Category: Book Reviews

Several months ago, the publishers of Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures sent us review copies of the book. This book, edited by Erich Schweikher and Paul Diamond (Solana Beach, CA: Casagrande Press, 2007), is a compilation of short stories by different authors, and within these stories are tales of woe that almost any cyclist can relate to.

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From tours gone horribly awry to mountain bike adventures that include getting terribly lost in a foreign country, this book is packed with one cycling bummer after another. Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures contains 27 true stories in all, and even has a photo gallery of gnarly crashes and other mishaps!

Several of the stories contained within this book seem embryonic…half-formed, rushed or a little bit lacking in terms of cohesiveness. Others could easily stand on their own and I found myself wishing that the author would continue with the story beyond the confines of the book. No matter what, though, there will be something for every manner of cyclist to relate to…a plague of flat tires, getting lost in the woods, suffering gastric distress (or worse) on a long tour.

Perhaps my favorite story is “Cycling in a New World” by Stan Green, Jr. Green tells the story of his ride through Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans shortly after the storm, visiting old haunts and trying to salvage belongings (and memories) from his childhood home and those of his family members. As a former “occasional” resident of the city of New Orleans, I was familiar with many of the sights Green talked about as he surveyed the destruction and rebirth of the city by bicycle. It moved me when he wrote, “A bike ride through New Orleans can never be what it was before August 29, 2005. Something else lies ahead, something undetectable, something unknowable — a new normal.” My feeling is that statement is a testament to the New Orleans residents’ ability to pick themselves up and adapt to changes no matter what they may be, and the story is a touching look at what was, what is, and what may be for the people of NOLA.

Overall, the book is a fast-paced and enjoyable read — something for everyone. If you get a chance, take a look for yourselves.

Based on a recommendation from our friend Shek Mukherjee (and others), I picked up a copy of Divorce Your Car: Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile by Katie Alvord (Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2000).

book cover

This book is a detailed look at how the motor vehicle has affected all aspects of life, particularly in the United States. Ms. Alvord spent a lot of time researching this book, and it shows — the text is packed with details (32 pages of notes plus a long list of suggested resources and further reading on the topics at hand). The book is loaded with facts that will curl the hair of the most jaded anti-car advocates among us…details on the environmental, socio-economic and health impacts life with motor vehicles has left us with.

But that’s not all: after illustrating the many ills motor vehicles have visited upon us, the author goes on to discuss the pros and cons of alternatives to driving a car, from alternative fuel vehicles to telecommuting to using a bicycle as transportation. She points out that some of these alternatives really aren’t as good as we might imagine…particularly the use of some of the gasoline substitutes and hybrid-vehicle technology, which may offer cleaner tailpipe emissions of some substances as compared to a gasoline-powered vehicle, but little in other smog-producing compounds, not to mention no reduction in gridlock and road congestion.

Ms. Alvord’s book is not intended to be a one-stop resource in the practical aspects of saying goodbye to the car — merely a stepping-off point and food for thought. Her resources pages can definitely assist someone seeking to go car-lite or carfree, though. A few months ago, I reviewed Chris Balish’s How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, and in many ways, Balish’s book could be considered a companion work to Divorce Your Car: Ms. Alvord tells us why we should divorce the car, Balish tells us how.

Despite the exhaustive research and documentation that went into this book, it reads well — full of humor and amazing facts and is never bogged down by all those endnotes. I highly recommend this as the first of several books someone considering a car-lite or carfree life should read, as it is eye-opening and inspirational. Thumbs up from this reviewer!

For this week’s Green Tuesday article, I’ve got something a little different…a book review, but not a typical book that gets reviewed here…

A couple months ago, I spotted an intriguing book in my library’s new nonfiction display. It is The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (Port Townsend, Wash: Process Media, 2008). This book is the third in the “Process Self-Reliance Series.”

urban homestead cover

The Urban Homestead is a handy guide to a variety of projects and techniques for living greener even in a dense urban area. The book covers a lot of bases, from gardening, composting and canning to saving electricity and encouraging alternative forms of transportation (including bicycles). Coyne and Knutzen fill the book with easy projects, personal success stories and a host of references to other Web and print resources.

It’s best to think of this book as a good springboard toward more advanced projects and techniques — it is not intended to be a “one-stop” complete guide, as such a book would be thousands of pages long. Instead, this book allows someone interested in reducing their personal environmental impact to get started without a whole lot of time or financial investment. The authors have made this book easy to stomach, with peppy writing and a good dose of humor…and it is laced with common sense tips and many “why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Overall, if you are interested in living a greener life by growing some of your own food and saving money on electricity costs, this book would be a great place to start. It’s a fun read and can be really eye-opening in the sense that some of the mystery behind smart environmental living has been removed. I recommend this one!

Here’s a book that caught my eye a couple weeks ago: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008).

shift cover

To celebrate their graduation from high school, lifelong friends Chris and Win decide to go on a cross-country bicycle tour…and only one returns to tell about it. What happened to Win? What is Chris hiding? What if Chris is telling the truth about his adventure?

This novel is the first by Jennifer Bradbury, a high-school English instructor from Burlington, Washington. It is an utterly compelling read — fast-paced, full of twists and turns and peppered throughout with realistic bicycling scenarios (the author is an accomplished bicycle tourer herself). The novel is aimed squarely at the “young adult” reader, but don’t let that put you off — this book doesn’t read like a typical YA novel. It’s smart and well-put-together and it lacks the schmaltziness many other YA novels exhibit. I absolutely could not put this book down, and subsequently burned through it in about three hours. The story has a satisfying resolution even as it leaves the reader hanging…

Even if you’re not much of a fiction reader, I highly recommend this book. Shift is such a strong first novel that there’s no telling what the author is capable of!

To read more about the author and to read additional reviews of the book, please visit the author’s website.

One of the joys of working in a library is that I often have access to free books — particularly sample review copies sent by publishers. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt caught my eye a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I brought it home.
Traffic is published by Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 2008).

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

This book is an utterly fascinating look at the physiological, psychological and social dynamics of motor vehicle use worldwide. In a nutshell, this book contains insights into everything you’ve ever thought of (and a lot of things you never dreamed of) while stuck in traffic: why is the other lane always moving faster? What’s up with all these signs? Why do our personalities change when we get behind the wheels of our cars? Why is it so hard to find a parking space?

Vanderbilt traveled the world, speaking to traffic engineers, road planners and law enforcement officials. Along the way, he discovered many tidbits, from the absurd — topless Danish models holding speed-limit signs (strangely enough, it worked — no one sped!), to the nearly-suicidal traffic frenzy in Delhi, India, where somehow traffic moves efficiently. Vanderbilt also spends a good bit of time discussing the work of Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer and visionary who is the father of the Shared Streets concept.

The book is wonderful; filled with lighthearted humor and great insights into what’s happening on the streets of the world. Although it is not geared towards cyclists, exactly, there are tidbits contained within these pages that address some of our concerns.

You may ask yourself, “are humans REALLY meant to drive?” after reading this book. I know I did, and as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on that…in any case, I sincerely hope that motorists who wind up reading this book may start to consider bicycles as a valid mode of transportation. Put this book on your “short list”, reading-wise. It’s really good stuff!