Book giveaway!!! – ‘Human Transit’ by Jarrett Walker

Win a copy of Jarrett Walker's new book

Here’s some great news, just in time for Christmas! I’m very pleased to announce I have two copies of Jarrett Walker’s much-anticipated new book, Human Transit, to give away at random to readers of The Melbourne Urbanist.

This is a very big deal. Many readers will know Jarrett as the “transit experts’ expert”, as well as through his internationally renowned blog, Human Transit. His new book, Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives, will be published later this month in Australia by NewSouth Books (ahead of the rest of the world, too).

The book aims to make transit choices clear to the interested general reader, including elected officials, advocates, and professionals in related fields. Here’s NewSouth’s blurb:

Public transit is a powerful tool for addressing a huge range of urban problems, including traffic congestion and economic development as well as climate change. But while many people support transit in the abstract, it’s often hard to channel that support into good transit investments. In Human Transit, Jarrett Walker supplies the basic tools, the critical questions, and the means to make smarter decisions about designing and implementing transit services.

To be in the running to win, all you have to do is nominate your favourite rail station, tram stop or bus stop in Melbourne. Follow this link to enteror go to the Pages menu in the sidebar (whatever you do, don’t enter here!)Entries close in two weeks at midday Saturday, 17th December 2011. One entry per person and I can only post within Australia.

As always, the quality of your nomination has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you’ll win. The winner will be determined at random. You just can’t be in the running unless you make a nomination. Of course, a little explanation would be appreciated.

You can get much more info on the book if you follow the link, including the entire introduction and a detailed Table of Contents. You can order an advance copy direct from NewSouth Books and get a 20% discount.

I’ll be reviewing Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Remember, follow this link to enteror go to the Pages menu in the sidebar (but don’t enter on this page).


New book giveaway: Black Glass by Meg Mundell

I have two copies of another wonderful book about Melbourne to give away courtesy of Scribe Publications. This time it’s a novel set in a dystopian future Melbourne. Those inner city places you know and love (or hate), from Crown to the city loop to Footscray, have a new life in this dark and sinister world. It’s a compelling story in its own right, but as with The Slap, it’s fascinating to see familiar places and landmarks. There’s an added dimension here, though, because the writer re-imagines new and sometimes ominous purposes and populations for these places.

To be in the running to get one of the two copies of Black Glass, all you have to do is say which café, restaurant or bar in Melbourne you think has the most interesting ambience. Not so much food, more the design, setting and people who frequent it. Follow this link to enteror go to the Pages menu in the sidebar (don’t enter on this page). Entries close in ten days at midday Thursday, 15 September 2011. One entry only per person. And the odds are much better than Crown!

As always, the quality of your nomination has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you’ll win a copy of the book. The winner will be determined at random. However, explanation is encouraged. If you’re really at a loss and don’t care what the world thinks of you, “Pascoe Vale RSL Club” will do.

If you’re one of the winners, you’ll have to provide Scribe Publications with an Australian address they can post the book to (I won’t know who you are or where you live).

I probably live a sheltered life, but I must say I haven’t seen a ‘book trailer’ before (other than those execrable things on First Tuesday Book Club). There’s lots more info about the book at Scribe Publications and I’ve got more on the entry Page. But I think Chris Womersley sums it up well:

Black Glass is a superb debut novel. Meg Mundell has invented a compelling futuristic version of our urban world that is not only original but — like all great speculative fiction — frighteningly recognisable. In addition, she has populated it with a cast of charismatic characters, notably the resourceful sisters Tally and Grace — truly an endearing and heroic pair.’

Don’t enter here – follow this link.


New book giveaway: ‘When we think about Melbourne’ by Jenny Sinclair

Detail from cover of 'When we think about Melbourne'

Affirm Press has kindly supplied two copies of Jenny Sinclair’s beautiful book, When we think about Melbourne, to give away to readers of The Melbourne Urbanist.

To be in the running to get a copy, all you have to do is say which shopping/activity centre in Melbourne you think is the best. Follow this link to enteror go to the Pages menu in the sidebar (don’t enter on this page). Entries close midday Saturday, 3 September 2011. One entry only per person.

As usual the quality of your nomination has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you’ll win a copy of the book. The winner will be determined at random. However, a little explanation is encouraged. If you’re stuck, “the Bourke Street mall”, is acceptable.

If you’re one of the winners, you’ll have to provide Affirm Press with an Australian address they can post the book to (I won’t know who you are or where you live).

Here’s how Readings describes When we think about Melbourne:

Considering most Melburnians remain as steadfastly loyal to their city as they do their chosen AFL team, Jenny Sinclair is not alone in her love of Melbourne. When We Think About Melbourne charts the geography of Melbourne by exploring the historical and cultural significance of its landmarks and suburbs. Each section is accompanied with images and maps, which make for an interactive reading experience.

Sinclair’s interest lies in the way people make sense of their surroundings and come to call a particular area home. She does this through analysing the importance of maps, whether they are grand-scale drawings, something found on Google, or lines scrawled on notepaper. She also explores the potent effects of Melbourne on its artists – from Paul Kelly to Helen Garner – and how their works shape our own view of this ever-evolving city.

Here’re some images from this very visual book; here’s a review by Anson Cameron published in The Age; and here’s the author in conversation with John Faine (in company with Sonia Hartnett and Chopper Read!).

This extract from one of the chapters, City Stories, looks at how novelists have imagined Melbourne and here’s a small part of the rightly famous chapter on the Melway, a cartographic delight. Best of all though is this extract from a glowing review by The Melbourne Urbanist:

One of the observations made by Jenny Sinclair in When we think about Melbourne really strikes a chord with me – just how different the city is when you see it from the saddle of a bicycle. In this extract, she’s just cycled up the middle of St Georges Rd to Reservoir:

Perched on my bike on the track that runs through the park opposite these fine houses, I look down across Preston, Glenroy and to the city, and think: ‘it’s all downhill from here’. When I get home, I felt my sense of the world had expanded a little. Moments like this, of unexpected connection and revelation – I call them ‘surprised by joy’ moments after Wordsworth’s poem – come when we immerse ourselves, when we walk and ride; they are why we should get out of our cars for ourselves, not ‘just’ for the environment or for exercise Read the rest of this entry »


A literary map of Melbourne’s railways?!

Amimation: London rail network - pulse of the city (not 'literary' but interesting nevertheless)

The English cricket writer, Neville Cardus, is famous for bringing a literary sensibility to the hitherto prosaic task of reporting on the game. International cricketer John Arlott said, “before him, cricket was reported … with him it was for the first time appreciated, felt, and imaginatively described”.

British novelist David Mitchell may be the Neville Cardus of the railways (not the very talented comedian of Mitchell & Webb fame – this is the David Mitchell who wrote the incomparable Cloud Atlas). I recently read his first novel, Ghostwritten, and was struck by the richness of the way one of the characters in the novel describes the London Tube:

As the fine denizens of London Town know, each tube line has a distinct personality and range of mood swings. The Victoria Line for example, breezy and reliable. The Jubilee line, the young disappointment of the family, branching out to the suburbs, eternally having extensions planned, twisting around to Greenwich, and back under the river out east somewhere. The District and Circle Line, well, even Death would rather fork out for a taxi if he’s in a hurry……

Docklands Light Railway, the nouveau riche neighbour, with its Prince Regent, West India Quay and its Gallions Reach and its Royal Albert. Stentorian Piccadilly wouldn’t approve of such artyfartyness, and nor would his twin uncle, Bakerloo. Central, the middle-aged cousin, matter-of-fact, direct, no forking off or going the long way round…….

Then you have the Oddball lines, like Shakespeare’s Oddball plays. Pericles, Hammersmith and City, East Verona Line, Titus of Waterloo……

London is a language. I guess all places are.

There’s lots more. The Northern Line “is the psycho of the family”. Kennington Tube Station is the sort of place “where best-forgotten films starring British rock stars as working class anti-heroes are set”.

Makes me wonder how, given some literary license, the essence of Melbourne’s public transport system might be captured. I know if my local station were a country, it would be cold war Russia; if it were a language it would be Pidgin English; and if it were a mental state it would be deeply depressed.

I’m already imagining a “literary map” of Melbourne’s rail network where every station is a novel – I’ll start by renaming Dandenong to Brighton Rock; Collingwood to Power without glory; Northcote to The slap; Parliament to Wolf Hall; Ringwood to The satanic verses; Toorak to Bonfire of the vanities; Eaglemont to Middlemarch;……. Read the rest of this entry »


Book giveaway – ‘1835: The founding of Melbourne’

I’ve got two copies of James Boyce’s new book, 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia (RRP $44.95), to give away to readers of The Melbourne Urbanist thanks to the publisher, Black Inc.

All you have to do is tell me your favourite song that references or evokes Melbourne in some way and you’re in the running. To enter, just follow this link or go to Giveaways in the sidebar under the PAGES menu). Entries close midday, Thursday 25 August.

As usual, the quality of the song you choose doesn’t matter, because the winners will be chosen at random (if you’re stuck, Up There Cazaly will do). Still, it’s nice to show some taste and wit if possible. It would be wonderful to compile a comprehensive anthology of Melbourne-related songs from all eras.

If you’re one of the winners (and the odds are pretty good!), you’ll have to give the publisher, Black Inc., your address and they’ll post your bounty to you direct.

Here’s a summary of the book from the publisher:

In 1835 an illegal squatter camp was established on the banks of the Yarra River. In defiance of authorities in London and Sydney, Tasmanian speculators began sending men and sheep across Bass Strait – and so changed the shape of Australian history. Before the founding of Melbourne, British settlement on the mainland amounted to a few pinpoints on a map. Ten years later, it had become a sea of red.

In 1835 James Boyce brings this pivotal moment to life. He traces the power plays in Hobart, Sydney and London, the key personalities of Melbourne’s early days, and the haunting questions raised by what happened when the land was opened up. He conjures up the Australian frontier – its complexity, its rawness and the way its legacy is still with us today.

Here’s a review by Mark Rubbo from Readings. Here’s an interview with James Boyce that appeared in the Herald Sun and another he did on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live.

And to whet your appetite, here from the author himself is a dozen things you may not have known about the founding of Melbourne: Read the rest of this entry »


Are neighbourhood bookshops doomed?

Relative prices of selected magazines in hardcopy (1st col) vs electronic delivery in the US (2nd col) and Australia (3rd col). Chart by Kwanghui-Lim

There’s a small, independent literary bookshop in my local shopping centre whose days, I fear, are numbered. I can’t see how it will survive the online challenge. Its likely demise will make the shopping centre even more monocultural. This isn’t a big shop like Readings in Carlton, so its scope to live on by “adding value” for customers is limited.

Some people really love their local bookshops. In Friday’s Crikey, Ben Eltham said “many independent bookshops offer…..character, passion and charm”. What they provide, he says, is:

An induction into a vast and exciting secret society, populated by beautiful physical objects containing wisdom, and knowledge, and love.

Not sure I like the “secret society” bit, but as a keen reader I understand the delights of browsing, even though I don’t make a lot of use of my local bookshop. Although Readings is further away, I’m much more likely to browse there because I can combine it with a visit to the movies and dinner. Readings is also bigger with a larger range of specialised books.

However the key reason I don’t spend a lot of time in the local store is because, like most people, I’m actually far more interested in reading than I am in the act of buying. The fact is the internet offers me a vastly superior buying/browsing experience and thereby gives me more time to get down to reading.

It goes without saying that I can get books much cheaper online than I can over the local counter. There’s no way even the big chains are competitive on price with Amazon-Book Depository, so my local indie has no chance. And there’s no way any bricks and mortar bookshop in Australia can compete on stock against the online behemoths, especially when it comes to technical books or out of print volumes. A smaller bookshop can’t afford to carry all the works of even popular literary authors. Its big advantage is immediate over-the-counter delivery, but that only works if it has stock.

Then there’s information. Although I hear a lot of talk about the expertise of dedicated bookshop staff, there’s no way they can have the sort of product knowledge that’s just a click away at Amazon. Maybe bookshops run by owner-managers that specialise in arcane topics do, but chances are it’ll be something I’m not interested in. My local is a more general, literary-oriented bookshop.

Somewhere like Amazon gives you instant reviews from literary sources and other readers across the world. Amazon even tailors recommendations for new books based on your search topics and previous purchases. Even on those occasions when I do buy a book from my local (usually a gift so new releases are preferred) I’ve already done my research and know what I’m after.

If I want a novel in a hurry I’ll go to my local bookstore, but unless it’s reasonably popular or new, chances are the proprietor won’t have it in inventory. I can either get the store to order it in or do it myself at substantially lower cost (as well as avoid another trip to the store). In fact these days I’m much more likely to get an electronic copy instantly and read it on my (Kobo) e-reader. A growing proportion of Australians are doing likewise.

Some argue that if we don’t patronise our local bookshops they won’t be there when we need them. They usually turn out to be people who are in the publishing and media business, like Ben Eltham or this writer. The “use it or lose it” argument is of course rubbish – no commercial operation is likely to survive, much less flourish, on this sort of shaky business model. It would be nice to have a local bookshop but it will hardly be the end of civilisation if mine disappears – I’ve got too many other options. Read the rest of this entry »


Glaeser’s Triumph of the City giveaway

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia, I have two copies of the newly released book by Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City, to give away to readers.

This is not really a competition, it’s more of a giveaway. To enter, all you do is nominate your favourite Melbourne building, but the winners will be selected randomly.

Go to this page to enter or see PAGES menu in the side pane (don’t use this page to enter, although comments about the book are welcome here)

Edward Glaeser is a professor at Harvard and is the world’s “go to” man for research on cities. I’ve mentioned his work many times before on these pages (e.g. see here). This brief video shows him discussing Triumph of the City with The Daily Show’s John Stewart.

I read the US edition of Triumph of the City a few months ago and it’s a book worth reading and worth having. As the New York Times Reviewer wrote, you’ll “walk away dazzled by the greatness of cities and fascinated by this writer’s nimble mind”.

Here’s a “sample chapter” (it’s an adaptation but pretty close to what’s in the book) that Professor Glaeser published in the Atlantic:

IN THE BOOK of Genesis, the builders of Babel declared, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered upon the face of the whole earth.” These early developers correctly understood that cities could connect humanity. But God punished them for monumentalizing terrestrial, rather than celestial, glory. For more than 2,000 years, Western city builders took this story’s warning to heart, and the tallest structures they erected were typically church spires. In the late Middle Ages, the wool-making center of Bruges became one of the first places where a secular structure, a 354-foot belfry built to celebrate cloth-making, towered over nearby churches. But elsewhere another four or five centuries passed before secular structures surpassed religious ones. With its 281-foot spire, Trinity Church was the tallest building in New York City until 1890. Perhaps that year, when Trinity’s spire was eclipsed by a skyscraper built to house Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, should be seen as the true start of the irreligious 20th century. At almost the same time, Paris celebrated its growing wealth by erecting the 1,000-foot Eiffel Tower, which was 700 feet taller than the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

Since that tower in Babel, height has been seen both as a symbol of power and as a way to provide more space on a fixed amount of land. The belfry of Trinity Church and Gustave Eiffel’s tower did not provide usable space. They were massive monuments to God and to French engineering, respectively. Pulitzer’s World Building was certainly a monument to Pulitzer, but it was also a relatively practical means of getting his growing news operation into a single building.

For centuries, ever taller buildings have made it possible to cram more and more people onto an acre of land. Yet until the 19th century, the move upward was a moderate evolution, in which two-story buildings were gradually replaced by four- and six-story buildings. Until the 19th century, heights were restricted by the cost of building and the limits on our desire to climb stairs. Church spires and belfry towers could pierce the heavens, but only because they were narrow and few people other than the occasional bell-ringer had to climb them. Tall buildings became possible in the 19th century, when American innovators solved the twin problems of safely moving people up and down and creating tall buildings without enormously thick lower walls. Read the rest of this entry »