This was a pretty good collection of short stories. The first few were quite good but I felt that some of the stories in the middle dragged a bit, or...moreThis was a pretty good collection of short stories. The first few were quite good but I felt that some of the stories in the middle dragged a bit, or I just never connected with them. The last few stories were very good though.(less)
This was a mixed bag for me. Some of the stories (mostly the ones with plots) were quite good and rather inventive. Some just seemed more at home in t...moreThis was a mixed bag for me. Some of the stories (mostly the ones with plots) were quite good and rather inventive. Some just seemed more at home in the philosophy section. The middle of the fiction section was mostly composed of the latter. It got tiresome reading an endless list of names followed by a some ruminations on the nature of . I don't know exactly what it was that made a story fail or succeed in this collection. I suspect that a lot of it had to do with reading too many of them too quickly (they are all quite short). So the tricks and techniques got old after a few stories. Perhaps some of the stories I didn't care for will appeal to me when I dip into this collection again in the future.
I haven't read the essays yet and I may put them off and instead read the rest of his fictions (though at a more leisurely pace) in Penguin's Collected Fictions. (less)
This book approaches the problem of sprawl from in a unique and non-divisive way. It Orfield starts by refuted the assumption that the "suburbs" are r...moreThis book approaches the problem of sprawl from in a unique and non-divisive way. It Orfield starts by refuted the assumption that the "suburbs" are rich and cities are poor. He shows through many charts and maps that the suburbs are quite varied and that they face many of the same problems as central cities. He also shows that a rich area will soon face the same problems. From this more equal footing he lays out the problems that each layer of the metropolis faces now (or will face in the near future). These include declining tax base, declining schools, aging housing stock, and failing infrastructure.
Orfield puts for the idea that regionalism is the only solution to these problems. Fragmented metropolitan governments (Pittsburgh for example has 412 governments in its metro-area) that compete with each other and only protect their own cannot save a region. If one suburb rejects a development of 2,000 homes on 2-acre lots each without proper sewage, another area in the region will accept them. All the first region has done is lose tax revenue and keep their tiny pocket of the metropolis nicer. The region as a whole will still be harmed by the development when the septic tanks fail and the state bails them out (by diverting funds that could've gone to that first suburb). Fragmentation also reduces efficiency and increases costs for residents.
Orfield's approach is systematic and very easy to follow. He lays out the problems and then shows real world examples of how communities have tried and failed to deal with them on their own. He also shows examples of places where regionalism is currently working.
With the case made for regionalism he moves onto showing how to sell the idea. Going with the idea that there are many varieties of suburbs, he shows how the solution should be sold to each one. He then lays out some general guidelines for dealing with the process.
I liked the straight forward writing in this book. It was a little dry but very easy to understand. The maps were colorful and plentiful but were offered with too little commentary and many were too far removed from the text. They still provide a good reference. I also felt that some of the recommendations were a little too broad to be very useful. This is more of primer, to get you thinking about regionalism. I would have liked to see a bit more attention paid to the specifics of how regionalism would work, but I guess that might be outside the scope of this book. Still, it was a very good, level-headed analysis of the current situation in our metropolitan areas.(less)
In addition to what everybody else will tell you (the great political story, the intriguing and scarily prescient events, the great humor, etc...) I f...moreIn addition to what everybody else will tell you (the great political story, the intriguing and scarily prescient events, the great humor, etc...) I feel the need to point out how well structured this novel is. It jumps around time but in a way that never had me confused. I also really enjoyed the way most of the chapters, while connected to the previous and following chapters, worked as short stories by themselves. This is especially true of the early chapters, and breaks down a little near the end. The chapters breaks never feel like they are just there to give you a breather; they are there because something has been explored, and now it is time to explore something else. This isn't to say that the book is episodic like Black Swan Green, where each chapter is almost entirely isolated from the rest. Instead, each chapter tells a story within the larger narrative. In my experience it has been rare to finish a chapter in a book and say, "that was a good story". (less)
I liked this book. It moved quickly and for the most part I thought the characters were well developed. My only complaint with the characters was near...moreI liked this book. It moved quickly and for the most part I thought the characters were well developed. My only complaint with the characters was near the end when a whole bunch of shit hits the fan and the deadpan writing starts to feel thin. I liked Johnna but felt that some of her reactions were a bit lacking and unrealistic. I was annoyed by Swin's attitude though I thought he was better realized than Kyle. I never really clicked with Kyle, who I think entered a life of crime because it turned out he was god at it. You have to figure that some people just are, just as some people are really good at composing music. That was interesting, but Swin's case was more difficult. His hyper inflated sense of himself (while annoying at times) perhaps made him think that he was above everything. He felt a pull though towards the blue collar, towards the normal life. It was this conflict that made his story interesting. Frog's story made for a fun interlude, but his breakdown at the end fell flat for me. Other than these complaints I liked the novel and finished it quite quickly. I almost didn't read it after reading the positive (but obnoxious) review in the SF Chronicle. It isn't really pertinent, but that review made me cringe.(less)
I liked a few of the stories in here. Jim Shepherd's story stands out. Tight Like That was just weird. The Crack was quite good. I couldn't stop readi...moreI liked a few of the stories in here. Jim Shepherd's story stands out. Tight Like That was just weird. The Crack was quite good. I couldn't stop reading Stephen King's novella, though at times I wanted to. It was very long, too long in fact, but still very readable. Do not read this story if you have a weak stomach. It is not your typical horror material, but it will churn things up. There was one story that I just couldn't read. I started but after a page I decided that it made no sense to me, so I stopped. I'm standing by that decision.
The two books of artwork were also quite nice. Of course the whole package was lovely. Everything is printed on such nice paper and bound together so well. All in all, a pretty good time.(less)
Well, I thought Everyday is Mother's Day was dark. Wow! There are some parallels between those two books as well. A character in Everyday is Mother's...moreWell, I thought Everyday is Mother's Day was dark. Wow! There are some parallels between those two books as well. A character in Everyday is Mother's Day is haunted by ghosts, just as Allison, the main character in this novel is haunted. At first it seems a straight up ghost story, but don't be fooled. Gradually Allison begins to uncover the connection between the ghosts she sees and her traumatic past. I liked that approach to her problems. It made them more interesting and more mysterious. I did feel the book took a little too long to get where it was going. Still, I was drawn into her story, her struggles with the ghosts that are both her livelihood and her tormentors. In her professional capacity as a "medium" she tries to remain upbeat, filtering the horrible afterlife as honestly as she can, but always trying not to "scare" the audience. The "fiends" that follow her around are truly scary, more so as the novel progresses, as the fiends are shown to be more real. Which is what works so beautifully in this novel, the idea that real life is infinitely more frightening than ghosts.
Ultimately Allison attempts to come to grips with her past, to be a medium for her own ghosts, just as she does on stage for the "punters". It isn't a beautiful or spiritual process, but an ugly one where things bubble up from the depths. Indeed things are always bubbling up from beneath in her world. White worms, sludge, noxious weeds. The neighborhood, a boring subdivision hastily built in the middle of field, like so many of the "exurbs" we have today, is falling apart. As soon as she moves into her new house (where there is no history, no ghosts) the thing starts falling apart. Nobody wants to talk about it though because they're afraid their housing values will be ruined. Damaged goods. Just like Allison, scarred both physically and emotionally by her past.(less)
Lydia Millet starts this novel out with great humor. The description of T's obsession with money is a great hook. I started to worry a little way into...moreLydia Millet starts this novel out with great humor. The description of T's obsession with money is a great hook. I started to worry a little way into the book that this starting point was going to be overwhelming, that the metaphor would cause the rest of the book to collapse. Millet seems to have no such concern and delves headlong into the narrative. It doesn't take long for those concerns to be put to rest as the characters (especially T.) start to shine. T. turns out to be a very well rounded and well thought out character. There is a lot to like in this novel but I did find the Beth subplot to be a little underdeveloped. I wanted to see her and T. together more to make her importance seem more real. She just never felt right to me. For the most part the characters are treated well. I love the way T's mother is described, especially in her later solitude. Her obsession with puzzles and the pure joy she feels when she is about to share that love with another is humorous, but also quite touching. I did feel like the end of the book was dragging a bit. Most of the novel is written with a certain amount of economy, never spending too much time with any given scene. The last bit in the jungle started to wear out its welcome. The insights that T. gains make up for it. There are some wonderful meditations on nature and human institutions in here. I liked the transformation that T. undergoes and his awakening to the plight of soon to be extinct animals. It feels hard won.(less)
I liked this book but felt that the Harper's essay he wrote was better. This book wanders too much and Reece spends too much time telling the reader t...moreI liked this book but felt that the Harper's essay he wrote was better. This book wanders too much and Reece spends too much time telling the reader that "it's all connected". I get it and think that it is an important message, but it doesn't need to be given in each chapter. He also spends far too much time taking pot shots at religious people, especially in the conclusion. It's supposed to be about mountain-top removal. Still, there was a lot of good, most of which was covered in the Harper's essay, but expanded in the book. I would have liked to see a bit more technical information though. More charts and graphs, fewer unlabeled pictures. The book wanders but the main path is still good. Strip mining is destroying mountains, communities, and people's lives. I got the point but I already agreed. If he had toned down the pantheistic talk, took fewer shots at religious people and quoted less poetry (there are a surprising number of poems in this book) his point could have reached a wider audience. The impression given by the book to somebody who doesn't already few environmental degradation as a sin is that strip mining makes Gaia feel bad. Also, footnotes and an index would have helped and would have made the book feel more concrete. As it is, there is just a loose assemblage of sources and further reading in the back of the book, no facts are cited. Still, it is very readable and quite enjoyable, especially if you care about ecology.(less)
This is a very quick but sad read. It is the story of a man who feels increasingly disconnected from the world. He feels at first disconnected by the...moreThis is a very quick but sad read. It is the story of a man who feels increasingly disconnected from the world. He feels at first disconnected by the banality of his home life. Food is utilitarian, as are the bridges over train lines that had seemed so lovely, such a flourish, until he discovered that they were there to help people cross the tracks safely. He tries to please people, plays the clown, but they always penetrate this cover. This increases his fears and eventually he turns away completely. While it is bleak, it is also a very interesting examination of an alienated human. He is alienated from society, but as the narrator says, "what is society but an individual?" It is not that he feels like an outcast from the impersonal "society", but instead he feels like an outcast from each individual. Certainly a terrifying thought.(less)
The idea that cities are the main economic unit is intriguing and argued well. I cannot critique the argument though as I know so little about econmic...moreThe idea that cities are the main economic unit is intriguing and argued well. I cannot critique the argument though as I know so little about econmics. Still, it made sense for the most part. The organization in the book is usually good though I was at times annoyed by her sentence structure.
The book is rather dated (what will become of those Soviets?) but sounds remarkably fresh in the context of the "buy local" movment. This book and Jacobs' ideas should be adopted by those who are dedicated to getting people to purchase from local producers. It makes sense because not only do the profits from Wal-mart stores (or Starbucks for that matter) not stay in the local economy (they go to Arkansas or Seattle) they also stifle local stores and producers. The stifling of local stores is obvious but if you look around in a Wal-mart you'll start to notice that very few items are from your local area. Which makes sense for the stores, they buy in bulk from national producers, not local ones. When you start to think of cities and not states or countries as the primary economic unit, you realize how bad that is. Even if Wal-mart were to buy US made products, that would do little for the small producers in Rochester.
Jacobs would probably point out that even if the producer in Rochester were to make a better product than a producer in Phoenix, for the same price, Wal-mart would probably go with the Phoenix producer if they were larger; so Rochester would continue to stagnate. Everybody else in the country would be fine with that until the same thing happened to their own city's producers, or God forbid, Wal-mart selected suppliers in China. (What would that be like?) The US based example seems like a wash when you look at the economy on a national level; it starts to look disastrous when you look at city economies like Jacobs would have us do. Maybe if the economy weren't currently in the toilet I would be a little more skeptical, but given the current situation and nearly endless string of recessions, I'm inclined to buy Jacobs' vision. So, buy local.(less)
In describing a certain way of viewing the landscape, Kunstler makes the observation that a Jacksonian student of landscape can study a fast food plac...moreIn describing a certain way of viewing the landscape, Kunstler makes the observation that a Jacksonian student of landscape can study a fast food place (in his example a place called the Red Barn that looks like a red barn) and "never arrive at the conclusion that the Red Barn is an ignoble piece of shit that degrades the community." There is the thrust of Kunstler's book, a stirring if somewhat flawed look at our degraded landscape. The book takes us on a whirlwind tour of the history of the United States, from the puritans through the evil that was modernism. We learn about early town planning, how it varied from state to state depending on the prevailing community values. As we pushed ever further into our growing land mass, we lost that community and turned inward. It really turns to shit though when we arrive in modern times and that dastardly movement known as modernism rears its ugly head. Modernism is a sort of favorite punching bag these days. Kunstler is very hard on it, pretty much blaming the artistic movement for the disaster that is suburbia. In that respect I find Adam Rome's The Bulldozer in the Countryside more convincing. In that book we get a more solid, less "ignoble piece of shit" based argument. Rome lays out the economic conditions in a more methodical way and takes apart your average suburban house to show why it is an ignoble piece of shit. Kunstler just seems to hate how it looks. The tone changes a little later on and he elaborates on why suburbia is bad and what exactly is bad about it(height restrictions, lack of mixed uses, set back requirements). I also find the arguments put forth in David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity to be instructive. Harvey argues (and this gels with Rome's argument) that much of the "modern aestetic" came, at least in part, from the discovery of new building materials and techniques. Harvey agrues that the return to ornamentation in the postmodern period is a result of a refinement of those techniques. Kunstler also ignores the fact—again brought up by Rome—that the traditional way of building houses was not up to the task of dealing with the postwar boom, and that it was not so much an embrace of modernist design as an embrace of economical building practices. Oddly enough, it is his relentless attack on aesthetics that provide this book with its relevance. While Rome's book is more technical (it has a lenghty chapter on the problems of septic tanks), Kunstler focuses on ecology and how we interact with places. I don't think that I agree entirely on the aesthetic principles he seems to favor (I don't think the garish colors used on Pinkberry locations harms the fabric of the Village), but I do agree that the look of a building (and how it "interacts with the street") is important (I lean more towards the iteraction aspect). The last part of the book deals with efforts to bring back this sense of community, or at least provide us with pretty things to look at. We learn about Traditional Neighborhood Design (part of New Urbanism), land trusts (to save farmland), and what sounds like Transit Oriented Design (though it isn't called that in the book). He does a good job of not focussing too much on the look of buildings in Seaside (the TND posterchild), instead focussing on community. (This book came out too long ago to evaluate how successful that project has been, perhaps there is an updated edition?) He also points out the oft-forgotten part of the Seaside development, that it could only have been built in the middle of nowhere because of the zoning regulations that were present in Florida at the time. Many critics harp on the remoteness of Seaside (and the fact that it is a new development, which means it isn't exactly preserving open space), claiming that it is a glorified suburb. I like that Kunstler focusses on the functioning of this town and the difficulties the developers had in bringing it about. He also makes a point of referring to it as a demonstration project. He does however mention other developments in the same vein, but fails to address the fact that these are also entirely new developments. A few pages later he expresses his desire to see a new, more "sustainable" form of development. Surely filling up more land with deveopments cannot be considered sustainable. I guess what I wanted was more talk of rehabilitating broken places (if it is possible to save suburbia) and reusing abandoned cities (of which there are many). Many of the faults are minor (his hatred of modernist architecture is forgivable and not too central to his argument), so I do recommend this book. It is entertaining and passionate; passion for city planning is something we need to see more of in America. I can't really blame him for his indignant tone. After reading about all the ways in which compentent city planning is actually illegal in this country, one can't help but be angry. Kunstler provides a great introduction to the issues that doesn't get bogged down by dry analysis. It moves along quickly and will hopefully inspire readers to learn more about the issues that are brought up.(less)
The three part issues always let me down a little. The Where to invade next thing is interesting but not very much fun to read. Also, too many of the...moreThe three part issues always let me down a little. The Where to invade next thing is interesting but not very much fun to read. Also, too many of the stories are excerpts from larger books. I was also a bit annoyed by the two stories that were cut in half. I picked up the second book first and got very confused very quickly. Though to be fair, both of those stories kinda worked without their first halves. Some good stories but I wish there had been more.(less)
This was a bit slow to start. The author just throws you in, providing clues to the setting as you go along. Full of meaning and symbolism. The story...moreThis was a bit slow to start. The author just throws you in, providing clues to the setting as you go along. Full of meaning and symbolism. The story goes quickly and is interesting. My only problem with it is that in the middle of the book you get a lot of dialogue, which is written in a strange half spanish vernacular. I've never been a fan of strange or made up languages in books. My eyes start to gloss over and the joy of reading quickly turns into pain. Still, the dialogue lets up near the end and I started to really enjoy it again. It's the sort of book you can't stop thinking about.(less)
I liked this one. The pictures of horses were nice. Also, Yuri was entertaining. The Joyce Carol Oates story was good and I liked that it was dedicate...moreI liked this one. The pictures of horses were nice. Also, Yuri was entertaining. The Joyce Carol Oates story was good and I liked that it was dedicated to Leonard Cohen. Love, The Frontier rubbed me the wrong way and I didn't finish it. The last story was pretty good too, but it was mostly cute. The naming of the islands story was interesting as well. The story about Peacekeepers was a bit uneven and possibly too long, as was the Tower. The Tower was funny and interesting, but just too long. The production values are great as always. (less)
David Harvey holds your hand as you explore the complexities of Postmodernism, a term that is getting used more and more frequently. While this book i...moreDavid Harvey holds your hand as you explore the complexities of Postmodernism, a term that is getting used more and more frequently. While this book is too old to explore the postmodern qualities of Hanna Montana (a subject I overheard being discussed at a party once), it does seem remarkably fresh. I especially enjoyed how Harvey seems to predict the future when he discusses the financial collapse of 1987 and relatively small impact it had: "re-scheduling the crisi-tendencies of capitalism into the twenty-first century."
The text is dense but readable; prior knowledge of deconstructionism would probably help you get through this quicker. A good background in Historical-Materialism would be good as well. I was not quite prepared for so much talk of economics, but it fit well and I found his line of reasoning to be very persuasive. By the end of the book I was glad that Harvey so skillfully explored the ways in which culture and economics interweave. I don't think I'll ever again turn my nose up so quickly when I'm offered the Business section of the newspaper.
Harvey moves effortlessly throughout the many facets of society. He traces the history of our experience of time and space form the enlightenment to the modern era, shows us how Fordism was transitioned into flexible-accumulation, and then ties it all together with some commentary the nature of Postmodernism. At times the discussion gets complicated (be prepared for lots of economics) but Harvey's writing is structured in such a way that it doesn't matter all that much if there are a few things you miss. (less)