My month is books: August 2015

The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire

Urban Nation by Alan Broadbent

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 4: Endangered Species by Jeff Lemire

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitats by Jeff Lemire

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 6: Wild Game by Jeff Lemire

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

I keep telling myself that I am going to do this as I go along instead of waiting until the end of the month when I am forcing myself to post it and all of the books I read have blurred into a multi-coloured jello and are hard to pick apart. I never do it because that’s how life goes but I am going to try.

This will also be my last month for a year of freely reading whatever I want for fun. I was happy to get back into reading for pleasure again during my exchange. I had a lot of free time and wasn’t sure what to do with it so I got back into reading. I think I’ll spend more time watching Netflix next year. The problem with being a student is that you have more readings than you can possibly do so reading something else seems impossible. If you’re going to read make it a textbook or article.

The first book I finished this month was The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes. It is a new graphic adaption of the age old tale. I know nothing about the story and how it has been presented before so my thoughts are totally separate from that. I really liked this graphic novel. It was a surprisingly fast read. The art and layout is beautiful. The colour choices are excellent. Parts uses a blueish palette that is lovely. A later section is only in black and white for dramatic effect. Hayes can sure draw. The story throws in lots of clever modern details and has a great environmental angle. I don’t know how often ocean pollution crops up in the original but it was a big theme here. It’s a big issue and the work does a great job of highlighting it.

I’ve wanted to read Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne for a long time. I’ve been tempted to order it online. I went to one of the libraries in Vancouver to scope it out but didn’t find it. It was a refreshing twist from the books I normally read about cycling and urban planning. They are a lot more technical and often end up sounding exactly the same β€” you can only talk about the same stuff for so long before you end up writing the same thing. This format can be really good and there are some people who elevate it. Otherwise it leaves you thinking I’ve read this information at least ten times already somewhere else and I don’t care anymore. If I were to write a book about cities I would try to find new cities and people to talk about.

Anyways Bicycle Diaries has the tone of a blog or journal that Byrne keeps while riding around different cities during his different travels. It reads like a travel book where he rides a bike around a lot. I like the take he has on the different places he visits and learning about his relationship to his bike. Since it’s a first person book and it’s about whatever Byrne was thinking or doing it doesn’t feel as tired as those other books. I’m glad I finally got around to reading this.

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman is a pretty book I’ve been seeing around. She was inspired by wandering around Prospect Park in Brooklyn β€” who doesn’t live in Brooklyn β€” to do an illustrated guide to some of the natural phenomenons around her. It’s a very pretty and interesting book. It would be perfect to give to a child to help them build an appreciation of nature. I found it could get a little more like a kids guide than a pretty coffee table book. Otherwise the illustrations were beautiful and the information was interesting. It would be cool for there to be a similar guide to the Rockies.

The last four volumes of Sweet Tooth brought surprises and were filled with bitter sweet moments. The story arch nicely wove its way to a clever ending. Lemire is a talented graphic novelist and his series was well worth reading.

Urban Nation by Alan Broadbent was excellent and poignant at times but also argued in favour of some very ridiculous things that will never happen. It provided an excellent overview of the situation of cities in Canada and how bad their funding situation is. He made raised points about all the responsibilities that have been offloaded on to them and how poor of funding partners other levels of government have been. I whole-heartedly agreed with many of his points. Sadly, the book argued for some crazy things like making Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver their own provinces while amalgamating certain regions into new provinces. As if that will ever happen or even should. When you argue for crazy things it hurts the credibility of your other arguments. It also completely ignored other cities like Calgary as books so often do.

Overall Urban Nation is worth reading for any Canadian at least until a more moderate and up to date book about transit funding in Canada can be written (publishers note I would love to write this). Understanding why our cities have failed to keep up with the burdens placed upon them and with cities elsewhere is key to making the changes we need to make. Every premier and mayor should read this.

I love Alice Hoffman and the way her books tend to unfold. Her books usually feature a few things: siblings, a character who makes bad choices, sex. The Ice Queen was similar to the other two I’ve read. I picked it up because I was early for meeting someone and had forgotten to bring a book. It was the cheapest book by an author I liked at the downtown Chapters. Hoffman is a skillful writer and knows how to create an interesting story. I also liked that this was the first book I’ve read by her with stronger male characters and a brother instead of a sister. It’s a bit of a shift from the usual dynamic (Dovekeepers, Practical Magic) but nice to see her depth. I think I will always gravitate towards her books when I am killing time in a bookstore and need something to read.

I got Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon at a Little Free Library in Cedar Cottage. I am always surprised by the quality of books you can find at them and snapped it up. One time I saw a Zadie Smith book but was headed out and didn’t want to carry something extra. It was gone by the time I was headed home. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Telegraph Avenue was not as good as that. It still had some of Chabon’s charm but I easily put it down and was distracted until I made a concerted effort to finish it. Part of the problem was that he decided to go with black characters in Oakland instead of Jewish characters in New York. He gets what it’s like to be Jewish and convincingly wrote about it. His black characters seemed forced and awkward. These humans were not as real or believable. Perhaps he should have written about being Jewish in Berkley instead. Or maybe it’s that he wasn’t as good at writing adults. I found Titus and Julius to be the most interesting and compelling characters in the book. Both were teens and struck more of the notes that were in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I don’t think I’ll be desperately seeking out any more Chabon books after Telegraph Avenue. There are other books to read.

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