Author Topic: Bookshelf


« on: January 29, 2013 »

It's Not About the Bike
Before there was Lance: the disgraced champion, Lance: the champion, and Lance: the comeback kid, there was Lance: the mild-mannered stock boy at the Plano Texas Walmart. Put in charge of Sundries & Notions at a young age, he rapidly advanced to Lead-Based Cosmetics and then to Small Arms & Ammunition, where he caught the eye of Sam Walton himself when he had the idea of greeting each customer with a Howdy Pardner! gunshot into the ceiling. Unfortunately he was later caught operating a black market in Milk-Duds and fired. The future Sheryl Crow toy boy then expressed an interest in triathlons, which in the Lone Star State consists of line dancing, barroom brawling, and bowling with armadillos. Dogged by allegations that he cheated during Achy Breaky Heart, he was watching Mork & Mindy on TV one night drunk on regrets and Walmart Beer when he fatefully wrote a wildly improvisational fan letter to Robin Williams, mentioning in a PS. that he would like a bike for Christmas.

The Wind In My Wheels
Josie Dew! What a delightful name. She pedals all over the world and has alliterative adventures. This however is the story of her year as a galley cook on a Portsmouth-registered yacht run by white slavers, described as "the happiest time of my life, except for the white slaving." Her creative juices began to simmer when she found herself making an omelette one morning for a Random House editor ravenous after a marathon session of debauchery. Encouraged to tell her own story, signed, then ordered to join the editor back in his cabin "to cross a few Ts and dot a few Is," she slapped him playfully, then less playfully, then she locked him in a trunk with the gimp; reconsidered and released the gimp; then caught the next helicopter out. (The yacht had a helipad.) The story continues in her follow-up book, The Gimp At My Heels.


The Highway Code
A very important book which would keep all of us alive if only we had to sense to dedicate our waking moments to modifying our behaviour, appearance and mindset to suit the needs of the automobile. Composed of thousands of rules and heartfelt suggestions which may be used against you in a court of law should you impede its progress or drive one in such a manner as to show a lack of respect for the Code. Numbered, like our days on earth. Illustrated with stained-glass diagrams of saints and sinners. Contains important information on stopping distances under all circumstances, including when lollipop ladies are called into service as speed bumps, and when it is snowing and the council has spent the gritting fund on golden parachutes for its outgoing executives. Revised on a regular basis to reflect the changing mores of society: note crucial differences between the 1611 edition, "Ye MUST NOT take the Lord's name in vain when being delayed by a horse answering the call of nature," and the 2007 edition, "You MUST refrain from talking on your mobile phone while driving unless you are using it to report a Jimmy Savile look-alike to the police." Cyclists are given their own section, just after 'Rules for animals', as to the regret of many, they are technically road users. The two sections are to be combined in a future edition, when the government is expected to introduce legislation to enable herding lanes.

Full list


London Bites Betty
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2014 »
Also reviewed here

Betty and Grandpa get separated when his old competitive instincts kick in after being passed by Jeremy Vine on a Boris Bike. Vine vanquished, Grandpa is then forced into an additional burst of speed to escape the grasp of The Bill, who rue that the Smart Hat hasn't yet made it off the drawing board, as the number plate would've made it easy to track down such scofflaws.

Flushed with victory, it takes Grandpa a minute to realise that he's left Betty behind. He races back but unfortunately the police have gotten wise and laid a puncture mat down "for his own good." Grandpa tries to explain the situation as he quickly fits his spare, but they've heard it all before. He impatiently endures a lecture and manages to sweet talk them out of a fine, but it's too late – Betty is not where he left her! Nor did she follow him into the speed trap, though other children are weeping next to their little bikes with shredded tyres in a creche of misery.

Grandpa disconsolately pushes his Colnago (an early Christmas present to himself) into the Winter Wonderland for eggnog and a chance to think, if the strangely familiar-looking busker will turn down the volume. He makes the rounds of the vendors, showing them pictures of his cherished Betty. Although he's not a religious man, he sends up a prayer that she's safe and they will soon be reunited.

When Grandpa raced off, Betty was thrilled! Look at him go, passing everyone, including the silly smirking man! As his backpack filled with energy gels and tea spiked with "Grandpa's little helper" (he'd let her taste it - ick) receded into the distance, Betty's tingle of pride turned into butterflies of uncertainty, then a moose of mild anxiety, threatening to roar into a penguin of panic. Grandpa, come back!

When he doesn't, she remembers what her mother taught her: Look for a grownup in a uniform. Then she spies something better - Santa himself.

"I'm an old fool!" Grandpa can't help muttering, loud enough for passers-by to roll their eyes and hug their children closer. "This isn't the Tour. What got into me? Pride? It always goes before a fall." His yellow safety vest seems to mock him.

None of the vendors remember seeing his precious grandchild, but then most of them quickly lose interest when they realise he isn't buying anything. He wanders over to the Giant Observation Wheel and manages to upgrade to a VIP Pod on the spot as the ticket taker recognises him from his glorious racing days. He even lets Grandpa bring his bike into the Pod.

As the giant wheel slowly turns, Grandpa reflects on a life well lived. He has everything an old man could want: wonderful memories; a beautiful grandchild; a new Colnago, even if it is a bit let down by poor braking performance…

His pod reaches the top of the wheel's arc and pauses, as if in reflection itself, swinging in the gentle breeze like a cradle. Somewhere far below Betty wanders alone, without him. If only she was wearing something that made her stand out from the crowd.

Santa offers Betty no real help, only vague tidings of good cheer. This leaves her at a crossroads, literally. If she was older she might scratch her head metaphorically. As it is she has a real itch, so she removes her colourful helmet

just as Grandpa chances to look down at where she's standing. He's remembered that she's wearing what he called her safety hat, but as she's just taken it off, his eyes carry on their sweep of the crowd.

The giant wheel sets him down on the ground again. His gut tells him she must be here. He knows how much she loves Christmas. He spots Santa and pushes his bike over.

"Have you seen my little girl?" he asks the clearly disinterested day-jobbing actor, picture in hand. Santa waves it away and shrugs. "I've seen a lot of kids, Grandpa. They all look the same to me."

Enraged at his flippant attitude and familiar tone – only Betty is allowed to call him Grandpa – Grandpa pulls off Santa's beard and tries to stuff it down his throat. A little French dog appears from nowhere and starts biting Santa's leg. The police arrive on the scene. The chief constable recongnises Grandpa from before, shakes his head, and is in the process of cuffing him when

Betty suddenly appears, still holding her helmet along with a shred of hope that Santa might come through for her after all. She's shocked to find Father Christmas gagging on his beard, shouting obscenities, and kicking a small dog, but even more shocked to see her Grandpapa. She rushes to hug him and he her, but he's wearing funny bracelets attached to each other. Even more horrifying, he looks as if he's been crying! She's never seen her grandpa cry.

They are tears of joy. Even the constable is touched, and after giving Grandpa a stern look (and Grandpa apologises to Santa) he uncuffs him. It looked like the helmet was going to be an important plot element, but it wasn't.

Betty and Grandpa tearfully celebrate their reunion, the constable sighs at his own soft-heartedness, and the owner of the little dog arrives to call him off but in a spontaneous gesture of seasonal generosity gives it to Betty (the dog is a metaphor for London, even though it's French – there was nothing I could do about its nationality). Santa coughs out the last of the hair from his cheap beard and contemplates his own happy ending thanks to the crumpled notes Grandpa slipped into his pocket when nobody was looking.


the good book
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2017 »
While working in a NYC bookshop back in the day

I came across this bibliographic entrapment:

well I stole the pic

Imagine the quandary of the book lover browsing the shelves. Actually, the light-fingered usually went for a page turner with a more exalted pedigree. We kept a binder of polaroids of shoplifters holding the evidence, which grew to be filled with what looked like abashed bible salesmen. This was capitalism at work. The good book offered better resale value than a how-to manual by a Yippie polemicist.

An Incomplete Education
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2020 »
Early in my parents’ marriage they fell prey to an encyclopedia salesman. Perhaps they imagined their budding family eventually using these volumes to help with a school paper on aardvarks, or to settle esoteric arguments about the theory of evolution, or to remind us who came first, Tutankhamun or Ramses II. Unfortunately they may as well have bought wallpaper,

fill in the blanks

for all the use the dozens of volumes got. Still, it was nice to grow up with books around the house.

In that spirit, many years later I found myself hauling a load of Victorian Encyclopædias home, as they were at a please-get-these-out-of-here price point. I transcribed a few articles, then they ended up in the loft as further mountains for the spiders to climb. One had honourable service as a base for the front wheel of a retired but still active bike.

A compendium of knowledge which did threaten to get dog-eared was the 1980s bestseller An Incomplete Education. I may have been hooked by the promise on the cover.

hungry for knowledge

Opening it on a random page, one finds the following:

The Day the Music Died

Depending on whether you’re one of the cognoscenti or just an average listener, atonality is either the biggest breakthrough of the twentieth century or what’s wrong with modern music. Before you can understand what atonality is, however, you have to know a little about what it isn’t – namely, tonality. Think, for a moment, of how nicely “do re mi fa sol la ti do” fit together – that’s tonality for you. It has to do with the idea that, of the twelve tones in a chromatic scale (all of the notes from, say, one C to another on the piano keyboard), only seven have a natural affinity for, hence are capable of sustaining meaningful relationships with, each other. These tones interact as family members, experiencing their little tensions (dissonances) from time to time, but managing to work things out between themselves (consonances), and always, ultimately, gravitating toward one restful “home” note (the tonic), which determines their key. Such groupings – orderly, reassuring, full of familiar emotional associations – are the basis of tonality and of virtually all Western music from Bach to Brahms.

I don’t know about you, but I find that irresistibly readable; and anyway a single volume hefty with potential to tease your inner dilettante is much friendlier than a set of encyclopedia.

According to an obituary, the book came about because

Mr. Wilson and his co-author, Judy Jones, shared an office in Esquire's research department. Perplexed by the elementary inquiries of the magazine's sophisticated writers, Mr. Wilson turned to his office mate and said: ''Haven't these people ever been to college? What they don't know could fill a book.'' And it did.

It was published by Ballantine Books. Yes, that Ballantine.

It made the trip across the sea when I moved to England, and though it doesn’t get opened very often these days thanks to the internet, I can’t begrudge its few inches of shelf space.

I couldn’t tell you offhand how to tell Keats from Shelley.


A work in progress
« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2020 »
What would you call your autobiography?

The cover art for mine comes from Mad Men, the blurb, A Few Good Men. It's peppered with illustrated quotes from the series

and features a foreword by Joan.

500 pages of fact spiced with fiction, like all the best ones – though it won't give this guy a run for his money:

(A fun read. You'd better keep your pants on around him.)

We're not wearing any!

Runners-up include An Incomplete Education, Abbie Hoffman's bold finger up to the publishing industry, and

The entire shelf, for those drama llama llong nights of the soul

Sterling's Gold