An archive of past books featured at one point or another on our Urchin Bookshelf.
Geo’s past reads
I was born in 1986, two years after Prince’s movie and soundtrack, Purple Rain, came out. How was I to know that, during my formative years of newborn to five years old, the myth known as Prince was forming, too. Being a baby, I failed to take notice. It took me twenty-six more years to pick up a copy of that album. I now realise that this fact boldly attests to that album’s timelessness. After picking up a few more of his albums (there are about a thousand of them), I wanted to know as much as I could about the man, myth, and legend behind these songs. Conveniently, music journalist Ronin Ro just published a biography on Prince, and while it isn’t an official biography (there may never be one, even if Prince himself writes it), Ro’s account will surely add more questions and answers to music’s most enigmatic, influential, and puzzling performers.
Urchins think alike. Just as Sarah waits to deem herself ready to dip into the Granta collection, I’ve only recently deemed myself ready to read this book. I’ve read a few of Woolf’s books years before, and they were so powerful that I purposely decided to wait until I was a few years older before reading her again. I wasn’t actually sure when the moment would come, either, until she was heavily referenced in Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? Bechdel’s analysis on Woolf’s writing made me remember that Woolf will remain, possibly forever, perhaps the best writer any of us will ever read.
I’ve been on a graphic novel binge these past two weeks. After reading such monumental works of the genre, such as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, I was eager to read Satrapi’s latest, The Sigh, which was published in late 2011. The Sigh is much different than her autobiographical Persepolis both in form and content, and it reads largely like a fairy-tale you’d recite to your children at bedtime. The simple story, however, is accompanied with timeless themes of love, loyalty, and integrity. These themes not only strip my reading mind from all the excesses it sometimes accumulates but also makes The Sigh what it is, a Satrapi-authored book.
World of Wonders is the third book in Canadian writer Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy, and I cannot wait to continue on with the story. After reading the first two books, Fifth Business and The Manticore, I still don’t know what to expect from this Canadian. The Deptford Trilogy follows an eccentric, sometimes larger-than-life cast of characters who hail from, or are somehow connected to, the small village of Deptford in Eastern Canada. What makes this trilogy unique is that it doesn’t operate chronologically but rather follows a different main character’s personal, physical, and spiritual journey in each book. Fifth Business follows a wounded war veteran turned professor who devotes his life to the explorations of historical myths and saints. The Manticore follows one of his students, the son of a wealthy, famous, and severely troubled billionaire tycoon. This last installment follows a world-famous travelling magician who learned his first card trick as a boy from the main character of the first book.
Ian Frazier makes his second appearance on the Urchin Bookshelf: first as Margaret’s pick for his highly-acclaimed Great Plains, and now as my pick for his latest effort, Travels in Siberia. This book has it all: a bit of Russian history here, a bit of anecdotal material there, and it’s all interesting. It’s quite amazing how a place so perceptibly barren can be fascinating enough for someone to write a 500-page book about it, and then to have that be fascinating enough for someone to read it all. Not only is this another testament to the power of the pen, but it’s another example of how one place can capture your mind and not let go (until you’ve at least written a book about it).
Ever since winning the Man Booker Prize for her novel The God of Small Things in 1997, Indian writer Arundhati Roy has burst onto the literary and political scene, making her voice prominently heard on issues from globalisation to US foreign policy to India’s growing position as an industrialised country. Her latest book Walking with the Comrades is described as a frontline expose of brutal repression in India. I don’t know many more details about the book other than the fact that she spent several months with rebel guerrillas in the forests of India, and that’s enough for me to want to read the book.
More specifically, the abridged, seven-hundred page version of Rising Up and Rising Down. Let me tell you a little bit about Mr. Vollmann and his collection of ’some’ of his thoughts. The original, unabridged edition of Rising Up and Rising Down is a seven-volume literary juggernaut with a page length totaling about 3,500. Vollmann spent 23 years of his life on the project. As of November 2009, he is 50 years old. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be such a thing as factory farming and I’d own the seven-volume original edition, but that thing is expensive and Urchins play it cheap. I can only hope to happen upon the complete set collecting dust in a used book store.
In case it isn’t yet obvious, I am most intrigued by ambitious projects. According to its dust jacket, Mirrors is a book ‘taking in 5,000 years of history, recalling the lives of artists and writers, gods and visionaries from the Garden of Eden to twenty-first-century New York and Mumbai, and told in hundreds of kaleidoscopic vignettes.’ Señor Galeano, you had me at ‘5,000 years.’ Check out my review in the January Diesel newsletter!
One of the blessings/curses of working in a bookshoppe is that I find something I want to read almost everyday. And last week, despite my ridiculously high stack of unread material, I felt the sudden urge to read Moby-Dick. I don’t suppose that happens often. So last Sunday, on my day off, I woke up early and headed down to library, only to find out the doors opened at 1pm on Sundays. I then figured I’d obtain a used copy, since the book would certainly be an investment given its length. If my memory served me correctly, the used bookshoppe near my house had a copy. My memory did not serve me correctly. This was supposed to be easy. I came all this way and was still empty-handed. Eventually, I went back to library and grabbed a copy, but for a while there I felt like Ahab. Hey! I get it now.
While at the library searching for that great whale of a book, I happened upon William T. Vollmann’s section, whose books – I kid you not – took up an entire shelf. Argall, published in 2001 and totaling 736 pages (written entirely in 17th-century prose), is part of a series called Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes, which consists of seven thematically-linked books, each focusing on a different historical expedition in the settlement of North America by European explorers. And if it wasn’t clear – or you still remain incredulous – every book is written by Vollmann. Seeing his books on the shelf, the physical evidence of writers bringing their visions into fruition, is the reason why Vollmann remains an Urchinspiration.
The description is pretty much all in the subtitle. Studs Terkel, one of the most important historians of his generation and possessor of one of the weirdest names ever, utilises oral history to string together a series of interviews from people all over America, workers of all kinds of different jobs. You’ll hear from the farmer to the hooker to the receptionist to the factory owner. From the lower class to the upper class. Everyone gets a voice in this book from 1974, which is something that happens less and less as time moves on.
German philosopher never finished The Arcades Project, having chosen to commit suicide whilst fleeing the Nazis in 1940. After a difficult editing job by a handful of different minds, a fragmentary edition of The Arcades Project is what survives. Still, in its incomplete form, The Arcades Project is a fascinating exploration of Parisian city life, revolving around what Benjamin believed acted as the hubs of the city: the Paris arcades.
Renowned feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham devotes this book to British and American women who’ve played important yet overlooked roles ‘amid the growth of globalised trade, mass production, immigration and urban slums that dominated the period from the 1880s to the onset of the First World War.’
I normally don’t read contemporary fiction (yuck!) but I’m taking a chance on this one. Revolving around San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1960s, Yamashita’s ambitious novel weaves the stories of students, labourers, artists, revolutionaries, and provocateurs into a tale of civil and class struggles, violence, politics, and change.
Because of NaNoWriMo, I won’t get to read all that much in November, but whenever I have the chance, I’ll be searching for information and inspiration in this seminal work by influential Canadian urban theorist Jane Jacobs. Here she takes us on strolls of the sidewalks and deep into the pulsing heart of the American city, from the building to the housing to the populace to the money.
Because I’ve always wanted to know how to sabotage a dam. Kidding! Hah. Environmental activist Edward Abbey also wrote some fiction during his day, and this novel is his most well-known. In fact, this was where we got the term ‘monkeywrench’, now widely used to describe an act of sabotaging or damaging a machine for the purpose of environmental preservation. Check out this particularly cool edition featuring illustrations from artist R. Crumb!
Here’s a riddle: Francoise Sagan is cute little Frenchwoman who published Bonjour Tristesse when she was eighteen. Do we hate her or do we love her? Do we engage in throes of jealousy or do we celebrate her success? I had to find out, so I read it and… Break out the glitter confetti! This short novel is maturely written despite her age. Very subtle and nuanced, with characters and a plot that is gradual and maddening. Sagan’s handle on her writing seems effortless, as if she only happens to stumble upon deep themes when constructing a simple story of characters. She is like a less witty, more serious, but equally thoughtful French female Oscar Wilde (whom she of course references in the book!).
Jon Stewart told me about this book. (Yes, personally.) Actually, he just told me to watch his interview with the author of the book, Paul Clemens. Upon first viewing the interview, I could’ve sworn a reference was made to Studs Terkel, author of the book that changed my life last year, Working. After watching it again, I realised that I had just imagined the reference, most likely because of the similarities in the premises of the two books. Like Working, Clemens spends time with workers, especially those who aren’t used to telling their story. In covering a year in a closing auto plant in Detroit, Clemens discovers that ‘taking apart industry is sort of its own industry’ and that ‘the same sort of muscle memory that used to be going into making things can now be applied… to take apart the equipment used to make the cars.’ Clemens goes on to tell Stewart: ‘This book doesn’t really have a thesis because I don’t really have an answer. I wish it had a thesis. When I finished it, my editor said, You know, this is kind of a weird book.’ Those interesting dichotomies, along with the author’s humility that I can’t help but find refreshing and adorable, make me want to read this book.
How’s this for a story: An adult little person writing his life story from inside a mental hospital in Germany, from his grandparents to his mama meeting the two men, one of whom is his real father, to his own birth to his third birthday where he gets his very first tin drum and decides then and there that he will never grow up – and he doesn’t – to the first World War and on to the next to his time with the circus and the time he got his very first love pregnant and how she stopped loving him shortly thereafter. Wild story, great story.
Green Is the New Red by Will Potter
An up-to-date crash-course overview of the history of radical environmentalism as well as a study on the scare tactics that the government, the CIA, and several multi-million dollar corporations use against environmental activists, which share certain similarities with tactics used during McCarthyism and the Red Scare. This book is about the Green Scare – this book is at times scary, at times hopeful, and at all times important.
It’s that time again. That time where I put a book by William T. Vollmann on the Urchin Bookshelf and never finish it. Vollmann is easily one of the most interesting and thought-provoking writers today, and I have loved a lot of his books, but I have put down a few of them as well. It isn’t that they fail to hold my attention – far from it. Quite simply, you gotta be ready to take on a Vollmann book. He’s not the writer you can read during commercials – believe me, I’ve tried. His work requires your patience and your full attention. But believe me: if you get through it, it’s absolutely worth it.
Andrew Laties founded and co-founded three independent bookstores and, somewhere along the way, wrote the first edition of Rebel Bookseller. Six years after its publication, Laties released an updated second edition on a topic that has increasingly become more important to my life and, in my opinion, life in general. The title and subtitle on their own get my heart pumping. Fun fact: Greenlight Bookstore’s two co-proprietors (also known as my bosses) are featured prominently in the second edition! Perhaps I’ll be in the third.
Margaret’s past reads
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma forever changed the way I think about food and how I eat. While Pollan is technically a journalist, he’s as much a scientist of human nature and philosopher. Several years ago I saw a portion of the PBS documentary based on The Botany of Desire and was completely blown away by eloquence in person that was equal to that on the page. The precursor to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire follows four different foods – the potato, marijuana, the tulip, and the apple – through their context in social history. He reveals how both humans and plants have helped shaped each other and finally asks, ‘Who’s domesticating who?’
One of my favourite writers, Larry McMurtry, called Abbey ‘the Thoreau of the American West.’ (Hey, I live there!) Abbey is another author that I have waited far too long to read. Environmental activist, essayist, and yes, anarchist, wrote often about the western landscape, a place I have always been drawn to. Desert Solitaire is a collection of vignettes drawn from Abbey’s experience as a park ranger in Arches National Monument. Abbey recollects a search and rescue mission to pull a dead body from the desert, the effects of the desert on society, and the detriments of outdoor tourism.
It’s a tad embarrassing that I’m just now getting around to reading this. A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s posthumous classic – a collection of memoirs from his days spent in Paris as a young man. Here we met Ezra Pound, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Perhaps this is as close as we can come to experiencing life as the Lost Generation knew it. A Moveable Feast can, however, still be used as a travel guide into the past as Hemingway delivers exact locations for many of the cafes and other locations around Paris. Although, I think what I enjoy most is the glimpse into the ‘making’ of one of America’s greatest writers.
I must be on a big city kick right now. Gone to New York is travel writer Ian Frazier’s attempt to define America’s largest hodge-podge. Thirty years worth of The New Yorker and Atlantic articles are combined to highlight and lowlight all aspects of the City. Frazier, who is originally from Cleveland, began writing for The New Yorker a year after graduating from Harvard. (You kind of have to hate him.)
I first read The Great Gatsby while in living in London, and couldn’t believe I had never read Fitzgerald before. Tender is the Night has been described as Fitzgerald’s darkest novel. He wrote it just after his wife had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized. While writing, he relied on income from short stories and loans from his editor. Set in the South of France, Tender is the Night is the romance between a young actress and a seemingly perfect and glamorous couple. Rosemary falls in love with Dick Diver and befriends his wife, Nicole. We soon learn that Nicole is as much a patient of Dick’s as she is his wife. Death, affairs and the destruction of a character’s soul at the cost of another’s, Tender is the Night has been described as Fitzgerald’s darkest novel… though sometimes his best.
It’s Steinbeck fest here at The Urchin Movement! Though I’m also currently reading Travels With Charley, I’m already planning on catching up with more Steinbeck. Somehow I managed to miss The Grapes of Wrath in high school – I’ve never even seen the movie! I think reading The Grapes of Wrath is particularly pertinent at this time. It’s the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family, forced from their home by the depression. They take to the road, seeking a better life in California, but upon arrival realise it wasn’t the land of opportunity they had expected.
Originally, I bought The Idiot so I’d look smart. But I do that anyway. Until now, my only experience with 19th Century Russian literature has been entirely with Chekhov, so The Idiot is a bit of a 700-page commitment into an incredibly foreign psyche. The story of a virtuously perfect human thrust into an imperfect (and to our reasoning, completely normal) society, Dostoyevsky begs the questions: ‘Is a completely, 100% virtuous person, in fact be virtuous at all?’ and ‘Does human society allow for virtue at all?’
Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, examines the scientific proof for fate, free will, the existence of good, evil, and why humans attempt to follow a moral code. I grabbed a copy of The Science of Good and Evil for research for a future script, but with chapter names like ‘The Devil Under Form of Baboon’ and ‘Can We Be Good Without God?,’ I’m now interested to read a Ph.D. skeptic’s take on predominantly religious issues. Also, check out Shermer on this Mr. Deity episode.
Many months ago I made the mistake of going to the Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe. After drinking an excessive amount of coffee in the cafe, I left several hours later with a few pounds (Get it? Get it? This pun would totally work in London…) worth of new books. Now, in my new flat, with the turntable spinning Bossa Nova and Joni Mitchell albums, I can finally sit back in my overstuffed arm-chair and read Candide. A classic of satire, Voltaire mocks everything from religion and politics to our conceptions of romance. It was quickly banned for its blasphemous content and political dissent. Despite The Man trying to keep Voltaire down, the novel eventually became the most taught work in French literature. Who doesn’t aspire to that?
Don’t tell Geo, but Dubliners has been sitting on my shelf, alone, unread, for nearly a year. For having such an obsession with Ireland, I have clearly waited far too long to read Joyce. And you’d at least think watching Urchin-favourite Ewan McGregor play Joyce would’ve sped things up a bit, as well. His first publication, in 1914, Dubliners depicts middle-class, Catholic Dublin through a series of 15 short stories, or chapters. As positively depressing as this sounds, my copy’s insert asserts ‘the artistic boundary is set only by Joyce’s far-reaching genius.’ Well, duh.
Berry’s first collection of essays, The Long-Legged House depicts impoverished East Kentucky through the lens of environmental/sociological ethics and morality. He goes on to explore the meaning of “belonging” to a certain place. Also a poet and fiction writer, Berry’s non-fictional work centers upon many all-important Urchin issues: environmental preservation, success at what cost, and the “good life.”
One night, driving through a dark and snowy canyon, I was able to catch a bit of NPR before losing the signal to the mountains. On air was an interview with Ms. Olsen on her latest book, Citizens of London. When the United States stood safely across the Atlantic and watched the conflict in Europe, three Americans, Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and ambassador John Gilbert Winant lived in shell-shocked London, struggling to bring American support to the side of the British. Though it was finally the bombing of Pearl Harbor that would send American troops abroad, these three men are an interesting case study of the beginnings of our “special relationship.”
Oh, Chekhov, you and your plays full of miserable Russians who talk of everything and accomplish nothing for four long acts. Only a true literary genius could create the most painfully real characters, rife with the torments of life, stick them in a room, write a play where nothing happens, and wind up with a masterpiece. The Cherry Orchard was originally intended as a comedy, but Constantin Stanislavski insisted on directing it as a tragedy.
Actor, writer, director, Sam Shepard has brought us characters as lonely and distant as the Western world they live in since the sixties. Day Out of Days is his latest collection of short stories, poems, and dialogues. Though many reviews claim the collection is too dark and dreary for extended reading, I am very much looking forward to anything by Sam Shepard. Just don’t be surprised to find me in a small Western town dreaming of something lost someday.
I grew up identifying poop in the woods, and I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t. I take it personally when I meet people who’ve never been camping. Or at the very least, hiking. Unfortunately, this seems to be more and more common. Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ in his 2008 book that went on to inspire the Leave No Child Inside movement. Louv details how this disconnect with nature leads to many child developmental problems we see in society today.
It’s time for the truth to come out. I’m not ashamed to admit it (and I’m totally not blushing right now). I’ve never read Charles Dickens. Any. At all. Not even David Copperfield. I did see The Muppet Christmas Carol, though. Does that count? Great Expectations was originally published as a weekly series in All the Year Round. When an orphan boy, Pip, is sent to stay with the lovelorn Miss Havisham, he grows away from his family and common place roots and goes on to lust for a life in high society, but when he moves to London to become a gentleman, things aren’t quite as he expected. Oh, I can’t wait to start making analogies!
Sure, I’ve seen the movie many times: spectacular cinematography, an eternally moving score (actually played by Holly Hunter), blah, blah blah. The script is where it all starts. Jane Campion’s tale of a mute mail-order bride who can only speak her heart through the piano is a fascinating character study. It isn’t her new husband, Alistair, who would rather see her subdued and voiceless without the piano, that succeeds in awakening long repressed emotions, but Baines, who essentially strikes a bargain with her: the piano for sex. Through her relationship with Baines and her disintegrating one with Alistair, Ada loses the use of her voice, the piano, but succeeds in breaking mentally and physically away from the 19th Century societal restrictions she was born into.
I’ll admit it. I bought this book for its title. But Mr. Berry quickly became one of my favourite thinkers after I read The Long Legged House, another collection of essays, last summer. Approaching the topics of both art and farming, Mr. Berry discusses the divide between work and pleasure in American culture. What I think are becoming very contemporary issues regarding our societal health are in fact problems Mr. Berry has been highlighting for the last fifty years.
I have a reading list. A two-year long reading list, in fact, and Jane Eyre has been waiting patiently near the bottom for, oh, two years now. A classic in feminist literature, Charlotte Bronte’s novel appears to be on the surface a standard Victorian work; our protagonist however, is anything but. When Jane falls in love with the arrogant (and sexy) Rochester, she seeks an equal standing in marriage and life, demanding quite a bit from him for the time. So, why did this book suddenly appear at the top of my list? Hollywood. A new film starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender and Judi Dench (released 11 March) looks phenomenal and I clearly can’t justify seeing the film without reading the book!
Not gonna lie. I initially picked this book because of its title. And to my discovery, Stevenson was very much an early Urchin himself! To raise money for adventures, he decided to go on an adventure… with a donkey. Who doesn’t love this guy? Travels with a Donkey details his 12o mile journey through France (yay!) with Modestine, his four-legged heehawing friend.
“Away to the Great Plains of America, to that immense Western short-grass prairie now mostly plowed under! Away to the still-empty land beyond newsstands and malls and velvet restaurant ropes!” The first two sentences of Frazier’s classic travelogue immediately sent me scurrying to the library. How could I not? I’ve always been enthralled by the romance of the West and continually perplexed with how the sometimes ugly, dirty, and ignorant clash of reality can simultaneously destroy that romantic vision and build it up at the same time. Frazier recounts his time spent living in Montana and driving across the Great Plains interjected with pieces of history.
Back in April, I wrote about places to be and things to see in 2011. Among my top picks was Wim Wenders’ exhibition at the Haunch of Venison in London. Now, for those of us who couldn’t make it, Wenders’ photographs from the exhibition (and his entire career) are available in book! If ever you sought for a definition of ‘wanderlust,’ you need look no further than Wim Wenders. Known for films Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, Wenders also has an equally impressive photo portfolio. His images, shot around the world, invoke such a sense of loneliness and longing in their simplicity. I can’t wait to get a hold his new book!
Sarah’s past reads
A few weeks ago, I happened upon a massive book sale held by Tauranga’s local Rotary club. Four giant spaces in an empty fruit packhouse were filled with table after table of books for sale from $1 – $5. The day I went just happened to be the final closeout, meaning that all books were reduced by 50%. As you can imagine, I was like an Urchin in a… well, 50%-off used book sale. When I saw this reimagining of the love between Cupid and Psyche by C. S. Lewis, it quickly jumped to the top of my reading list. Lewis’s non-fiction work A Grief Observed is one of my favourite pieces of writing in the world, challenging me with new ideas and viewpoints every time I pick it up. In Till We Have Faces, Lewis turns his poetic writing style and deeply philosophical wisdom to an ancient tale, and I’m greatly anticipating the opportunity to reflect on the philosophical notions presented in the story. According to a note from the author, Lewis began constructing his reinterpretation of this story while at university. It feels like a privilege to read the passion project of one of my favourite thinkers and writers.
In 1999, Granta literary magazine compiled its largest issue to date: a collection of short stories, memoirs, essays, and photography about London. I’ll start making my way through them all as soon as I can open the book without bursting into tears.
In his 1937 American classic about itinerant labourers in California, Steinbeck manages what few have been able to since: a simple story with simple characters that touches on issues of class, race, gender, and the human condition without holding the reader’s hand or hitting them over the head with emotional manipulation. Steinbeck is not only an artful writer and a master storyteller, but also a humanist with a profound capacity to understand and empathise with people from all walks of life. This is what makes him a truly great writer, and what continues to make Of Mice and Men a significant literary work. It also provides an interesting look at an often overlooked time and way of life, when Americans travelled the countryside as seasonal farm workers.
I have been meaning to read more Ali Smith since falling in love with her collection of short stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, while studying in London. The Accidental is the story of one family’s encounter with a stranger as told from the alternating perspectives of each character. I originally loved Smith for her boldness (and success) with linguistic and stylistic experimentation, and cannot wait to see how that manifests in novel form. Published in 2005, The Accidental won the Whitbread Novel Award for that year and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Steinbeck will be a tough act to follow, but if anyone can do it, I think it might be Smith.
Picture it: me, cruising around New Zealand in my Toyota Estima mini van named Hongi with my curly haired girlfriend reading aloud about John Steinbeck cruising about America in his pimped out pickup truck named Rocinante with his curly haired dog. Even though New Zealand is thousands of miles and fifty years away from the America of Steinbeck’s road trip, his interactions with people, places, and himself would ring true for any traveller. Wanting to learn more about his own country in order to write about it honestly, Steinbeck embarked on a road trip across the United States. His insights about the future of American life are nothing short of prophetic, and his reflections range from poignant to hilarious. I was the last Urchin to read this book, and decided to after receiving countless emails from Margaret and Geo along the lines of ‘WHY IS JOHN STEINBECK SO AWESOME/CUTE/FUNNY/BRILLIANT.’ Reading it for myself, I can now happily confirm that 3 out of 3 Urchins recommend this book!
I first heard of Thomas Hardy while performing in The Marriage of Bette and Boo by Christopher Durang. In the play, the narrator Matt often brings up various pieces of literature, oftentimes by Thomas Hardy, about whom he wrote his thesis. I felt embarrassed at the time that I hadn’t even heard of Hardy, and am embarrassed now to admit that I’m just finally getting around to reading him. Armed with a newly-procured Auckland library card, I recently took 17 books out of the library. Two of them were by Hardy. Once I’ve finished them, I’ll have to re-read The Marriage of Bette and Boo and catch up on some previously missed references.
Sometimes when Notes from a Small Island and I are alone in the flat, we curl up with a nice big cuppa, some digestives, and have a snog. That is, of course, if Jeremy Kyle isn’t on. Okay, not really. But Bryson’s hilarious accounts from his time living in England do give me a warm, cozy feeling hitherto only associated with mornings spent watching In the Night Garden with Geo. This book is a steaming cup of nostalgia, and I recommended pairing it with some biscuits.
I used to dream about traveling the world and sitting in on U.S. history classes in every city I visited to see if I could discern that elusive thing between what ‘we’ say and ‘they’ say called the truth. Now, thanks to Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward, I can save my travel pennies for exotic chocolates and continue my fact-finding mission from the comfort of my couch and pajamas! Also, this book was a remainder. So I bought it. Urchins can never pass up a bargain. Or a book. It was destiny.
I spent my entire first New England winter thinking about rereading Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, but I only felt it was safe once there was more than 7 hours of sunlight a day. Boy, is this book depressing. However, despite being a total downer, the story is compelling and really captures the destitution and isolation of harsh northeastern winters. I would know.
I have heard nothing but rave reviews for this collection of short stories, so I decided to give it a try. I started reading the first story before bed the other night, but Russell had crafted such an eerie ambiance that I was forced to hide the book in the living room, only to be revisited in the light of day. Once I gather the courage to let this book out from under the couch cushion, I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy it. Also, the fact that this book was written when the author was 24 makes her a shoo in Urchinspiration.
This book is a hilarious memoir recounting Bryson’s childhood in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s. Interspersed with his personal memories and exquisitely nostalgic depictions of growing up in a more innocent time are very serious accounts of what was happening around the world while he was busy reading comic books and working his paper route. From the ‘American dream’ to nuclear weapons to the Red Scare, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of small town America while the world grew around them.
Paris in the 1920s was the creative playground of choice for writers and artists from around the world. In this memoir, Hemingway poetically relates his time living and writing there amongst the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. This book is an essential “how-to” guide for any Urchin, and, in fact, one of the things that inspired us to begin the Movement in the first place.
Whenever I long for London and good writing, I turn to Woolf’s lovely novel, which never fails to restore my faith in the world, even if it’s just for the time the book’s well-loved pages are held in my hands. Good writing does exist, and so does London. What more could I want?
Though Bryson’s latest book won’t be in your local independent bookstore until October, I happen to have the privilege of knowing a little fairy of joy at such a bookstore and will be getting my eager little paws on At Home much sooner! After exploring, well, pretty much everything in A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson now turns to his personal abode in England to examine the histories of the everyday objects that surround him. I wait with bated breath.
I am slowly but surely developing an all-consuming obsession with letterpress. I love everything about it: the tactility of the indented type, the artistic manipulation of the written word, the return to a time-tested art form. When I happened upon this happy little yellow book at library last weekend, I knew it had to come home with me. After a brief history of and commentary on letterpress, the book is filled with a dreamy portfolio of modern letterpress images, complete with a directory of the featured presses’ websites. This book is beautiful and inspiring. Let’s just say I’ve already googled ‘at home letterpress.’
Yes, it’s winter again in good old Vermont. This morning I awoke to a snowy/sleety wonderland of ice-caked windshields and undrivable roads. So when I began to ponder what book I’d like to read next, my first thought was naturally something that would reflect the milieu of the Vermont winter ahead of me: As I Lay Dying. Any longtime readers may remember that it was around this time last year that I picked up Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Something about a Vermont winter just makes me want to read the most unfathomably depressing novel I can get my hands on. Can’t wait!
After years caught up in Manhattan’s rat race, author Seth and his girlfriend Rebecca quit their jobs and meander across America, eventually ending up in Alaska. When money runs out, they’re forced to re-enter the ‘real world,’ this time in Washington, D.C. It doesn’t take long, however, for their inherent desire to roam to resurface. After years living as zombies placated by tv, the internet, and other ‘comforts’ of modern life, Seth and Rebecca experience a rude awakening when all conversations with friends suddenly revolve around real estate or babies. Selling everything they own save what will fit in two tiny backpacks, they set off to traverse the world solely via ground transport. Not wanting to ‘press fast forward’ on their journey by hopping plans from place to place, they hope to experience everything along the way while markedly reducing their carbon footprint. I see this book as research, and I can’t wait.
Oh, look. Another book about travel. I sense a theme here. Steinbach quits her job at the Baltimore Sun to study everything, everywhere. From cooking classes in Paris to writing in Prague, Steinbach seeks to satiate her eternal curiosity and live a life of constant learning, writing, and traveling. Could that sound any more dreamy? I’ve recently added an adventure requirement to any current and future travel plans, and I’m hoping Alice has some good ideas and tips.
What better way to kick off National Poetry Month than with my favourite modern American poet’s new book? I first fell in love with Ada Limon after reading her poem Crush in The New Yorker and have been anxiously awaiting the release of her third book of poetry ever since. Sharks in the Rivers is a collection of beautiful and poignant poems strewn with imagery and themes of rivers and water. Limon has a transcendent way with words. I would highly recommend this collection to poetry novices and enthusiasts alike.
The rest of this book’s title reads ‘The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.’ When Beavan decided his paltry environmentally-friendly efforts were no longer enough, he embarked on a year-long commitment to make as little an environmental impact as possible. This included finding alternatives to toilet paper, electricity, and motorised transportation. This lifestyle of complete ethical immersion sounds infinitely appealing, and I’m hoping to discover applicable tips and ideas from Beavan’s experiences. I have this book on loan from my coworker Krysta, who is about to start a year-long ‘no trash’ diet, meaning she will buy only in bulk using her own containers and produce no food waste (from packing, throwing away food scraps, etc.) Go, Krysta!
I found this 1976 gem growing old on the shelves of a used book store last week. Part memoir, part travel guide, the book actually now reads more like a history, as so much has changed in New Zealand and the world over the past 35 years. If you can look past the not-so-subtle sexism (‘If you are travelling with a lady who won’t leave the house without her electric haircurlers, the bane of any male traveller…’), McDermott provides both a history of New Zealand and some interesting insights about the country. But mostly it’s a fascinating look at how much travel, New Zealand, and political correctness have changed since the ’70s.
This is likely this book’s third appearance on the Urchin Bookshelf. Though it is arguably Bryson’s most famous book, I have been putting off reading it because he has written about so much else I’m more pressingly interested in (England, Australia, Iowa in the ’50′s, language, history; quite the over-achiever, isn’t he?). But when I found A Walk in the Woods at a used book store, it felt wrong to just leave Bill on the shelf! Alone! So I brought him home. After living in England for 20 years, Bryson attempts to reacquaint himself with America by hiking the Appalachian trail. Both belly laughs and giggles surely await me.