Archive for September, 2016

Review: When Strangers Meet

Friday, September 30th, 2016

It’s Warren Ellis‘s fault that I read this, and I thank him for it.  Kio Stark has a great gift for seeking out and describing the small moments that interacting with strangers can bring you.  There are moments of fright, enlightenment, joy, melancholy, and usually mixtures of all those.  She writes remarkably beautifully about them.  Ellis brought them to me by mentioning her brilliant newsletter in his brilliant newsletter.

When Strangers Meet is Stark’s manifesto claiming that people should seek these moments out. The whole thing is brought to us by the TED folks, no relation.  She makes a fine argument and I’m predisposed to believe her.  Seeking out exchanges with strangers one of the things I’ve begun doing lately, and I agree with all the benefits she claims.  But the best arguments for her position are her vignettes.

Recommended, as is her newsletter.

Review: Three Squares

Friday, September 30th, 2016

There are a lot of cool books that don’t change your life.  Because I have a huge ego, I imagine that authors find and cherish my reviews.  I always feel a little bad about reviewing a cool book that didn’t amaze me, because I think that the author would feel damned by faint praise.

Abigail Carroll has done a fine job with Three Squares.  It’s absolutely a cool book.

Her topic is the history of American eating habits from the 1600’s to today.  Those habits have been formed by and reflect the whole of the evolution of American culture and technology.  Seeing all that reflected in a taco truck on every corner is remarkable and fun.

Carroll does a great job of stepping back and letting all that shine through.  There aren’t any breathtaking insights or jaw-dropping expressions, but I learned a lot.


Review: The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Eben Weiss’s manual is more a manual about the care and feeding of the owners of bicycles than for the machines.  That’s a bold plan; bikes are simple and people are not.  The bikesnobnyc (Weiss’s well-known online handle) seizes the opportunity and writes a quite brilliant book.  It’s a manual in format and a keenly observed and clearly articulated introduction to a multifaceted community in content.

That community is the cycling community.  The idea that the set of people who share only the attribute “I bought a bike and want to use it” have formed a community is kind of laughable.  The bikesnobnyc has explored many of the corners of that set and found the shared values that form the community, while never losing the bristly independence that characterizes the proud enclaves within it.  It’s a  unique and powerful achievement.

For people who are drawn into this opinionated and often embattled community, the Owner’s Manual is indispensable. Cyclists appear because of love of the act of cycling, desire to change the world/ecology, or the simple dollars and cents issues of getting around cheaply.  The snob speaks to all those motivations and more with neither denigration nor condescension.  None of the motivations nor communities around them escapes criticism or goes unappreciated.  No matter which pack appeals to the reader – or appalls them – the group gets a fair treatment.

Also, it’s very funny.  Not in a wakka-wakka-wakka kind of way, but in a vivid and engaging way.  The bikesnobnyc does have a reputation for “snark,” so there’s some vinegar in there, but it never obscures the point.

Now, don’t read this expecting details about how to tune your brakes.  I certainly learned things from it – including technical points – but the power of the work is in understanding the people doing those technical things.  There are plenty of places to learn the details.  This is the best book I’ve ever seen to explain the lay of the land.

If you’re interested in cycling or are trying to understand a cyclist in your life, this is the book you need.

A must.