Author: Mark Kurlansky
Title: The Last Fish Tale
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks, Inc. (2008)
Mark Kurlansky, author of excellent books about Cod and Salt, takes on the unique fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts in this work. Kurlansky approaches Gloucester from all angles with a historical survey stretching back to colonial times (and earlier), cultural and sociological insights into Gloucester people, and every so often throws in a traditional seafood recipe for good measure. Kurlansky alternates between fish tales – adventures of exaggerated braggadocio – and Gloucester tales – peculiarly tragice stories of those who went down in ships.
Mostly though, this is a book about Gloucester’s life blood – the fisheries and the commercial fisherman who sail out into them. In fact, Kurlansky ventures far beyond Gloucester to Canada, Britain, and Europe to other fishing villages who essentially share the same ecosystem and suffer the same fate of fishing villages in a time of dwindling stocks, pollutions, and sometimes counterproductive government regulation. This is a fascinating and lively book and I really enjoyed a learning a bit about a town so close to home, yet so distinctly separate.
Recommended books: Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic by Redmond O’Hanlon; Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape by Peter Manso; The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
Author: John F. Wasik
Title: The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome
Publication Info: New York : Bloomberg Press, c2009.
A new and timely book explores the housing crisis that has contributed to worldwide economic collapse over the past year. Wasik deals out a fair share of blame to Wall Street, banks, home buyers, and governments, but chalks up the main problem to the unsustainable nature of larger houses being built in ever-increasing numbers at greater distances from the urban core. The whole lifestyle of such homes is destructive to people’s health and happiness, the earth, and our bank accounts. Much of the first part of the book is nothing new to anyone who has read anything about the destructive nature of suburbia and sprawl. The second part of the book is more interesting where Wasik describes some innovative ways of sustainable development, starting with how houses are constructed and reclaiming cities and near suburbs (while eschewing so-called “green” buildings). It’s an interesting overview with some good ideas but it feels a bit rushed an incomplete. Granted though it is a continuing story. Hopefully Wasik will be able to add a happy coda to future editions.
Recommended books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs; Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back by Jane Holtz Kay
Rating: ** 1/2
Author: John Cheever
Title: The John Cheever Audio Collection
Publication Info: Harper / Caedmon Audio (June 2003)
Preparing for career week in high school, the guidance counselor asked what type of job I wanted to have. I told him I wanted to be an author. He asked what type of writing I wanted to do, and I replied that I wanted to write stories based on the suburban experience. “You should read John Cheever,” he suggested and then assigned me to an internship with the local newspaper. Of course, I didn’t listen to his suggestion and didn’t read John Cheever until now (with one exception).
I was drawn to the Audion Collection from an episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge which featured clips of the stories read by Meryl Streep, Blythe Danner, George Plympton, and Cheever himself among others. I am pretty amazed by these scenes of middle-class life in post-WWII America. The stories describe a time gone by but still very familiar as it captures an era that was coming to an end in my childhood. Cheever captures the everyday grief, mundacity, and petty jealousies of his characters. Sometimes his stories take on a surreal Twilight Zone feel as in “The Enormous Radio” where the titular device broadcasts the conversations of other residents in an apartment building or “The Swimmer” where a man attempts to swim home through all the backyard swimming pools in his neighborhood on a journey that takes years. There also is a time an O’Henry feel in stories like “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor” where in an ironic twist a poor elevator man requires more gifts than he knows what to do with.
The stories are grim, the characters are unlikable, but there’s something in the gritty humanity of Cheever’s stories that make me like them and want to read more. Credit should be given to the voice actors who bring these stories to life as well.