Saturday, April 24, 2010

McSweeney's, No. 33: The San Francisco Panorama (2010)

I'm not usually much of a McSweeney's reader, but my cousin loaned me a copy of McSweeney's, No. 33: The San Francisco Panorama (2010), edited by Dave Eggers and his gang. In this experiment, the McSweeney's crew decided to celebrate everything that was great about traditional print journalism and the large canvas provided by newsprint -- kind of a eulogy to the dying format, as well as a call for its rebirth. What they ended up creating is an overwhelming thing of beauty -- beautiful because of the full-color printing and the striking layouts, and overwhelming because it is over 300 pages long. This is a seriously intense newspaper.

So here is a thing about me: I don't really like newspapers. Physically, I mean. They are hard to hold, make a lot of noise, and are practically impossible to read while laying down (which is my favorite way to read). I read most of my day-to-day news online, and for longer pieces of journalism I prefer magazines (shout out to Harpers, the best magazine on earth!). That being said, the Panorama really does take advantage of the large format and prints some gorgeous photographs and very smart infographics that wouldn't have worked in a smaller medium. So there could be something in this embrace of the newsprint medium for certain tasks.

It might be my reading preferences talking, but my favorite parts of the Panorama were the magazine enclosures (one for books and another more general magazine). And of course the comics -- comics are the exception to the rule in my dislike of big newspapers. The bigger the better for the comics pages. There is some first rate journalism in the Panorama, and the short story by George Saunders in the books section ("Fox 8") was worth the cost of admission alone.

While I initially balked at the size and "newspaperyness" of the whole thing, I'm very glad I stuck with the Panorama. Thanks McSweenoids! And thanks, cuz!

[There is a nice description of the project here, including some lovely pictures]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Land of The Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man (2009)

Cadillac Man is a homeless guy from Hell's Kitchen, and Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets (2009) is a memoir distilled from the journals that he has been keeping for the past thirteen years. In his book, Cadillac Man introduces us to his friends and his enemies, memorializes other street people who died on the street or just disappeared, and takes us back into his childhood and his "outsider" life with his wife and children and job and explains how he got to where he is today.

His book is moving, often funny, sometimes scary, and always filled with his personality. After reading it, I felt like he had been talking in my ear for a few days, and after I was done I missed that voice. The writing is at its best when reflecting on his past and current life, or when giving the reader a look at the procedures of homelessness (how to set up camp, strategies for canning, how to win a fight, where to get food), and at its worst when he peppers his stories with lots of dialogue, which is often written in the stilted way dialogue gets when you tell it later as a story. And since Cadillac Man is a storyteller, I guess I can't fault him for that.

At the end of the book I found out that some guys made a documentary about Cadillac Man [trailer here], and I think I'd like to see it. Most of all, I'd like an update on his life -- has he been in touch with his children at all? Did he ever hear anything else from Penny (a runaway that he fell in love with and then helped get back to her family)? Is he still living under the same viaduct?

This book gives an interesting perspective on a prevalent way of life and tells it in a compelling way. Definitely recommended.

[I got this book through the highly recommended LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Immortal by Christopher Pike (1993)

Christopher Pike's The Immortal (1993) came out a little too late to be included in my youthful Pike party, but I got a discarded copy of it when I worked at a bookstore in college and have moved it around for so many years that I'm glad I've finally read it. And now I can give it away!

We all know that Christopher Pike doesn't age as well as we might like. The Immortal, on the other hand, seems like it wouldn't have set that well with me even at a tender age. The plot has Josie going for a week-long vacation in Greece with her best friend, Helen; her father, a Hollywood screenwriter; and his girlfriend Silk, a wannabe actress. Helen and Josie have just graduated from high school (although you would hardly guess it since they never talk at all about work, college, or what they plan to do with themselves). They also don't get along with each other very well, which is odd for best friends, but maybe not quite so odd when one learns that Josie dated Helen's boyfriend after he broke up with her. And then Helen tried to kill herself. And Josie was struck by a sudden and inexplicable heart problem. And they were both in the hospital and near death for awhile. But now everything is fine. So they are going to Greece!

Helen had been to the island of Mykonos the summer before (her parents took her there after she got out of the hospital), so she shows Josie around. Josie quickly falls in love with the island, feeling an inexplicable closeness to everything there, including Tom, an English summer worker who Helen had a fling with the summer before. So Josie, being Helen's best friend, naturally makes quick work of getting Tom to fall in love with her.

All pretty pedestrian, right?

But wait!: Josie and the gang take a tour boat out to the sacred island of Delos. She feels totally connected to the island, and begins having weird dreams about a goddess when she gets back. Later she spends an illicit night on the island after falling out of a boat and wakes up to find a statue of the goddess from her dreams next to her. Her dreams get more and more vivid, Helen acts more and more distant, and then she and Tom get really sick. But what can it all mean?

Even though this book was pretty dumb, I don't want to spoil it for other Pike enthusiasts, so I'll just say that the twist is hidden relatively well, but feels kind of underwhelming once it is revealed.

Half of this book is written like a vacation guide to the Greek island of Mykonos, there is a very tacked on sub plot where Josie and her dad discuss the plot of his science fiction screen play for pages and pages, none of the teenagers act very teenagery, and none of the adults act very adult.

I love you Christopher Pike!

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Stuff that Dreams are Made of

Don't freak out. This post is not about a book!

When I was growing up, there was a department store in Lincoln named Richman Gordman. In the center of this department store was an animal-themed indoor playground that parents could use to entertain their children while they got some shopping done. In the center of that playground was this amazing (and, in retrospect, extremely disturbing) elephant slide. And now, thanks to the power of Ebay, you can purchase that slide for a minimum bid of $521.00 as of this posting! Well not the exact same one, since the one that is for sale is apparently from Omaha, but you get the idea.

I still sometimes have weird dreams about this bizarre indoor playground filled with giant animal equipment. I was actually pretty scared to go on the elephant slide (with its blood red nose!) for quite awhile as a young girl. Thanks to Allison for posting a link to this on Facebook!

[Also, if you aren't familiar with this awesome slide, please note that you enter the slide from underneath the trunk, between the elephant's legs, then crawl up through the inside of the elephant and slide down his weirdly opened up trunk. Scary!]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy (2008)

The always lovely Choo lent me this copy of Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy (2008) awhile ago and it languished at the bottom of my ever-growing book reading pile for way too long. I have a thing for biographies of female nobles from the past, and this exploration of the life of Isabella de Medici in 16th century Italy totally fits in that category.

Isabella was the daughter of Cosimo de Medici, a savvy politician and strong businessman who strengthened the Medici family's grip on Florence and eventually worked his way up to being named Grand Duke of Tuscany. Cosimo was extremely dedicated to his family, particularly the women in it, and of all his children Isabella seems to have been his favorite. She was raised in style in a close-knit family, and educated every bit as much as her brothers. When she was married to Paolo Orsini, the playboy son of a powerful Roman family, Cosimo saw to it that Isabella remained the female anchor of the Medici family and made it possible for her to stay in Florence instead of joining her spendthrift husband in Rome or at his isolated country estate.

Isabella was able to lead a life that few Italian women in her era could -- educated and respected by her family, freed from any obligations as a wife, and funded by the deep pockets of her father, Isabella was the ultimate intellectual society party girl of her day. She sponsored musicians, artists and writers, mentored her beautiful cousin Leonora (who was married to her youngest brother), threw the best parties in Florence, and had some not-so-secret lovers -- all while deftly avoiding her husband's pleas for her to join him in Rome.

Everything was going pretty well for Isabella until the man who made it all possible, her father, died. After Cosimo's death, the leadership of Florence fell to his oldest son, Francesco. Isabella and Francesco had never really gotten along that well, and he never approved of her lifestyle. Francesco was not nearly the leader that his father was and the delicate balance of Florence society quickly began to fall apart. Francesco eventually took swift action to silence the dissenters and remove any obstacles to his power, which ultimately led to a very sad end for both Isabella and Leonora (one you could probably guess from the title of the book).

Murphy's book is nicely researched and illustrated, and reads almost like a novel -- she gives the reader enough context to understand what is going on, but doesn't dwell overly long on arcane details, names and dates. Highly recommended if you too have a thing for those crazy high-born ladies from history.

[Note: When I read The Agony and the Ecstasy (a historical novel about the life of Michelangelo that I didn't like that much), I vowed to read more about the Medici family. And I just did! I'd just like to congratulate myself on the follow through.]