' said Jeeves in a low, cold voice, as if he had been bitten in the leg by a personal friend.”
So embarrassing… I used to pronounce Wodehouse rhymes-with-“Toad-house”, as opposed to the way you “Should-house.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Franny and Something Zooey (by J.D. Salinger)

Reader #1: A fresh-faced, strait-laced blonde on the N-train, immersed in a lovingly tattered paperback copy.
Reader #2: A handsome brunette dressed in all-black, clutching a crisp new hardcover on the 2-train. The hood of her coat was the approximate size and shape of a toilet bowl—but one of those fancy toilet bowls.
Clearly . . . this is one of those Betty and Veronica situations. In this case, Archie is played by Salinger and whoever best “gets” his subtexts, gets to make out in the back seat of his infamous jalopy.
But don’t examine that analogy too closely. It’s nearly as dysfunctional as the aforementioned jalopy.
First Sentence: "Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend— the weekend of the Yale game."
Last Sentence: "For some minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling."
Sounds like . . . the moments directly following many a good book.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spotted: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Where: 3-train
Who was reading: A slip of a woman with dyed black hair and dramatic, wolf-like eyes. She had the chalky pallor of one who lives among ideas rather than people or things. I found myself wanting to wander through her thoughts.
According to Tolstoy himself: This novel is “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle."
"Warlock and Peace": Possible title for the Quirk Books spoof (ala Android Karenina). This could be the cover. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spotted: Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson

Where: 3-train
Who was reading: A t(w?)een girl, with galoshes matching the book cover precisely and every fingernail painted a different color. She bent forward in concentration, a sleek curtain of hair swaying as she scanned the pages, while her dozing mother rested a heavy head upon her shoulder.
Asta, apparently... is a word that you can be named. This information is of limited usefulness to me since I’ve already named my future progeny (all ten of them) after characters from the Eragon series. (“Get thee to thy chamber young Galbatorix, it’s Zar’roc’s turn to wield the war hammer!”)
Professional author/blurb-er Margot Livesey writes:Jan Elizabeth Watson has created one of the most appealing fictional heroines I've encountered in a long time. Asta is brave, resourceful, intelligent, and loyal. She also happens to be seven years old, which means she's at the mercy of the unreliable adults who rule her world. The result is a vivid and suspenseful narrative where, over and over again, Asta shows us the world from her own very particular angle. A highly original debut.”
Tin House Books, the company that brought us Asta in the Wings, is a little publishing house in the big wood that is the Pacific Northwest. Although Tin House operates as an imprint of one of the big New York houses, it’s awfully nice to see a West Coast publisher make good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hobo Up and Hop a Train with The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A Renoir-faced young woman with red hair slipping in strands and curtains out of an arrangement that resembled a bun, but not closely.
Moste Peculiarly: She wore regular gloves, rather than the fingerless variety favored by hobos.
By the time she finishes the book… I wouldn’t be surprised if those fingers find themselves sliced off and lying in a waste-basket along with one or two of society’s strictures.
Did anyone else… fantasize about cutting all ties and starting a new life riding the rails after they read this book? It was my 14-year-old dream that never came true. The first of many disappointments [insert sad—but wistful—face].
Luckily, I was able to make up for said disappointment by going all Japhy Ryder and getting naked on a mountain.
What about you, dear reader? How do you compensate for your broken dreams?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Say It Ain't So (oh, but it is) by La Jill Hunt

Where: Q-train
Who was reading:
 A woman with a friendly smile, mole-spangled cheeks, and excellent bone structure.

Paisley. This is the protagonist's name. It is also a popular print. Other character names include: Seymone, Landon and Warren. As far as I know, none of these names have inspired as many scarves as the previously cited eponym.
Here's the product description (from e-bay of all places): "Essence-bestselling author Hunt returns with a drama-filled tale in which the truth remains hidden, lives become threatened, and all hell breaks loose."
Scandalicious! Although it tells us approximately nothing about the book. Still, it does one better than the complete lack of any relevant information on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For shame.
But everything you need to know, (and didn't learn in Kindergarten, or from your cat, or some other mawkish Academy of Twee) you can learn from the cover. And in this case, the cover clearly states: Twilight--only with better pecs and fewer religious hang-ups.
Confession: I giggled like a little schoolgirl when Google gave me the option to "enlarge" this image.

Spotted: The Much Too Promised Land by Aaron David Miller

Where: R-train, late night
Who was reading: A skinny bleached blonde in a white floor-length coat with a fur-lined hood and a studded hand-bag slung over the shoulder.
Next trend = studded fur? Get that buckshot glisten all the girls on Fashion Avenue are raving about!
Having never heard of the book, I assumed it was about: 1. Israel. 2. America (opportunity and promise are close cousins, no?). 3. The Brooklyn Bridge.
Lo and Behold... "This insightful first-person account offers a brilliant new analysis of the problem of Arab-Israeli peace and how, against all odds, it still might be solved (via Amazon )." So there's that. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spotted: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Where: Deep in a fresh drift of snow on one of those elevated N platforms in Astoria.
Who was reading: A cheerful brunette in a red woolen cap, spectacles and fur-lined half-boots.
If she were a fairytale character, she’d be: Rose Red of “Snow White and Rose Red”. I could so see her cavorting through the woods to gather berries and fresh herbs, all the while whistling a merry tune such as the theme from I Dream of Jeannie. (Please note that the best ever version of SW+RR can be found here ).
Says the Harvard Psych Dept: "Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling theory: that language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution like web-spinning in spiders or sonar in bats. . . . The Language Instinct will change the way you talk about talking and think about thinking."
Now, if only . . . we humans could develop the instinct for web-spinning. It might not change the way we talk about talking, but it would certainly change the way we think about trapping and feasting upon small animals—and in some cases, larger game .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spotted: Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Where: N/Q/R Platform, Brooklyn bound
Who was reading: A short, stout women wearing bright red lipstick, a black turban and a rather large brooch comprised of interlocking silver hoops.
Unlike those greedy Wall Street banks . . . this brooch was exactly the right size to fail.
But to "brooch" a new subject . . . The folks over at Viking call this "the definitive story of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego and greed, and, ultimately, the fate of the world’s economy." 
Awards? Accolades? The book received an 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year award (2009). And something called a "Loeb."
Does this mean anything to anyone? Probably Not.
But I don't get it! Why the lack of award-committee love? This book had everything, surely it deserved the Booker Prize, or at least the NBA. It was "the definitive story" of the banking crisis— there was a movie deal for crying out loud! And Sorkin was pretty huge in and of himself—a God among mortal authors. He was young, powerful and connected, there was no stopping him, he was far too big to . . . oh. Right.
Speaking of which (sort of). . . I wonder whether Sorkin referenced the Icarus/Dedalus myth in the book, and if so, how many times.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spotted: The First Wave by James R. Benn

Where: An eatery just outside security at the Portland International Airport (PDX).
Another airport post, really? I know, I know. I just returned from a little trip to the provinces, but I’ll be back to the subway tomorrow, honest!
Who was reading: An off-duty pilot, juggling his book with a carton of Panda Express.
“Can I be the spy on this one?” asked my mother, who had been kind enough to help me kill some time before my flight. "Sure,” I told her, but after 4 or 5 sly laps around his table, she came back—sans results.
“You’re such an amateur, Mom.” I scoffed. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
But much to my chagrin, The pilot’s considerable bulk completely obscured the book from view. No matter how, I craned my neck, all I got was shoulder, shoulder, and more shoulder. I returned to my seat in despair and proceeded to stew while a conversation happened around me. I couldn’t let it go. 
So finally, as we were leaving... I threw caution to the wind and sidled right up behind the man. I was sure my proximity would cause him to turn; some minute breeze roused by my movements would stir the hairs on his neck and condemn us both to an exceedingly awkward interaction....
Instead: success! Maybe it was just an after-effect of the radiation from the body-scanner, but I like to think it was exultation that made the stale airplane air taste sweeter than ever.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Spotted: Happy Hour is for Amateurs: A Lost Decade in the World's Worst Profession

The world's worst profession being: Law
Where: Portland International Airport (PDX) 
Who was reading: A young woman, striding confidently from the arrivals terminal to short term parking with a wheeled suitcase in tow. She held her nose high in the air, and her book right before it.
It’s so impressive... when people successfully read while walking. The last time I did this was probably in grade school, when I made a habit of walking home completely absorbed in one of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. Apropos of which, anyone else think mouse warriors might be due for a comeback?

From the publisher: A juvenile, raucous, and entertaining memoir that follows the antics of one lawyer in Philadelphia from law school to law practice as he devotes 10 years of his life to one of our country′s most popular yet unsavory professions. . . . offers a wry and hilarious look into the monotony of the nine to five workplace and the debauched release that goes on when the sun goes down.
This book would be 9-10 times better if: It didn't have a Tucker Max quote on the cover.
The legal profession would be 9-10 times better if: the constitution were written in rhyming couplets. Also if there were jobs.

Books as decorative accessories? Gag!

If this is the future of the print book, I'll eat my hat.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tired of books on the subway? How about the subway on a book!

Did that just blow your mind? I thought it might.
Anyway... strictly speaking, this isn't a book review blog, so I won't go on at length, but I think it's perfectly fair to take note of a few topical gems every once in a while, don't you? And Subway by Christoph Niemann is clearly one such gem.
Where you know him from: Niemann is the creator of the popular Abstract City blog for the New York Times. If you're unfamiliar with Abstract City, it practically bubbles with quirky delights and is well worth checking out. If you're unfamiliar with the New York Times, then color me impressed that you've managed to stumble upon this blog. The vast majority of cave-dwellers don't even bother with internet access these days. My all-time favorite Abstract City post can be found here.
Want to know more about the book? Read it. Preferably on the subway. Few adult readers have the gumption to crack open a picture book in public, but it's truly a joy to catch them in the act.