There are very few authors who write books that haunt me: Neil Gaiman, Kate Chopin. Add to that list Kevin Brockmeier. I didn't think that a book abou...moreThere are very few authors who write books that haunt me: Neil Gaiman, Kate Chopin. Add to that list Kevin Brockmeier. I didn't think that a book about the end of human civilization would have any affect on me; my ignorance led me into this novel fully unprepared for what I would encounter.
Set in the not-so-distant future, The Brief History of the Dead follows the story of a very big corporate "oops": Coca-Cola unintentionally spreads a virus that kills off the entire human population in a very short period of time. Brockmeier manages to stay within the bounds of satire when addressing the Coke folks, and even dredges up some sympathy for the PR managers who must deal with this tragedy. Of course, they don't have time to deal with it before dropping dead of their own creation.
The heart of the story revolves around one woman, Laura Byrd, an explorer in Antarctica and the lone survivor of the mass extinction. The novel alternates between her story and the story of The City, the place where souls go after life and before the final resting place. Citizens survive in The City only as long as someone who remembers them is still alive. Laura, alone and unable to make a connection with anyone in the world, is the light that keeps The City alive.
As the book spirals toward its inevitable end, Brockmeier reveals hints and anecdotes to connect all the characters. He richly illustrates each connection, unfolding relationships and characters so well drawn that I felt them in the room with me. The undercurrent of urgency stands in stark contrast to the evolution of relationships, the slow burn of a cigarette, a leisurely breakfast. The story ends where I thought it would end, with no fireworks or plot twists, but with a sigh that made me realize I was holding my breath. (less)
Densely packed with information, this book is notable for a foray into the history of public transit in some not-so-obvious places. Public transit is...moreDensely packed with information, this book is notable for a foray into the history of public transit in some not-so-obvious places. Public transit is usually discussed in terms of crowded, high-population cities (New York, Boston, Chicago) and the smaller cities and more rural areas are ignored. In the present day, many of the outlying areas have scrapped their public transit systems. However, in an era where culture is moving back toward community and communal living, it is important to acknowledge that it's not just big cities that have a history to pull from as they plan for the future. (less)
Unlike Boston's city- and state-sponsored public transit system, Chicago's system began as a series of entrepreneurial ventures. The various rapid tra...moreUnlike Boston's city- and state-sponsored public transit system, Chicago's system began as a series of entrepreneurial ventures. The various rapid transit lines still stand much as originally designed; the Loop has not undergone any major structural or design changes in over a century! Buildings have been demolished and built around it, but it has remained the same since its inception in 1897.
Cudahy's storytelling was surprisingly riveting, considering the amount of technical and logistical data he packed into 125 pages. This seemed to be the result of the story itself and less the storyteller, though Cudahy's antiquated writing style lended a fitting tone. Chicago has a fascinatingly corrupt history, and the history of rapid transit is no exception to that rule. The book is rife with references to watered down stocks, underhanded dealings, bought-and-sold politicians and fugitive company presidents. The various systems were finally taken over by a state-sponsored regional transit authority (you guessed it, the RTA), which did not, as some would assume, end the corruption and underhandedness.
Since Cudahy's book was published in 1982, the saga has continued full-speed-ahead. Please reference today's Chicago Tribune for more information. (less)
If The Secret left you rolling your eyes, try this book instead. Gawain invokes more spirituality and less judgment by focusing on tools to help reade...moreIf The Secret left you rolling your eyes, try this book instead. Gawain invokes more spirituality and less judgment by focusing on tools to help readers uncover what they really want out of life. She doesn't assume that everyone wants to live the Richistani life, and she certainly doesn't accuse the reader of being too lazy, uninspired, or ignorant to be rich and famous.
Yes, Oprah, I think your book recommendation SUCKS. (less)
Change at Park Street Under freezes Boston's transit history in 1970. Like a photograph from that era, the book itself is yellowed and crumbling. Take...moreChange at Park Street Under freezes Boston's transit history in 1970. Like a photograph from that era, the book itself is yellowed and crumbling. Taken long before I was born, the most recent photos in the book are from a transit era with which I am completely unfamiliar. The historical facts reflect an organization that seems archaic yet extremely effective, as well as a public that supports expansion and usage of public transit. This is stark contrast to the color-coded, inefficient, poorly-run system of my Allston days!
This book is invaluable to my own book research. Cudahy's endearingly dated, academic writing style was a joy to read. The information presented was detailed and concise; so concise in fact that the book is a mere 64 pages long! Cudahy reports fare prices, times, train numbers, conductors and trainmen, routes, newspaper articles, construction projects and related legislative actions. In all my research I have not been able to locate a more complete account of Boston's public transit history. It is a shame that this book is out of print! (less)