Duck Duck Book

50 – lost
01.1.2008, 6:22 pm
Filed under: technology

Lost : lost and found pet posters from around the world / Ian Phillips.
New York, N.Y. : Princeton Architectural Press, c2002.
[MCL call number: 636.0887 P559L 2002; two copies, no holds]

Even if you have never had a pet, are allergic to cats, find dogs uncivilized, and think pet owners are deluding themselves when you hear them describe the close relationships they have with their animal friends, Ian Phillips’s collection of lost and found pet posters could still charm you.  Some of the posters will look familiar, like those you see in your own neighborhood, but others are astonishing for their content.  Some particularly engaging examples include:

  •  “Lost. kitten /  Name.  Kitty / Address: 2227 E Moodie St. / what / kind of / cat.  Half / Siameses.  Half normal.  / color.  black / meows lot.” (this accompanied by a vaguely cat-like and decidedly four-legged creature, with a word balloon proclaiming “meow meow meow meow?”)
  •  “Big black rat escaped. / Reward to finder. / Rats name is Poison.  Please help!”
  •  “Lost female dog / Children crying”

Phillips includes some thoughts on collecting lost pet posters ethically, and a nice set instructions for creating a poster when your own pet is lost.  Lost has no index, though there is a nice guide to the geographic locations where the posters included in the book were collected.


50 – ode less travelled
01.1.2008, 6:21 pm
Filed under: literature

The ode less travelled : unlocking the poet within / Stephen Fry.
New York : Gotham Books, 2006.
[MCL call number: 808.1 F947o 2006; eight copies, no holds]

I have never been a fan of poetry.  I consider this to be a major personal flaw, but it is one that has been difficult for me to overcome.  When I say that I dislike poetry, what I mean is that I don’t enjoy reading it.  I do enjoy poetry as a performance art; or at least I do when it is above the usual level of coffee shop open mic readings.  But I’ve experimented a little bit, and even when I try reading the exact same poems I have enjoyed in performance, I usually find them impenetrable, or even stultifying. 

This is not because I am indifferent to the beauty of language.  Actually, I find great pleasure in reading a well-formed phrase, sentence, argument, or speech; and I am often quite irritated with awkwardly or impatiently written language.  I am interested in words, their meanings, their use, and their quirks.  I like the feel of speaking, or even thinking, certain words and phrases.  And, perhaps most significantly, I am unhappy when I am not spending at least a bit of each day writing, or thinking about what I will write, or reading something I am planning to write about.  But still, I do not like poetry.  Not only do I dislike reading it, but I suspect that the majority of published poetry is actually crap and not worth anyone’s time.  I say “I suspect” because as I believe I have made clear, I don’t read much poetry and so I am hardly eligible to judge the whole corpus of poetic publishing.

However, I recently came across Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, and saw that it might be a useful tool to help to get over my prejudices regarding poetry.  In his foreword, Fry does not promise to show his readers how to enjoy reading poetry; in fact, he specifically states that his purpose is not to teach poetry appreciation, but instead to instruct in the craft of poetry writing.  But even though it was so clearly not written with my need in mind, I read the book with an earnest desire to take Fry’s tuition.  I paid attention to his basic rule to read every poem out loud (or at least mouth the words to myself), I read his introductions to the various forms, I patiently navigated the many examples of great and terrible poetry he uses to illustrate the history of verse, and I dutifully wrote lines and couplets and eventually whole little stanzas, paying attention to stress and even weaving in rhymes. 

And, while it is true that I managed to make some compositional effort of my own (a selection of my awkward attempts is below) the balance of what I took from the experience of reading the book is heavily weighted towards a greater understanding of the poetic arts, rather than any significant increase in my own technical mastery of them.  Fry did not make a poet of me, but his instructive journey through the major English language poetic forms, their history, and their use, did give me the tools I need to make a more earnest effort to enjoy reading a bit of poetry, should the need arise in the future.

So, I recommend The Ode Less Travelled to readers like me who have trouble with the challenges of reading poetry, or of appreciating it in a satisfying way.  The book will also be useful for budding poets who are seeking an introduction to meter, rhyme, and form, or even as a kind of encyclopedia of the history and structure of English poetry.  But also it is beautifully written, full of engaging illustrative examples, and very funny while still being quite serious.

 * * *

My poetic genius allowed me, with the additional benefit of Fry’s helpful instruction, to come up with such gems as:

Books are for use, librarians all say. 


The laundry flaps on the line in the yard.
I hear the wind rustling through the trees. 

and better still:

Detective Chief Inspector Foyle
wishes he could do more
to help the effort of the war.
It seems he does not know
the good he does each day and night
for Hastings and England
by continuing just to be
as he has always been.

50 – transit maps of the world
01.1.2008, 6:20 pm
Filed under: history & geography

Transit maps of the world / Mark Ovenden.
London : Penguin Books, 2007.
[Multnomah County Library has this book on order; it has not yet been assigned a call number, but my guess is that it will be 912 — Atlases, maps, charts and plans]

I am a life-long user of public transit. I have had a driver’s license for fifteen years but I am a horrifically un-confident driver and have never owned a car; and one of my earliest memories at age three or so is of a frightening incident on a bus — the door closed on my arm (I wasn’t hurt, just really freaked out and sure I’d never see my mother again, even though she was about a foot away at the time). I don’t exactly love riding the bus or the train, but I definitely find some concrete satisfaction in it — traveling by public transportation gives me time to read and knit and think while in transit; requires that I maintain a moderate level of skill in conversing with strangers who I would never otherwise meet; and allows me to work four miles away from my house without having to drive or bike through city traffic, or brave an hour-long walk every morning and night. My view is that public transit is absolutely essential to city life, and the more effective it can be, the better the city will function. But like many features of urban life and infrastructure, public transit is composed of many complicated facets. One of these is the map that shows where the transit system will take you.

Mark Ovenden’s nearly encyclopedic collection of urban train maps takes a world-wide view, examining maps from cities on six continents. After a terse introduction detailing the history of urban rail transit systems and the maps and diagrams devised to explain them, entries on individual transit systems are arranged in several groups, according to the richness of their history in maps. The first section devotes about four pages each to some of the oldest subway systems, in Berlin, Chicago, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris, and Tokyo. The rail systems in each of these cities is shown in a dozen or so maps from different periods in its evolution, and in the evolution of its graphic representation. Subsequent sections are devoted to transit systems with shorter histories (or at least with fewer maps reproduced), and the book is appended with a brief section discussing other maps that use the distinctive transit map language of colored lines, usually arranged in forty-five degree angles — such as the map created by fans of the British television series Doctor Who, which shows the Time Lord’s domain in London Underground map style (page 141). The book also includes two helpful indexes (one for geography and one for subjects) and a short, unannotated bibliography.

Of course the main attraction of Transit Maps of the World is its reproductions of maps and diagrams. I found some of the older illustrations particularly charming: a 1958 map of the Moscow Metro with each stop marked by an icon of its grand station entrance (page 29); several early Chicago Transit Authority maps that have west at the top, to accommodate the annoyingly blank expanse of Lake Michigan (page 16); a 1937 map-book cover from the Paris Metro with trains heading out of a tunnel in three-point perspective atop the three-dimensional letters “METROPOLITAIN” (page 38); a stylized 1966 diagram of Barcelona’s Metro showing two subway lines and giant civic landmarks against a stark white background (page 46); and a stylized 1926 map of the (now defunct) Los Angeles Pacific Railroad in the shape of a balloon (page 9).

But some of the considerable charm of the book is more in its reproductions of graphic work than less in the histories and oddities of individual transit systems.  For example, Ovenden explains that every station in Mexico City’s Metro has its own unique emblem (the one shown on page 60 is for Zaragoza station on Line 1, and features a person on a horse) to help illiterate riders identify their destinations more easily. And, when the Berlin Wall went up between in 1961, the city’s U-Bahn (pages 12-15) was divided into two separate systems. Some West Berlin lines went underneath East Berlin, traveling through sealed-off stations, and each city developed maps showing the whole underground train system, but minimizing the graphical impact of the part on the other side of the wall.

Many of the maps are reproduced at so small a scale that their details are hard to decipher, which is unfortunate, but on the whole, Transit Maps of the World is an excellent resource. It is clearly laid out and should be useful for serious readers seeking a narrative of transit map history as well as for map junkies and people who are merely curious. The book’s cover proclaims that it is “The world’s first collection of every urban train map on earth,” which is a bit of an overstatement since many purely aboveground train systems are excluded, but readers should forgive Ovenden for this, since his is indeed the first book to consider transit maps as a group, while discussing their development both as tools for transit users and as achievements in graphic design.