Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not this Albee-holic

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A woman with a grown-out pixie cut, twiggy eye-makeup and green, spiney earrings bearing an uncanny resemblance to sprigs of rosemary.
A highly entertaining Google image search... of rosemary and pixies led me to this pixie quilting website. Of the pixies pictured, I would say the woman I saw reading most closely resembles Trixie Doodlehopper.
On the play's inspiration: "I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf means who's afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who's afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke." —Edward Albee
But who's actually, like, really afraid of Virginia Woolf? [SPOILER ALERT] Martha.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spotted: Después de Babel: Aspectos del Lenguaje y la Traducción by George Steiner

En Inglés: After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation
Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A middle-aged woman with dyed auburn hair in messy schoolteacher curls. I could just picture her dropping the chalk as she adjusts her glasses.
Her glasses had rhinestones on them, by the way. Which totally fits in with the imaginary narrative I concocted in which she plays an endearingly quirky Spanish teacher who lives in an apartment full of potted plants and caged birds. Ever notice how language teachers wear the wackiest garb? (Excluding German teachers, of course.) Her story reaches its dramatic climax when Javier Bardem swoops in to teach her a language she’s never even heard of....
The Language of Love! Which, by the way, is notably absent from Steiner’s book. Apparently getting some fancy Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award makes him too important to enjoy Better Off Dead with the rest of us.
But that's OK... He's still responsible for some of the greatest literary criticism ever, and this seminal text is a fine example of his work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Splash of Southern Heat on a Snowy "Spring" Day: Light in August by William Faulkner

cover of the 1st edition
Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A young woman whose eyes remained glued to the page with singular focus. Her face was all bundled up in soft cozy fabrics, among them a floral print scarf and a mulberry-colored wool hat. 
Never having seen a mulberry in the wild... I'm going to come clean and admit that this color description comes from having read one too many L.L. Bean catalog [hangs head in shame].
Faulkner's books tend to resist summary. Nevertheless I would summarily describe this as a characteristically Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness-type-novel that explores themes of race, Calvinism and isolation. Told in three voices, it centers around the character of Joe Christmas: a man who does not know whether he is black or white.
Good thing Faulker wrote it and not my pals over at the L.L. Bean catalog: Confronted with such a crisis of identity they probably would've written "heather gray" and called it a day.

Behold the probable futurity of the written word.

James Warner really hits it out of the park in this McSweeney's piece. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hide yer daughters! THE BRIDE COLLECTOR is at large!

Where: B-train
Who was reading: An older woman with bleachy silver-blonde hair. Her handbag said "Guess" on it; my guess is pleather.
The pixelated pattern on her mock turtleneck suggested she'd embrace digital... but counter to this irrefutable logic she was reading a plain old paperback.
Since you asked: The eponymous bride collector targets real live women, not vintage bride dolls—not even the ones that walk down the aisle all by themselves at the push of a button.
Brad Meltzer says: "It doesn't just get under your skin. It crawls there, nests, and raises its head with a bitter tug, as if it's living within you."
So the moral is... make sure your shots are all up to date before reading this book—or getting close to Brad Meltzer for that matter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spotted: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A funkily hip African American woman carrying a yoga mat. A rifle-shaped pendant hung from a gold chain about her neck. 
Hope it doesn't make like Dick Cheney... and shoot her Harry Whittington bracelet.
Two girls, one book: Andi lives in modern-day Brooklyn and enjoys popping pills. Alexandrine lives in Revolutionary France and does not enjoy supporting workers' rights and slinging cobblestones at the nobility since she tends to hang with that crowd. How do their paths cross? Through a little diary and a lot of time travel.
An excerpt from Page 322 (since it's 3/22): "Call me a sellout / But I'll make ya shell out / Buy this watch, drink that tea / You'll be just like me / Selling sneakers, selling coffee / The money's sweeter than toffee."
*In case the slashes didn't tip you off these are song lyrics. Obviously they come from the French Revolution part of the book.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spotted: Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

Where: Q-train, standing, rather ironically, in the very back of the last car.
Who was reading: A pale make-up-less girl in a grey hoodie pulled up over her head. Looked kind of like that Juno actress, minus the whole pregnancy thing.
From the mouths of Babes (aka Vanity Fair) Girls to the Front is: "A historical rockument of the revolutionary 90s counterculture Riot Grrrl movement. . . . A rousing inspiration for a new generation of empowered rebel girls to strap on guitars and stick it to The Man."
Jezebel was a bit more critical of the book (as Jezebel is wont to be) but in a bizarrely positive way: "What makes Girls to the Front somewhat difficult to read at times — its lack of a concrete timeline, its focus on individual grrrls rather than the "movement" as a whole—may also be a source of hope… If Riot Grrrl was never one single group or movement, then maybe its implosion was actually an explosion... Maybe it makes sense to think of it, not as a movement with a defined birth, life, and death, but as a fertile period in American history when a lot of smart, angry young women learned how to make noise. And maybe we should rejoice that despite the supposed end of their supposed movement, they're still making noise today."
Commentor "ijustwritebooks" made another valid point: "I wasn't a Riot Grrl, technically. I loved Bikini Kill (still do). I loved Bratmobile. I didn't want to just hold some guy's jacket. And I understood it and identified with it, but I never identified *myself* as a Riot Grrl, and it's frustrating the idea that there were no girls in punk (real punk, not major-label bullshit like Nirvana) in the early 90s who weren't."
And it does kind of chafe... that women involved in the punk scene got lumped into the Riot Grrrl category whether they identified with it or not. Of course this isn't so much a failing of the book, as it is a failing of punk culture. Thank goodness punk is dead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spotted: Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A tall, studious man with rain-dampened hair and stray droplets all over his person, catching the light when he shifted position. A drop or two could even be seen sliding down the book's cover and wearing down the adhesive of a Strand sticker which the reader peeled off mid-ride.
Reviews are mixed (then poured into a lightly greased Bundt pan) with some readers gushing over Talbot and Kamozawa's creativity and ability to inspire, and others reporting difficulty applying the ideas in a home kitchen. Guess this is the sort of book that separates the foodies from the faux-dies.
Who do the authors read? "In my youth, before I ever worked in a restaurant, the writers who I read first and stayed with me the longest include MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, John Thorne, James Villas, John T Edge, Roy Andries de Groot, Jane Grigson, Pierre Franey, James Beard, Nicholas Freeling, Madeleine Kamman, Calvin Trilling, Raymond Sokolov and Mimi Sheraton. I’ve always been a reader." —Aki Kamozawa
To learn more: visit their super-cool blog upon which the book was based.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spotted: Great Expectations (¡en Español!) by Charles Dickens

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A kindly woman with wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose and the book perched right in front. A Jansport backpack rested on the ground between her feet. 
Question for hipster readers: Are these backpacks cool on account of nostalgia or did that moment come and go? Or did I just imagine it?
Oh Pip... Why couldn't he get over Estella and choose someone sensible like Biddy?
Original ending vs. the revision? Personally I prefer the original, in which "she [Estella] gave me [Pip] the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be."
Waaaaaay less sappy than: "I saw no shadow of another parting from her."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slash away the winter doldrums with GIDEON'S SWORD by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Where: B-train
Digital Reader: Nook
Who was reading: Middle-aged Asian woman with salt distributed evenly through her mostly-pepper-hair. An expansive hood shielded her face from the harsh bright light of a post daylight savings Monday.
About: Traumatized boy seeks to avenge dead parents (with a sword!). Complications arise, opening door for sequel.
The nicest review I could find: "This novel isn’t as elegantly written or constructed as the authors’ popular Special Agent Pendergast novels, but it does—once you get past the *back story—hold the reader’s interest." (via Booklist)
*Bear in mind that most of the aforequoted Booklist review was devoted to summarizing a rather lengthy back story.
wtf... is up with the fact that the magnifying glass on the cover doesn't magnify anything? There's even another edition of the book that features a completely different design but the same magnification problem.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fantasy Fridays: Shadowmarch v. I by Tad Williams

Where: B-train
Who was reading: Woman with short russet hair. She wore a button-up shirt that revealed much leathery cleavage.
If she were a fantasy character: she would be the crafty witch who tricks you into an impossible bargain.
Eg. "Before the sun sets on the third day, you've got to get dear ol' princey to fall in love with you. That is, he's got to kiss you. . . . If he doesn't, you belong to me." [Cue interjecting arthropod].
Plot in a nutshell (or something of equivalent size): The kingdom of Southmarch lies on the border of the misty and menacing Shadowline. Enter the vaporous shrouds that lie beyond and sources say you will go mad. But inexplicably, the line is creeping closer, and the nobles of Southmarch have all gone batshit jockeying for position in this time of unrest. Can the Marchlands be saved or are its inhabitants doomed to make like Patsy Cline and go Crazy?
Interested enough to read more? You're in luck! It's the first in a quadrology (ie. a compound work divided into four volumes).

Does Brooklyn hate technology?

An interesting article in The Awl today. The author's logic seems intuitively correct—that Brooklyn, with it's impossibly hip Neo-Luddism would eschew the digital reader—but it doesn't quite jive with my own observations around the borough. I fully support  the removal of dust-jackets, though—particularly the glossy bestseller-type ones. It's singularly unpleasant to spend the morning commute with 6x9 inches of something as garishly popular as Freedom (previously posted abouthovering right in your face.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spotted: Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture by Kenneth Frampton.

That's Kenneth Frampton the architect... not to be confused with Peter Kenneth Frampton, the musical genius behind "Baby, I Love Your Way."
Where: N-train
Who was Reading: Short hamster-looking dude, 30 (basically everyone is 30 when I can’t tell), with bristly whiskers in an elongated oval encasing his mouth and a blue Patagonia coat encasing his body. The book was large and unwieldy, and seemed difficult to read while standing, but the reader declined to take a seat when it became available.
Steven Holl, architect: "The material, detail and structure of a building is an absolute condition. Architecture's potential is to deliver authentic meanings in what we see, touch and smell; the tectonic is ultimately central to what we feel... Kenneth Frampton's new book is important for architects, students and anyone interested in the secrets of architecture."
I certainly hope the material, detail and structure of the cover isn't an absolute condition. They could totes sell more copies if they showed some random blueprints tattooed across Taylor Lautner's chest.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Magazine Madness: A Quiz for Judgmental Readers

Two middle-aged men were flipping through magazines on the D-train. One was reading The Economist, and the other quietly scanned The New Yorker. Can you guess who was reading what?
Quick Aside: People reading magazines? In this day and age? That’s one for the record books . . . assuming someone out there still makes printed record books.
Reader #1: A plaid-clad professor-type with a sad, hound-like face.
Reader #2: Dude in bike shorts with a shaved head (failing to conceal a tell-tale horse-shoe pattern) and thickly veined calves.
The first person to answer correctly... shall receive a FREE copy of a YA unicorn book which he/she must then read in public. Unicorn book can be substituted with a sparkly cat novel upon request.
Hint: Appearances aren’t all that deceiving.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spotted: Elizabeth by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Where: N-train
When: The Dead of Night.
Who was reading: A tall, willowy woman with frizzled hair woven into a braid, and a yellowing paperback clutched in both hands. She seemed utterly oblivious to her surroundings.
A starred review for a star's review: "Ordinarily, readers might question the logic of a new tome on a celebrity who already has at least six full-length biographies (and four self-penned books) devoted to her life, but Elizabeth Taylor has never been ordinary. . . . her roller-coaster life could easily read like a high-sheen soap opera" (via PW ).
Dissipation Sensation: Elizabeth Taylor was the first celebrity substance abuser ever to check into the Betty Ford Clinic, a ritual that would later be commemorated in cartoon song-and-dance on the "Twin Towers" episode of The Simpsons. You might say Taylor was a pioneer, breaking ground for the numberless Mary Kates and Robert Downeys of today. Clearly she did it with a bit more style, though.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spotted: Introduction to Higher Mathematics for the General Reader by Constance Reid

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: An aged man with eyebrows like little lost caterpillars, and a pen in one hand. His copy of the book was yellowed and battered, with notes and cross-outs jotted across each page. The faded cloth binding appeared to be hanging by its last thread, with the pages threatening to slip out en masse. Perhaps an original 1959 edition?
About the Author: Constance Bowman Reid (1918-2010) was a noted writer and builder of B-24 bombers, credited with helping to popularize the subject of mathematics.
A woman? Doing math? When Reid published her first article in Scientific American, readers complained that such articles ought to be written by authorities in the field as opposed to “housewives.”
Because, y’know... authorities in the field of mathematics are all such clear and eloquent writers.
But Constance showed those doubting Thomases... by winning a bunch of cool math prizes, including a Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics for her body of work bringing accurate mathematical information to non-mathematical audiences.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reading Lolita on the Train (not in Tehran)

Reader #1: A 30ish young woman in a turquoise silk head scarf. I was impressed by her calm and reserve given the rage I myself was feeling as our N-train made local stops through lower Manhattan.
Reader #2: A tall, lanky fellow with neatly gelled Don Draper hair and ribbed beige socks showing above his wingtips. He took notes in the margins—like the people in that New York Times article about taking notes in the margins.
Who is the more typical Lolita reader? Clearly #2. I can’t tell you how many disaffected English major type dudes I’ve met in New York who cite this as their favorite book. It’s always disturbed me, slightly.
What disturbs me even more is… the Vanity Fair quote on the cover, which reads “The only convincing love story of our century.” It’s a worthy book, sure, but not a love story.
Further reading for fans (and the cherry atop our cake of disturbance): Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott is essentially Lolita from the little girl’s perspective. Marketed as YA, but definitely more suitable for adults.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spotted: The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp

Where: B-train
Who was reading: A jittery woman with glasses dangling about her neck from an elastic rope. She had a compact red nose like something out of an antihistamine commercial.
UNCORRECTED PROOF—NOT FOR SALE was printed just above a sticker that read $1.00. 
For shame! Second-hand bookstores are among my favorite places to while away an hour or 3, but it really irks me when they sell these advance copies. I'm looking at you, Smith Family Bookstore.
Tag-line from O Magazine : "A very old woman recounts her life story. Sort of."
Which is to say... in this fictional diary of Mathilde Kschessinska, a self-proclaimed mistress of Czar Nicholas Romanov, the 99 year old narrator readily describes her account as a "concoction of fiction and lies." Accordingly, the story raises a number of question marks, but then poetic truth isn't supposed to be about establishing facts, is it? What the book does purport to offer is a unique angle on the Russian Revolution and some of the principal personalities involved.