I think the author described it best when he said this book is "basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than beinI think the author described it best when he said this book is "basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it's an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind."
This book was so genius on so many levels. Mieville has accomplished a rare feat in creating a completely new universe, with its own magic and history and physics...and yet making it a parallel universe version of today's London. Like London, New Crobuzon is a sprawling city, made up of communities and cultures from around the world. Unlike London, many of those cultures are separate species. But what really amazed me was how well Mieville echoed the modern multicultural city, in all its working parts. New Crobuzon has slums and horrors, but isn't post-apocalyptic. There is still a middle class, a university, and an upper class. This kind of parallel universe idea, of a working city, is what makes this book so unbelievably brilliant. ...more
I have a particular fondness for this book because I grew up across the Straits of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, the real life counterpart to "WestI have a particular fondness for this book because I grew up across the Straits of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, the real life counterpart to "West of Here"'s setting. Set in the fictionalized Northwest town of Port Bonita, Washington, this book sweeps back and forth between the Pioneer Days of the Olympic Peninsula, and the reality of the Northwest in 2006. With the natural resources depleted, the Northwest towns have been fading for decades (Aberdeen, for example, a town whose decline gave us Nirvana). Yet in this book, Port Bonita isn't the depressed small town that it could have been. Instead, it's a comfortable place (to some residents, too comfortable), where destiny happens, in ways big and small.
I liked this book more than I expected to. I read it, as I do all fiction set in the Northwest, out of nostalgia. But as I got into the book, I began to appreciate the wry humor in the chapter titles, and the precision of emotions conveyed for each character. I appreciated the short chapters, the jumps between characters and time frames. I appreciated the incorporation of the mystical, just enough to lend the book an extra dimension, but not so much that the mystical became a plot device in and of itself. And as the book swept on, and everything came together, I found myself more and more absorbed in it, until I realized, it was almost done. As the interweaving of the characters lives and histories became clear, and the connections between the timeframes came into focus, I was totally absorbed in these people, living their lives as a community across few miles of rain-soaked Northwest forest...and a hundred years.
This amazingly detailed and colorful account of the Little Bighorn battle transformed my impression of Custer's Last Stand. I have picked up the LastThis amazingly detailed and colorful account of the Little Bighorn battle transformed my impression of Custer's Last Stand. I have picked up the Last Stand only in its mythological context, as part of the American collective history. Philbrick brought it into full focus, and put it into multiple greater contexts. He shows it as part of Custer's battalion's history, comparing it to past battles and the commanders' histories. He shows the battle as part of the Lakota people's history, and tells as much of Sitting Bull as a leader. And, of course, he puts it in the context of the history of the Lakota, and the American imperialism that decimated Native America.
One of the aspects I especially appreciated was the way Philbrick goes from military to Native perspectives throughout the book. He doesn't just tell us what the soldiers saw, but tells us what it was like from the Lakota side. Philbrick has included Native American testimonials and recollections, as well as their pictographs illustrating the battle. The combination of perspectives makes this historical battle three dimensional, and even more understandable.
This was, again, a book I read out of curiosity on the subject, so that I could understand what is now an American myth. It is an amazing reconstruction of the few days surrounding the battle, as well as detailed histories of the key figures participating in it. And, as a solid modern historian, Philbrick takes every individual's story with equal weight, regardless of whether they were Native American, or Caucasian. It's a fantastic book on a pivotal event in American history - highly readable, fascinating, well-written. ...more
This book was so brilliant that I kept talking about it all weekend. It's the story of the subprime meltdown - as seen from the perspective of the traThis book was so brilliant that I kept talking about it all weekend. It's the story of the subprime meltdown - as seen from the perspective of the traders who bet against the mortgage industry. It explained SO MUCH about what happened. And it confirms that, even if the trading giants and banks who created the mess weren't actually criminal, their actions were criminally selfish and stupid. "That's when I realized this whole thing was basically, 'fuck the poor'", recants one of the men in the book. Exactly.
What's smart about this book is that it explains the financial mess in terms a liberal arts major can understand. I understood so many specific aspects of the meltdown of 2008 through this book that I never got before. Like, how and why AIG was taken down in the process. Why pension funds were heavily invested in mortgage-backed bonds. What a CDO, and its synthetic counterpart are. I get those things now! Lewis breaks down these financial ideas into terms and metaphors I can grasp, repeats them, and yet never has to dumb down the book or make it any less interesting in the process.
This is also an amazing narrative. Because it follows individuals, not the industry, it's a series of intertwining stories. It's gripping and entertaining in the way a narrative is, not dry like a magazine article. It tells a story, while explaining the context and circumstances through the individuals who worked with Lewis to tell their stories. It was shockingly enjoyable to read. I read it out of curiosity on the subject. I enjoyed it more than I could have expected.
I worked on the Ameriquest online campaign at my last agency. That was my first introduction to the concept of the subprime market, which doesn't even exist in Canada. I remember asking, how is it that there is this seemingly unlimited pool of applicants for these loans? How are there so many people in the United States that lead generation campaigns for these mortgages and loans can run at such a high volume for so long? It turns out that a lot of those people who were filling out lead forms shouldn't have been receiving those mortgages or home loans to start with. Banks were lending money to consumers they knew couldn't repay it, and then passing off the risk into securities-backed bonds. The consumers were pawns in the project, who were only there to generate the financial products. And so, you have the anecdotal evidence in the book, of the baby nurse who owns townhouses in Queens, or the stripper in Vegas with five home equity loans (Footnote by Lewis: Two years later, Vegas would lead the country in repossessions). And you have banks who, having already taken the major loss, have little to no interest in helping those people adjust their payments and mortgages so they can actually stay in the homes they thought they could afford.
It occurs to me, maybe I like this book because it was so cynical. But cynical or not, it's the best explanation of the subprime meltdown to date. Copies of this book should be issued as mandatory reading to every single dumbass who's blaming the current economic crisis on the government. It's not the government, stupid - it's the capitalists who drove the economy into the ground. Everyone affected by the 2008 meltdown - which is everyone in America - should read this book....more
The author of this book actually posted a comment to my review (!), which reminded me that (because I wrote the original review late at night), I forgThe author of this book actually posted a comment to my review (!), which reminded me that (because I wrote the original review late at night), I forgot the most important parts of my write-up of this book. This book was brilliant because it was engaging AND smart. The character development was amazing, resulting in multilayered, unpredictable, real characters throughout the book. I actually read the book twice just because I enjoyed it, and thoroughly recommend it.
This book is part of a trifecta on the mortgage meltdown that I found myself reading this week. I'm also reading "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine", and TIME's article, "Rethinking Homeownership". Occasionally, my reading materials just line up like that.
India Palmer lives the life of an artist. This is how her husband justifies his lack of interest in money, by reminding her they are artists. He is a sculptor and designer of precious objects; she is a critically acclaimed novelist. The problem is that critically acclaimed novelists don't sell many books, and now, India can't afford the lifestyle she thinks she needs in Manhattan. She wants to keep up with the upper class families; wants the hired help, the high-end shopping, the lessons and private schools for her daughters, and she wants to live in one of the most expensive places in the country. She's proud of her work, but it isn't going to pay her credit card bills.
Enter Win, a multi-millionaire bond trader. Win makes a bet with his boss that he can turn India into a trader. After all, trading is about sales, about the story, and who better to provide that story than a novelist? India accepts the challenge - and the lure of money.
India now has to face the fact that money, and the adrenaline betting high of bond trading, and the sense of belonging she gets on the trading floor, are more enjoyable to her than her writing career was. She doesn't have qualms about quitting her art, but rather, doesn't want others to think badly of her for doing so. She delays admitting to her artist husband that she's putting her art to the side to join the financial world. And she has to admit to her writer friends that she has given up her vocational calling - to write - for this new career. And each time she tells someone what she's done, it brings up the question: how much do we value our artists, as a society? How is it that artists are they are so financially underappreciated?
The juxtaposition throughout the book is against another family, the Chapmans. Husband Will, "Perfect Boy", decides to become a novelist, and quits his job in banking. His historical novel sells, in two parts, each with a big advance. But even a successful, two part novel still can't measure up to the income Will had in banking. His wife, Emma, buys a home in Maine for a million dollars, which Will uses an "exotic loan" (a two year ARM) to pay for. Emma then blithely spends another $200K to re-do the house, which disturbs her husband. She has no idea of what it means to live on less money, and what her husband's decision to leave finance for art will mean to her. As Will takes the reverse of India's path, we also see India's jealousy of the Chapmans turn into schadenfreude. He has given up money for art; she has given up art for money, and she believes hers was the better choice.
Pragmatically, India is better off once the insane money of the 2005 bond market starts rolling in. Her girls have everything they need and want. Her husband's art is subsidized by her income, and suddenly, he's able to create even more. She can pay for high end vacations, high-end housing, all kinds of clothes. She works long hours, but she enjoys what she does. And she doesn't feel she had to trade her art, so much as her art ceased to matter.
We start seeing the beginning of the end of subprime, and the first signs of the meltdown, after India's first year in the financial world. She even sees it coming, but doesn't want to face it. Who, after all, wants to announce that the party is ending? She has just started this new path, and doesn't want the bubble to pop and send her back to the lonely work of writing. But the details are there, the signs of the doomsday machine. McPhee has done a wonderful job spinning the mortgage meltdown into her narrative, as part of the plot itself.
This was touted as a Pygmalion story in several of the reviews. I don't see it that way. There are references to Eliza Doolittle, but India really transforms herself, based on some belief and guidance from her new mentors. She re-creates herself, rather than letting herself be re-created. Not so much Pygmalion so much as a tale of Selling Out, and of whether an artist is compromising themselves when society has already financially compromised them to start with. ...more
This is a brilliant book. It addresses the idea of a city & a city as they overlap in the same space. Not a divided city like Berlin, but two citiThis is a brilliant book. It addresses the idea of a city & a city as they overlap in the same space. Not a divided city like Berlin, but two cities, in the same topographical space, sharing the same streets and parks - but being completely separate city-states. Beszel is an Eastern European town that is "cross-hatched" with the more-prosperous, pseudo-Middle-Eastern Ul Qoma. When a murder victim is found in Beszel, detective Tyador Borlu must find the killer and the motive, but only receives one real lead: from Ul Qoma. The anonymous call he receives is a response to a poster he has put up Beszel. And as Borlu reacts to his call, we realize: the caller is not supposed to have seen the poster. The poster is in Beszel. The caller is in Ul Qoma. Trains pass by Borlu's window that are not in Beszel, but in Ul Qoma. The two cities share the same space - but each has to unsee the other. The citizens of each city have practiced, for years, a mental block which renders the other city unseeable.
Imagine, moving through traffic, and having to accommodate cars you don't really see. Imagine watching a fire through a foreign country's TV feed, because you can only unsee it through your windows. Beszel and Ul Qoma exist to each other, but only in mentally separate spaces. When in Beszel, one only sees the European buildings and shabby suburbs of the depressed town; when in Ul Qoma, one only sees the Middle Eastern buildings and shiny new towers of their recovering economy. Citizens of both cities must unsee - ignore - the others. Looking at one another, they have trained themselves to see which people and cars and objects are in their own city, and which are not, and how to unsee and avoid contact with those that are in the other. They may visit the other city. But only after re-training themselves to see only that other city, may they go through the customs checkpoint in the cities centres, and cross over to unsee their own neighbors and homes from the other side.
I was fascinated with this book because because, living in L.A., I unsee the other cities here daily. It isn't just ignoring the homeless; it's that I unsee the other countries that share the same geotopical space as my English-speaking city. I unsee much of the Central American neighborhood overlaid where I live. I unsee the other countries overlaid on Los Angeles because they are not "mine", and that's how I managed to understand the concept of Beszel and Ul Qoma. If I still lived in Victoria, it would have been more difficult to fall into this book, but because I live in L.A., I am practiced in unseeing. It's not necessarily a good thing, but it's how we all seem to live here.
Fortunately, for me, there is no moderator to stop me if I shop for groceries at the "RANCHO MERCADO" up the street. In Beszel/Ul Qoma, there is Breach, and one who breaches the membrane between the cities, belongs to them. And so the unificationists, or the fascist separatists, have a higher power to keep them in line. And the people, every day, keep unseeing because it is enforced. Breach is the quasi-supernatural force keeping the cities separate, the all knowing & all reaching power. But as the murder mystery progresses, while Breach will not investigate, they will restrict the shape of the detectives work. And so, the City & the City remain on parallel lines, parallel psychic spaces...and yet so close that they may fall in love with the neighbors a whole country away....more
One of my favorite books is Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I love this book. I love the concept of the alternate London, London Below, which only those whoOne of my favorite books is Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I love this book. I love the concept of the alternate London, London Below, which only those who inhabit it can fully see and experience. I loved that alternate fairy-tale existence, where the powers that shaped London still live. I love Gaiman's writing style, and the humor, and the historic references: the pockets of time, where Roman soldiers still camp on the Kilburn, for example. In Neverwhere, all that has ever happened and is forgotten by London Above, is still happening in London Below.
Kraken is going to be compared, endlessly, to Neverwhere. It appeals to the same audience of fairy-tale nerds, geeks & goths that read Gaiman's work. Yet even as I saw the similarities to Neverwhere, I couldn't say it was an imitator. Maybe Mieville was inspired by Gaiman, because some of the concepts in his work are certainly reminiscent of Gaiman's work. But Kraken still stands as an original. It's an alternate London where magic happens, and where alternate beliefs are a reality. But it's more accessible, somehow, more connected to the real world, than Gaiman's alternate London. London Below can only be seen by people from London Below. In Mieville's London, the magic can be found by anyone. You just have to know where - and how - to look.
In Kraken, a giant squid goes missing from a museum. And that kicks off curator Billy Harrow's quest for whodunit. The plot summary is in the book description - I don't need to re-write it here. But as Billy runs and chases and searches through a magical London, so do we. As Billy has to learn the secrets and ways of this alternate version of his city, we see the connections that lead to the squid. And London becomes even more detailed and deep than it already appears to be.
Did you know there's a street in the W1 that only exists in the 1960s? Because there is. And worlds in which those sort pockets of spacetime exist, are worlds I love reading about. ...more
Death, as portrayed in Gaiman's graphic novels, is endearing and adorable. Not all the Endless are. Death, in these novels, is the "cute gothette", alDeath, as portrayed in Gaiman's graphic novels, is endearing and adorable. Not all the Endless are. Death, in these novels, is the "cute gothette", always with a smile, always in love with life. Death will keep doing her job until the universe ends, and then she'll lock the door behind her when she leaves. Like all 1990s goths, I wear ankh jewelry as a reference, not to Egyptian mythology, but to Death of the Endless.
My husband bought me this book for my birthday. My husband knows me well - he also gave me a new pair of ankh earrings. And I immediately went off to read, and re-visit the two full-length graphic novels: "Death: The High Cost of Living", and "Death: The Time Of Your Life".
Unfortunately, this book is mostly filler - kind of like the last volume of "Absolute Sandman". The last pages are images of artwork inspired by the character, not stories featuring the character. And the first story is "The Sound Of Her Wings", which was already in "Absolute Sandman Volume One", thankyouverymuch - anyone who is going to spend $63 on "Absolute Death" is going to own that story multiple times over. So I minus one star for too much filler. Even though I know otherwise, it would be too hard to make a full book out of this eldest sister of the Endless, I still felt like this was 40% content, 60% "we needed to make it line up with those Sandman books on your shelves".
But still...the beautiful paper, the color, the velvet cover...this is just a beautiful book. It is something to collect, and to look at and to revel in the images, as well as revisit the stories.
After all, you get what everyone gets, don't you? You get a lifetime....more
I love books about ad agencies, since I, y'know, work in one. And I thought the original "e" was excellent. It was witty, it was a clever premise. MosI love books about ad agencies, since I, y'know, work in one. And I thought the original "e" was excellent. It was witty, it was a clever premise. Most of all, it managed to use the new medium of email to really drive characters and plot. I was ecstatic to hear about a sequel. many of our old pals from Miller Shanks are here, only now...they're at an ad agency that makes Crispin, Porter + Bogusky look positively staid & boring. And now, it's not just email, but texts, IM's and YouTube uploads that convey the events and conversations of the Meerkat360 staff. This book is smart, acerbic, satire of how an ad agency looks from the inside in the year 2K+10, and is wonderful fiction to pick up....more