Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book of the Week: Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Another example of how great books are stumbled upon. I was on my way out of the AISD library when I glanced at a new book display and boom, David Byrne... about bikes! This is a book more about society and cities than about bikes, but it is a collection of Byrne's experiences while biking in different parts of the world. I have been a long time Talking Heads fan and recently a fan of all things David Byrne. His solo albums are fresh and thought provoking. His artwork is fun, vibrant and has a great underlying cometary on our society. His interviews are deep, yet accessible. Then there is the bike element, one could say that this book was ordered for me!

Basic premis is that Byrne has been keeping journals while he travels around the world on tour or for projects. He has been using a bike as primary transportation while at home in NYC and then thought, "Why not take my bike along..." He now has a folding bike (Full size, not a small wheeled thing) that he takes with him on all his trips. So his diary entries all seem to have a view from behind the handle bars of a bike. The result of which is that he has been keeping an informal record of the feeling each city has through the lens of a biker. He has also seen changes that have worked and changes that have not worked for various cities in regards to bike advocacy. It is great to hear his take on cycling, cities, and society as well as enjoy some of his ironic humor.

I enjoyed the book as something to read, it is great to see that there are well off people that see cycling as more enjoyable and more convenient than cars, and it is great to partake in a line of thought that Byrne has been developing over two decades into an informed view and has research to back it up. The other nice thing is that it is not just about bikes so it does not get old or repedative. It is about art and people and culture and society and, well... everything. He has a great bit about art and what we consider art. Here are a couple of gems from the book to give a feel:

I sense the world might be more dreamlike, metaphorical, and poetic than we currently believe---but just as irrational as sympathetic magic when looked at in a typically scientific way. I wouldn't be surprised if poetry---poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes, and designs---is how the world works. The world isn't logical, its a song.  (page 194)

I love the heavy aspect that is totally not intimidating but is accessible.  He is writing about a great idea that you could spend the rest of your life exploring but while reading it, it just seems so matter of fact and I get a feeling that even if I can't prove what he is saying is true, I believe it. Or maybe more importantly, I feel it is true. Then there is this one about an event he was attending in San Francisco:

Just as I become resigned to the business of signing books, a marching band bursts through the front doors and begins to play the "Parade." The Extra Action Marching Band has been at a street festival nearby and has decided to stage an "intervention," as they do from time to time--bringing a pleasant dose of music, anarchy, and baton-twirling girls in skimpy outfits to random events that they have decided need enlivening.  (page 225)

I feel like Byrne really captures the spirit of SF and the other cities he writes about. He seems to really get into the culture of each place and can distill those feelings into words. It is a fun and thought provoking book that I would recommend to anyone, even if you did not ever ride a bike. One final thing is that there is a little cyclist on the bottom of some pages that I notice are in different spots. I finally realized that the book is also a flip book with the little rider riding back and forth. Nice little touch.

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