Category Archives: Book Review

All the Buildings in New York (That I’ve Drawn So Far) by James Gulliver Hancock

Publisher: Universe - Pub. Date: 03/05/13 - Pages: 64

Publisher: Universe –                          Pub. Date: 03/05/13 – Pages: 64

“Drawing is my way of understanding the things around me; it’s how I get comfortable and intimate with them. This project has made me friends with New York, and I hope it does the same for you. It’s a guidebook of sorts, helping you see new details and characters within the city.” –James Gulliver Hancock, from the Introduction

An illustrated journal/journey through both notable and everyday streets in New York City, All the Buildings in New York provides an exceptional perspective of the many unique buildings that countless people gaze at, rush by, walk through, work at, and live in.

I had the awesome opportunity to attend a book talk by James Gulliver Hancock last night at the Mid-Manhattan Library. A librarian interviewed him as he showed slides of his drawings and spoke of his work both in and outside of his new book. It was wonderful to hear what the Australian-born illustrator had to say about his experiences and inspirations; I even got my book signed after the event! And while I’m most certainly a fan of art, it’s literature that most often inspires me; so to have an illustrated book with few words leave such an impression on me is refreshing.

For quite a long time now, I’ve wanted to eventually become an editor at a publishing house. Of course, I realize New York City is the publishing hub, and so I’ve always imagined myself working there for some period of time someday. I would picture myself, professionally dress and walking with confidence toward my publishing house. It was a Carrie-Bradshaw-type picture (think Sex and the City opening), minus the misfortunate puddle splash. I would picture the office I would work in, piled with books, the friends I would make there, the experiences I would have.

And then this summer I got to live that dream; I landed an internship at a publishing house in New York City. I was excited and terrified to be on my own in such a huge, unfamiliar place. As it got closer and when I arrived, I began to notice the realities that had always been left out of my daydreams. I’d never included the crowds to the magnitude they actually are, the smells, the grunge, the sometimes-rickety elevators, and the seemingly secret knowledge the city goers possessed. Suddenly I was getting splashed by the puddle.

I’ve done my best to enjoy the city for the past two and a half months; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my internship and the people there, but I admit it’s been a difficult transition. I’ve often felt like an outsider to the city itself. I’ve had moments of awe, like when I saw the Flatiron Building, Strand Bookstore, and Rizzoli Bookstore for the first time. I definitely appreciate the new and old architecture neighbored side-by-side. But mainly, I would get pushed around getting on the subway, I would feel alone in the crowds, and I would wish substitute some of the buildings could be substituted with more trees.

The book talk, though, gave me an interesting opportunity to listen to a fellow outsider. I’m sure there are probably things he doesn’t like about New York, but he definitely loves the buildings and his love of the city has grown from that. During the Q&A, someone asked Hancock why he typically draws single buildings instead of whole streets, pointing out that obviously no building in New York exists without its neighbors and that all the buildings blend together with each other. Hancock replied that anyone in the city can go to a certain building, stand outside, and experience what it’s like to be amidst the other buildings and people; that’s the reality. What he’s interested in is the perspective of just the single building he’s drawing, of the everyday details so many people miss while hurrying by. He added that sometimes people who ask him to draw a building they’ve lived in for years notice new details in the drawings. It’s this perspective that really drew me in—the idea that you can still focus on the small details in a place so large, loud, and hectic without being swallowed up.

Leaving the book talk, I felt a renewed sense of excitement I had let fade into the background. I looked around at the buildings of Midtown and liked what I saw. The sun was setting and the streets were much less crowded than usual; I felt a glimmer of appreciation and even admiration for the city so many people love above all others.

On my way back, I started flipping through the pages; I recognized some buildings and didn’t recognize most. And I realized my love affair with New York is just beginning. The next time I come to the city, whenever that may be, I will remember that glimmer of love, and I will give it room to grow. All the Buildings in New York gave me new perspective in more ways than one.



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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Publisher: Ballantine Books Pub. Date: 01/01/11 -- 322 pages -- Fiction

Publisher: Ballantine Books              Pub. Date: 01/01/11 – 322 pages – Fiction

My mom’s friend gave me The Language of Flowers—first as a loan, then as a gift—earlier this summer, and I became so engrossed in it that one day while reading it I actually missed my subway stop.

Victoria, the protagonist, is the kind of character who often makes you want to smack your forehead to your palm, but you’ll love her anyway. A foster child who’s never stayed with anyone longer than 2 years, Victoria has a habit of isolating herself from everyone except flowers. She learns the Victorian language of flowers from one of her foster mothers, Elizabeth, and embraces the secretive language as a means of communicating her emotions—because few still understand that a yellow rose does not mean the same thing as a white rose. As she meets new people equally as attached to flowers, though, Victoria begins to learn there are inconsistencies within her beloved language.

The characters are fresh and insightful, Victoria is heartbreaking and beautiful, and the plot never quite lets you grasp its path as Victoria wavers between her habit of isolation and her desire for company and comfort. The love stories—of romance, family, and friendship—of Victoria’s life are layered as intricately as the petals of the flowers Victoria clings to. This book provides a perspective that most will not be able to relate to easily, and yet the elements of Victoria’s relationships maintain a simultaneously wonderful and haunting sense of universality and familiarity.

The use of the flower language within the book is fascinating; I find myself walking by bouquets and gardens wondering what the petals would have whispered during the Victorian era. Thankfully, there is a flower dictionary in the back of the book! I’ve always had the opposite of a green thumb, but this book makes me want to change that.


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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas

           Publisher: Random House             Pub. Date: 08-17-04 / 509 pgs / Fiction

With six narratives that are literally twined together in the hands and thoughts of the characters, Cloud Atlas is an absolutely fantastic exploration of time, genre, and connections.

Mitchell weaves the six sections, yet still gives each a distinct flavor. To be honest, if each narrative was its own book, I’m not sure I would’ve picked any of them off a shelf if I were only to read their titles and summaries. But that’s the wonderful thing about reading: it expands your horizons even when you don’t expect it.

Adam Ewing, who journals about his Pacific voyage, grew on me the most; his character—and the plot of his tale—develops a bit slowly at first but makes it worth the wait. Ewing is literally interrupted midsentence by my beloved Robert Frobisher’s letters to his beloved Rufus Sixsmith. As a musician, I relate with Frobisher’s enthusiasm for music and wish his Cloud Atlas Sextet existed in reality.

Luisa Rey discovers the first half of Frobisher’s letters in the midst of her journalistic adventures. I’ve never really gotten into mystery that much, but Rey’s story is intriguing, suspenseful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fun fact: it’s the only of the six written in third person. Timothy Cavendish steps in to provide some comic relief from Rey’s dramatic cliff-hanger. His one-liners are hilarious and his “ordeal” really is quite the ordeal! The thing I love most about his story is what seems to be an underlying analysis of certain aspects of present-day society.

From the realistic albeit over-the-top world of Cavendish, Sonmi-451 takes over the narrative with her calm, philosophic tone and introduces the reader to a futuristic, consumer-driven world that is absolutely horrific. Finally, Zachry’s narrative, though dialectically rather challenging, is introspective and beautiful. There is a strong sense of oral tradition and thick history that simultaneously gives the story simplicity and complexity.

Even though I’m not always a fan of dog-earing (I love old, tattered books but don’t like to tatter them myself!) I couldn’t help dog-earing all the pages that revealed connections with other sections of the book. The result, I admit, is pretty neat; the pattern of the dog-eared pages demonstrates the attention Mitchell paid to telling a story that is ultimately one of universality.

Cloud Atlas is the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s most certainly one that can be revisited countless times over. The movie version is also a must-watch; it takes the already unique stories and tells them in a refreshing, original way with a cast that is stellar and engaging. Needless to say, I’m looking very forward to reading more of David Mitchell; next on my list to read of his works is Black Swan Green, and I already just know I won’t be disappointed.


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