August 2009


Neptün Cafe & Bar
Photo of Galata Bridge by Geir Halvorsen used under a Creative Commons license.

Geert Mak, The Bridge (Random House UK, 2008).
Istanbul’s Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn, a long estuary on the European side of the Bosphorus, and links two of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. To the south is Sultan Ahmet, a traditional Muslin part of the city, where you will find the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. To the north is Pera, the core of westernized Istanbul. The bridge itself is crowded with cars, pedestrians, fishermen, vendors, beggers, as well as shops and restaurants. Mak’s book is about the bridge, present and past, a little window onto Istanbul and Turkey.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Golden Horn is helpful, as is the page on the Galata Bridge. Here is an English-language bio of Mak, who is a Dutch journalist, on his website. Mak wrote about spending time on the bridge. The New Statesman ran this excerpt. Alev Adil (The Indepedent) says Mak’s intimate portraits disrupt tidy European prejudices. Lesley Mason says that as an insight into modern Turkey, it is charming, learned and unique. Viola Fort (The Guardian) says it’s part history lesson, part cultural essay. The Armenian Odar enjoyed meeting people he would probably ignore if he were to cross the bridge. Via Martyn Everett, Jeremy Seal (The Telegraph) says Mak has reinvented the city’s iconic bridge as the focal point for the frustrations and humiliations endured by Turkey’s urban dispossessed. Doulter says Mak reports how Istanbul is in a permanent state of flux, a perfect example of new nomadism. For Gary Schwartz, it brought back memories of Istanbul. Ali Çimen interviewed Mak. Listen to Ramona Koval interview Mak on ABC’s The Book Show, or read the transcript. Here’s a curious story about the book’s publication in Holland. Esther has more.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

White cliffs of Dover
Photo of Dover by diamond geezer used under a Creative Commons license.

William Shakespeare, King Lear (Washington Square Press, 2005).
Perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, set in the royal court of a pre-Christian Britain. King Lear decides to divide his lands between his daughters, Goneril and Regan, and to disown his youngest daughter, Cordelia, who fails to flatter him as her sisters do. Lear then struggles with age, powerlessness, and madness, while Britain suffers as his daughters intrigue. Cordelia, who has married the King of France, returns with a army at Dover, where she finds Lear and the play finds its denouement.  While King Lear is hardly a guide to Dover, all of the major characters save the Fool are drawn to it, and the place has a special significance within the play.  (On this point, I am indebted to Susan Snyder, whose essay follows the play in the Folger edition noted above.)  Dover functions as a frontier, the edge of Britain, and the place where Lear and Gloucester go to transcend their experiences.

There are so many sources on Lear that a few posted here will only scratch the surface. Wikipedia’s entry on King Lear is lengthy and worthwhile. Google Books gives you a preview or MIT gives you the whole thing. You can listen to the play here. Is this Lear’s domain? Ed Friedlander wrote this essay on enjoying the play.  Here is more on the Dover connection. Songline visited Shakespeare Cliff. Plinius looked for it in the play. Here are Shakespeare playing cards. Here is Laurence Olivier playing Lear, Act IV, Scene 6, on the heath near Dover.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Peking - I Love You
Image by Nod Young used under a Creative Commons license.

Jonathan Tel, The Beijing Of Possibility (Other Press, 2009).
This collection of short stories is not just set in the Chinese capital, it is of and about the city. Tel’s Beijing is a city is close to the country, in a China which is not far from the West, and set in modern times which do not leave the past behind. Tel is fascinated by the different lives which come together in the city, by the forks which bring people to where they are now and the turns in which lives are changed and left behind — by all of Beijing’s possibilities. This Beijing is populated by messengers in gorilla suits and pick-pockets, opera composers and buskers, executives and factory workers. The disparate strands are tied together in the last story through a clever device, an effective bit of playfulness that seemed neither contrived nor obtrusive. The stories also are accompanied by Tel’s black-and-white photographs of Beijing.

Via Scott Esposito, here is one excerpt (Zoetrope)and here is another (if that link doesn’t work, try this one), and another. Terry says Tel’s Beijing is a vast, unknowable stage where opposites clash. Mark H. says Tel takes the everyday mundane life of typical Beijing residents and shares their dreams, humour and irony. L. Dean Murphy says it captures the essence of China’s rapid change. Simon Fowler says Tel’s writing shows a subtle and playful humour, and a sense of Chinese history and culture.  Barbara Ardinger says these stories are hypnotic. Jonathan Shock calls the stories windows into the split second pieces of action you see every day on the streets of any big city, and adds that in Beijing you know that the truth is much more interesting than what your imagination can muster. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a glimpse into the complicated, vibrant world of Beijing. Matthew Jakubowski interviewed Tel for The Quarterly Conversation. Here are questions for discussion and the publisher’s reader’s guide. Tel talks about taking the photographs which accompany the stories. Marshal Zeringue caught up with Tel, who’s been reading about China.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

This was to Fishtown
Photo by C. Young Photography used under a Creative Commons license.

Kevin Colden, Fishtown (IDW Publishing, 2008).
A graphic novel set in the eponymous working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia, and based on a murder there in 2003.  Fishtown is about four teenagers who murder an acquaintance for a relatively meager sum of money.  It’s a bleak story, well-executed.  I hesitate to recommend it, but if it sounds like something you might enjoy, you probably will.

Colden’s work initially was published on the internet and can still be seen here and here; he revised it somewhat before it came out in hardcover. Christopher Irving profiles Colden. Valerie D’Orazio calls Fishtown a chilling portrayal of teenage apathy and bloodlust. Alli Katz (Philadelphia Weekly) says Fishtown becomes a character in and of itself–not the hipster-ridden, art-show Fishtown, but the Fishtown of old row homes and families that have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Bryan Kerman says the tale is ultimately as mysterious as the murder: random and sick, but not rich in the telling. Dustin was continuously interested in the story even though he found none of the characters to be likable. Joshua Grace thought it had a few cool story telling devices, but he didn’t really like it. rzklkng says we all know kids like these. Jillian Steinhauer calls it an emotionally charged, upsetting, and incredibly well executed comic. Lisa Fary says Colden handles the horror of the kids’ actions and aftermath without passing judgment or making excuses for them. Rob Clough appreciates Colden’s effort to understand the murder. John Ostapkovich (KYW 1060) says it’s not for the squeamish. Sam Costello says it’s truly disturbing, unusually so in comics. Marc Sobel says it’s a quick, discomfiting read and depressing as hell, but a beautiful book. Glenn Carter says it’s dark, powerful, poignant stuff, highly recommended on every level. Timothy Callahan says its story will haunt you long after you close the covers. Callahan interviewed Colden. So did Brian Heater (part one) (part two). Here is another interview, with Michael C. Lorah. This is one of a number of blogs posting a release by the publisher’s publicist. Jaime Valero reviews it en espanol. Here’s a resource for the real Fishtown.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

aground
Photo by Mike138 used under a Creative Commons license.

Bella Bathurst, The Wreckers (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
For centuries, inhabitants of Britain’s coasts have supplemented their livelihoods with the goods and material from shipwrecks. The march of technology — lighthouses, steel hulls, GPS — has made the seas safer, but far from safe, and wrecks still come ashore, though fewer coastal communities can rely on a steady flow of them. Bathurst’s book travels around England to the most dangerous locales for shipping: the Goodwin Sands, off Kent; Pentland Firth, off northeast Scotland; the Scilly Isles; the West Coast; the Thames, where man was a bigger threat than nature; Cornwall; and the East Coast. Bathurst also wrote a terrific book about Scottish lighthouses.

Google BookSearch gives you a preview, and the author offers this from the introduction. Pedro Caleja has an excerpt too. Kathryn Hughes (The Guardian) says it is, appropriately, a kind of shimmering net of possibility rather than a definitive documentary account. Michele Hewitson (New Zealand Herald) calls it a treasure. Bill Saunders (The Independent) says Bathurst has opened a magic casement on to a lost world on the edge of living memory. Michael Upchurch (Seattle Times) says it’s irresistable. Andro Linklater (The Spectator) cannot recommend it too highly. Philip Marsden (The Times) says is it more than a collection of fine yarns and colourful facts. John Schauble (The Age) calls Bathurst a competent journeyman storyteller. Sara Wheeler (The New York Times) says Bathurst an accomplished stylist. Puke Ariki’s reviewer says the book pares the romance from the business of ship-wrecking to reveal an ugly world of avarice and brutality. Piers Brendon (The Telegraph) says one doesn’t know how much of it to believe. Tim James says it is among the finest writing on Cornwall.  Jay Taber was enthralled by the detailed descriptions of the geologic and maritime factors that contributed to the colossal tonnage of flotsam and jetsam on the shores of Scotland, England, Cornwall, and Wales, not to mention the Orkneys and Hebrides. Peter Ross interviewed Bathurst for the Sunday Herald. You can listen to this interview with her on NPR.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Cubicles
Photo by Giant Gingko used under a Creative Commons license.

Joshua Ferris, Then We Came To The End (Little, Brown, 2007).
A funny and bittersweet novel about a failing Chicago advertising agency. Ferris captures the flavor and politics, the miscellany and absurdities of working in an office. The novel is told in the first-person plural, which initially seems like a trick that can’t be sustained, but the momentum lasts and the story’s end has surprising warmth. And, again: it’s funny.

MostlyFiction has an excerpt. So does NPR. Mark Sarvas calls it a luminous, affecting debut. James Poniewozik (The New York Times) calls it expansive, great-hearted and acidly funny.  Brian Pisco says it’s like an amazing combination of Catch-22 and The Office. JS says it holds a mirror to life in a cubicle. Jennifer Finney Boylan calls it wild and heartbreaking. Mark Flanagan says Ferris nails corporate culture. Shannon Luders-Manuel likens it to Office Space and The Office. Garan Holcombe couldn’t resist its combination of distant, laconic wit, spiritual boredom, and playground camaraderie. Steve Himmer (Small Spiral Notebook) says the novel’s great triumph is its collective voice. Keith Law calls it often hilarious but uneven and disjointed. Andrew Holgate (Times Online) calls it incisive, urgent, funny and snappily written. Nancy Fontaine says it captures office life like a documentary film. Vince Passaro (O, The Oprah Magazine) says Ferris knows that great comedy has a hard bite. Steve Krause appreciates the dark undercurrent. B. Morrison laughed, cried, and was moved. Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski (The Independent) says it isn’t about work; rather, it explores how groups of people get along and what they do in order to survive. Rachel Aspden (The Guardian) says it’s more tragedy than satire. New York or London (but which?) was disappointed. Anna and Amy call it brilliant and poignant (careful: spoilers). Katelyn calls it touching. Meghan O’Rourke (Slate) appreciates Ferris’s take on work. Clare Bucknell (The Telegraph) says it’s a sharp, comic look at the workplace. Mike Landweber likes the narrator’s snarky voice. Daibhin calls it quirky and smart. Jenny calls it cool and interesting and funny. Cass didn’t think it was funny. It made Sheila O’Malley laugh so hard she cried. It gave Sam Sattler flashbacks. Badger too. Lucy Biederman says its perspective is huge. Yvonne Zipp (Christian Science Monitor) says it doesn’t lose sight of its characters’ humanity. Carl from Chicago likes the verisimilitude. Ara Jane love love love loves it (that’s the short version). Bibliolatrist says it’s one of the best books she’s ever read. Toby says it is just alright. Kirsty B. says it is a huge disappointment. And this blogger thinks it’s dreadful. Kevin Rabalais (New Zealand Listener) says it makes the unfunny funny. Listen to Terry Gross interview Ferris on NPR’s Fresh Air. Bret Anthony Johnston interviewed Ferris after the book was named a Finalist for the National Book Award. Someone interviewed Ferris for PopEntertainment.com. Alden Mudge interviewed him too. And here is Gawker on the book party.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Abidjan-girlmechanic
Photo by missbax used under a Creative Commons license.

Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, Aya (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007).
A sweet graphic novel about three teenage girls in a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in the 1970s. Aya and her friends consider their prospects for boyfriends and the future. It’s a story that could be set anywhere, except that it very much is set in a particular time and place — the Yopougon (or “Yop City”) neighborhood. This is a mundane Africa — no wars or famine. Written by Abouet and wonderfully illustrated by her husband, Oubrerie, Aya comes with a brief glossary and a peanut chicken recipe that sounds delicious. There are sequels, too.

Here is Wikipedia’s page on Oubrerie. Their publisher provides these bios of Abouet and Oubrerie. Here is an excerpt. Elizabeth Chou says it’s a unique portrait of daily life in a working class African city in the 1970s. Eva says it cleverly describes what it was like to be a young girl in Cote D’Ivoire.  Corinne calls it a fast and humorous book about the ups and downs of love and friendship. Betty’s mom says it’s a little gem. Gavin says it’s beautifully illustrated and fun to read. Marie likes Oubrerie’s charming, humorous style and the cute story. Dirk Deppey says the storytelling and art are masterful. Jessica Walker (World Literature Today) calls it a captivatingly quick read. Leroy Douresseaux says it’s simply a story of ordinary lives. Megan Milks sees a whimsical exploration of the class and gender politics of working-class Abidjan in 1978. Geoff Wisner says it captures the fun and optimism that filled Abidjan then. Juliet Waters calls it quirky and charming. Tom Spurgeon likes the soap opera tropesShould it have been a graphic novel, thebooleyhouse wonders. Ali didn’t like it much. John L. Daniels Kr. gives it five stars. This sentence has fewer syllables than EM’s haiku review does. Publishers Weekly has the trade perspective. John Zuarino interviewed Abouet for Bookslut. And Angela Ajayi interviewed Abouet for the Wild River Review. Check out this Abidjan group on Flickr.

Buy it at Amazon.com.