March 2015: My month in books

Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings by Reid Shier

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1 by Tove Jansson

The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of Our Most Valuable Asset by Nick Powdthavee

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Comment ne rien faire by Guy Delisle

Poser by Claire Dederer

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

The Walking Dead, Vol. 03: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman

Saga #1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga #2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

I’ve been trying to track down different photo books of Vancouver. I believe that if one is going to be into photography then they should get to know the photographers who came before them. We learn our history to know where we come from and in part who we are. I also do it to remind myself of how much I still have to learn. I thought that Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings by Reid Shier was a photo book but it is not. It is a book about a photo. The photo is one big long photo of the 100 block of West Hastings. It is an interesting and beautiful photo with a lot of depth and layers to it. The book discusses the photo and the Woodwards building — something I had known was important since moving here, the unavoidable W in the horizon, but not really known a lot about. Now I know a lot more about Woodwards and the history of it and how it relates to the Downtown Eastside. The book is from 2003 so I often wondered how much has changed since then. It would be interesting to revisit the 100 block in the days since the question of what to do with the vacant Woodwards space was settled. Especially how the entrance of SFU and upscale housing has altered the space and presumably pushed the poverty in the area further eastwards.

I’d heard good things about Adrian Tomine and took Shortcomings out of the VPL to check him out. What I got was a disappointingly sour book that left a bitter taste in my mouth. The main character was mostly a pathetic loser. I didn’t relate to his problems, personality or the story about him. Frankly I was glad to be rid of him. I’m a believer that characters have to be likeable and interesting. They don’t have to be perfect but they also shouldn’t make you want to get off the Skytrain a stop early to get out of making small talk with them. I don’t want to hang out with people who are negative and not going anywhere in real life and I especially don’t want to in my reading time.

I read The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway for my somewhat falling apart Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge Book Club — thanks jerk who stole my sister’s e-reader. I will one day get back on track with that. One day.

My sister visited Scandinavia many moons ago, back when we were still young and in undergrad. She came back enamoured of the place, which in turn inspired me to move there — amongst other things. She was particularly fond of this set of characters called Moomin that I’d never heard of before. She said they were the greatest. Now that we’re older most people I know have heard of the Moomin but she was a pioneer. I’ve wanted to read through the Moomin for years and the VPL has the complete series. Vol. 1 was a great introduction. The characters are funny and simple. They have neat little problems and a great philosophy to life. I look forward to diving in farther to their land in the volumes to come.

I ONLY WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE AND PLANT POTATOES AND DREAM!

I have thought that happiness economics are a neat idea since I first heard about them in first-year econ. While my time as an econ minor was fleeting and ended after a harsh run in with having to do math I still like happiness economics. I’ve been meaning to read more about it so I took out The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of Our Most Valuable Asset by Nick Powdthavee. It was an interesting book. There were bits that were better than other and too much on death but a good general assessment of what’s happening in the field. I have added keeping up with the Joneses to my urban planning bingo (with New York City and Bowling Alone). The big upside of happiness books is that they gently toe the line between science and self-help. I was just waiting for someone to come up to me and say, “Why are you reading a self-help book?” To which I would smuggly say, “This isn’t a self-help book. It’s a economics book.” I learned a couple of fun facts like you get used to wealth and death and disability but never fully adjust to commuting (#YesforTransit) or unemployment.

The VPL is quite rude and charges hold fees after your first 50 holds. Between being assigned the third closest library to my house and having to redo my holds and reading about 200 books a year I am really not impressed. User fees suck and I shouldn’t have to pay $75 a year to keep up with my reading. Instead of shelling out for something I think should be free I am adapting. I no longer go to my Goodreads and pick a book I want and place a hold. Instead I have adopted a practice I like to call shopping where I walk into a library and pick out stuff that looks interesting. My local library has a lot of David Sedaris, which is how I came to read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I’m done most of his books by now and stand by my general belief that he is very funny if not kind of a horrible person. I liked the owl one best. I also think he should stop writing things from other people’s perspectives because they’re usually not funny and just weird.

I took Comment ne rien faire by Guy Delisle out of the VPL because they have a lovely French collection and I feel like I should read in French more often. I don’t think I’m ready to read a novel (not that I haven’t taken them out what with my non-existent self-control) so I thought a graphic novel by one of Canada’s best cartoonists would be a nice introduction. It took focus and sometimes Guy Delisle is more weird and crazy than he is funny but for the most part I enjoyed it.

Speaking of which I discovered that there is a Franco Albertan flag and I really love it. I promised myself I would stop talking about flags. Back to books.

I read Poser by Claire Dederer because Joanna Rakoff said it was good at the end of My Salinger Year. Who am I to disagree with Mrs. Rakoff? She is clearly older and wiser than I. I’m generally looking for good books to read especially if they’re by contemporary female memoirists so I put me a hold on Poser. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve done yoga on and off since my university started offering it for free in fourth-year so I got the yoga bits of Poser — I could see how the same people who dislike Elizabeth Gilbert would probably write off a memoir about yoga but the topic was a good choice. I also enjoyed how she threaded it in with a narrative of her life and motherhood.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton is a photo book that was really a photo book. I used up two of my precious holds on it and I think it was worth it. Stanton’s work is stunning and beautiful. Though not the first person to photograph random strangers in the name of documentary photography he is probably the best known contemporary photographer to do it. It helps that he lives in New York, a city that outsiders care about. It also helps that he has put in endless days walking the streets and taking beautiful photographs. The addition of quotes helps enrich them too.

I also read Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger because of Mrs. Rakoff. Unsurprisingly reading My Salinger Year made me want to read more Salinger. I read Catcher In The Rye in high school and thought it was decent. Perhaps I was too contented and not into the word phony enough to fall head over heels for it. I finished it and never really thought about it afterwards. My main memory of Catcher In The Rye is from two of my good friends from my English 30 AP class. We could do our book projects on any book on the AP list and both of my friends happened to pick Catcher In The Rye. They are both male, which may have helped with feeling the the Holden Caulfield vibe. They were both debaters and too competitive for their own good. One of them had gotten one per cent higher than the other. I was also a debater but okay with feeling my happiness internally and staying out of mark comparing — I got one per cent higher than the higher one but resisted the urge to say anything and had done a different book. They proceeded to compare their essays line by line to find the one per cent difference. I proceeded to flee with a few of my friends. It was the end of term and we stumbled up to our English classroom where we informed our teacher of what was happening. He was a cool teacher who ran his class more like a fourth-year seminar than an English class filled with kids too young to vote or drink. He respected us and took us seriously. He was the first teacher to tell us that essays can have more than five paragraphs — the Government of Alberta thinks it is vital that all students be able to write an essay with precisely five paragraphs, an introduction, conclusion and three not four or five or two but three arguments in their own neat and tidy respective paragraphs. We were in awe and didn’t know what to do with all our new found freedom. He told us to tell them that he had been drunk when he marked the higher one and that’s what made it seem better (this was sarcasm for anyone who wants to get worked up about the remark). He had spent two years dealing with us debaters and this was the kind of thing that happened.

Until now that was where me and Salinger left off. I decided to put a hold on Franny and Zooey — sometimes it is worth $0.50 for a book — because Rakoff said that your mid-20s is a good time to read it. If you read Catcher when you are young and angsty then you read Franny and Zooey when you are allegedly an adult but still young enough that you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. I am glad that I did read Franny and Zooey regardless of whether now is an ideal time to read it because it is a really excellent book. The Glass family remind me of the Tenenbaums and Wes Anderson’s characters. They would happily live on Archer Avenue and I’m sure the Tenenbaums could move into the Glass apartment. As kids they had a certain level of precociousness and talent just like the Tenenbaums. I’ve since gotten Salinger’s other two books out of the library.

I’ve made it through three volumes of The Walking Dead so far and Vol. 03: Safety Behind Bars keeps things going along. I still like the characters and the writing is good. It’s more of the same drama and surprising dark events. As usual their plan doesn’t turn out how they thought it would. It was good. I await number four.

A friend of mine started reading Saga a year ago on Goodreads. I asked her about it and she said it was really good. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since and finally got around to it. I quickly plowed through Saga #1 and Saga #2, both of which earned five stars on Goodreads. I do not give out a lot of those. Saga is funny and clever. The plot is interesting. If I stopped and wrote down every awesome thing in it I would end up copying most of the book.

I got Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson for Christmas from my mother. Since the book was a gift I had to make a sincere effort to read it. I’ve only given up on The Secret Life Of Bees and The Waves. It started slowly and I had trouble getting into it. I thought stupid book that I have to finish because of stupid self-imposed obligations. Then about fifty pages in I started to like it. The characters were really good and interesting. Bunty was never terribly fascinating but the rest were really interesting. I was glad I’d stuck it out. Then some books that I couldn’t renew were due back at the library and I got distracted for a while. I decided to ignore more books that needed to be returned because I wanted to finish Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I have another Kate Atkinson book from a little free library. She is a crafty lass.

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