Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: The Urban Cycling Survival Guide by Yvonne Bambrick

So a few weeks ago I entered a contest on, (my newest favourite website, for all your Canlit needs) to win The Urban Cycling Survival Guide by Yvonne Bambrick. I just entered on a whim, assuming there probably wouldn't be too many people entering so I had a good chance of winning. I also thought hey, I ride my bike in the city sometimes, although I assumed it was probably written for more committed cyclists.

Well, I was wrong - it turned out, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide was exactly what I needed. As I already mentioned, I'm not a super committed commuter cyclist like some people are. I don't ride in the winter or every day. I only started using my bike to commute to school this year because other years my commute has either been too far away, or close enough that I just walk instead. 

In the introduction, the author states that her goal is to basically give a grand overview to what you need to know about biking in the city. I think she accomplishes this really well. The overview was really easy to read, clear, and caught all the most important aspects of urban cycling. However, since it is an overview, you definitely need to do some more reading to learn more about each topic. Thankfully she includes a list of additional resources at the end! There was definitely a lot of stuff that I knew already, but I learned a lot of things as well.

Mostly I learned that my city sucks for commuter cycling. I mean, I didn't even know protected cycle tracks were a thing. That would be awesome. My city barely even has bike lanes. The author actually addresses the fact that a lot of cities are only starting to be more bike-friendly. She has an entire chapter at the end of the book about bicycle advocacy. I looked up bicycle advocacy in my city, and what do you know, there are multiple groups and organizations devoted to it. 

I think one of the best things about this book is that it doesn't preach at you about being environmentally friendly, or even cycling. It was mostly just a beginner's guide to encourage people to be less afraid to just go out and try cycling by equipping them with some important knowledge. Even if you have no interest in biking right now, I'd encourage you to pick up this book anyway and read it, and then see what you think about biking afterward.

In closing I'd like to leave you with a quote included in the "Why Ride?" chapter of the book. It perfectly expresses why I love biking, and why even though biking is often much harder than driving, I would much rather bike than drive somewhere.

"For me, especially from the raised vantage point of a bicycle seat, the feeling is reminiscent of snorkeling. Like an exotic seascape seen from a fresh perspective, the city reveals itself in new ways. Self-propelled motion at relatively low speeds offers us more than exercise and a chance to commune with our neighbours. It restores a geographic intuition that was weakened by the car - a feel for the real distances between things, a sense of the connections between the parts of the city." - Ken Greenberg

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to help writers stay in touch.

I just finished Listen, Slowly by Thanha Lai. I love MG, they're always so fun and silly, but can also be really heartbreaking at the same time, and this is exactly what Listen, Slowly was. I loved Mai, she was so funny and confident and got herself into things. It's always fun when MCs just get into all sorts of crazy and embarrassing situations. I also loved how the friend Mai made while she was in Vietnam was super into frogs, of all things.


I was working on a story about a young traveler that tries to leave her hurts behind at home, but school happened, as it always does. I was trying to do 500 words a day, but I kind of just... stopped. Anyone want to volunteer to keep me accountable?


I'm finding my classes really inspiring right now, although now they're all over - my last day of classes was Tuesday! (Now exams woohoo). I love learning. 


Well, school just ended and now I'm into exam period. The other thing that just happened is I got accepted into a 5-week French immersion program called Explore, which is a program that the Canadian government actually gives bursaries for in order to encourage Canadians to learn French. So the government pays for everything except your transportation to the university you take classes at (and live at), and spending money. There's programs at universities all across Canada, but I'm going to Universit√© Laval in Quebec City! I'm super excited but also a little bit nervous because you're required to speak French all the time and I'm like... I don't know enough French!? Although I'm sure I know more than I think I do. 

Anyway, that's what's up with me. Sorry all I've been doing lately is update posts and book reviews, but I feel like I need to post something, and those are two easier kinds of posts to write. I do want to write some more in-depth posts on things I've been thinking about, though. So stay tuned!

What's up with you?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2 CanLit Reviews: Cockroach and Beauty Plus Pity

Happy April! If you didn't already know, this year I've pledged to do the Around the World Reading Challenge. It's been really fun so far, trying to find books set all over the world, and written by people who aren't American. It's interesting, reading books that are often outside my comfort zone or focused on a topic that isn't as easy to read about. One of the mini-challenges in the Around the World challenge is to read a book from every state, although I decided to tweak it and make it a book from every Canadian province and territory instead. As a result I've been reading a lot more Canadian books. Here's two that I just finished!

The first book I just finished is the book Cockroach by Rawi Hage, which is about a man trying to survive in Montreal's immigrant community, among dealing with other problems. Although one of the interesting things is he doesn't really deal with his problems. There's his issues of thievery, stalking, suicide, and his consistent hallucinations of cockroaches. It's definitely a decision on the part of the author not to have the MC to struggle to overcome any of these issues, in order to try to say something, although I'm not quite sure what. There's so much going on this book, different things that the author does with various images, that I don't even know where to start unraveling it. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it requires a lot of thinking and I think a second read-through in order to really begin to understand what the author is trying to say. 

The most interesting image is of course based off the title, the image of the cockroach, which the MC constantly imagines himself as. This is obviously the central focus of the book, the connection between this poor immigrant and how he thinks of himself as a cockroach. It's a very different, intriguing way of learning about immigrant's experiences in Canada, one that I'd never considered. It's definitely on the darker side, though, that's for sure. I wouldn't recommend this book for someone looking for something fun and light, but for someone who wants to be made to think, definitely. 

The other book I just finished was Beauty Plus Pity by Kevin Chong. This was another book where I was uncertain what the author was trying to do, although it was a lot more obvious than in Cockroach, that's for sure. Beauty Plus Pity is about Malcolm, who lives in Vancouver and is a second-gen Canadian immigrant from Hong Kong. The book mostly focuses on his relationship with his half-sister, Hadley, who was born through an affair his father had. This book was definitely a lot easier to read than Cockroach, as it mostly just went through the drama in about a year of Malcolm's life. 

Malcolm was a really easy narrator to read, too. His voice was always very calm and reasonable, and I felt comfortable in it. Just like the voice, the book also moved at a calm pace, yet it didn't feel dragged out but natural. Everything was very natural, all the character and relationship development. The subtle changes in the characters were definitely the strength of this book, because that is how people change in real life, I think. There were no giant epiphanies, but subtle ones that the reader kind of has to dig under the surface to find, which I love. I would definitely recommend this book, for someone looking for an easier read filled with good, bright and often humorous characters. Malcolm was just one of many characters in this book that was interesting to read about.

If you have any recommendations for books set outside of the U.S. or by non-American authors, comment below or tweet me @asherlockwrites!


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