Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review #24: In Praise of SLOW by Carl Honoré

A non-fiction book all about the 'slow' movement: engaging, enlightening and crucial to maintaining a modicum of sanity in today's rush-rush world.

This is an important book. Subtitled ‘How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed’, the author of this engaging work explores the Slow revolution as it applies to food, city life, cars, medicine, sex, work and children. Probably best known for the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in response to fast food, ‘Slow’ has branched out in many directions. There are now thirty cities in Italy that have designated themselves as Slow Cities, meaning they do everything they can to consider the quality of life in their urban centers rather than merely the economic impact of regulations. This results in fewer cars, less smog, more biking and walking, more small shops.

Honoré points out that the cult of speed has been with us since the Industrial Revolution – and it’s getting worse, with businesses routinely expecting 60-80 hours from workers each week, young children with the schedules of high-powered executives, rampant road rage and doctors who don’t have time to listen to their patients. The author states: “Boredom…is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation, and we fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of the time.” But Honoré is no true-believer – he questions every aspect of the Slow movement and keeps coming up with the conclusion that it just makes sense – life in the slow lane is more enjoyable, more pleasurable, more humane. This is a remarkable book that should be read by every resident of today’s frenzied urban world.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review #23: The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore

This delightfully quirky novel didn't get much attention when it first came out but I loved it. Moore's work should be better known.

Set in Montreal, this novel is the highly inventive story of four friends, a mother and a doctor. Noel, who has synaesthesia (like Liszt and Rimbaud), sees sounds as colors. He also has a prodigious and acute memory. Noel’s mother has Alzheimer’s and he is seeking a cure in his basement laboratory with the help of his friends: handsome, debauched Norval; childlike, Internet addict JJ; and Samira, an Arabic-Canadian former actress who is the love interest of the three males. Studying Noel’s disease is Dr. Vorta who stands in the background of this story like a puppet-master. As the cynical Norval works his way through an alphabet of lovers (as a performance art piece), Samira becomes the ‘S’ in his project, causing a subtle conflict with Noel who is secretly madly in love with her.

Bursting with vitality, ingenious and darkly spangled with a sometimes-grim humor, the novel’s fragmentary style, which includes selections from several characters’ diaries, reflects the skipping stone mind of a synaesthete. The writing is relentlessly witty and a constant delight. Norval extracts himself from a sleeping woman’s limbs with “diamond-cutter caution”. JJ has the “teapot cheeks” of youth and “a preliminary scenario for a goatee”. The story is filled with detailed lore on chemistry, pharmacology and herbology as Noel finds hints in the ancient Arabic book, A Thousand and One Nights, in his hunt for a cure to memory loss. In a lovely, touching denouement, Noel discovers the secret buried in his “pent heart”. For those who like their fiction quirky and energetic, this novel is highly recommended.