books

A Free Library on the Beach

You know how much I love the beach.

And you know how much I love shelves that facilitate free book-sharing.

So it’s no surprise that I love this: beach-library-albena books-libraryThe Beach Library is located in front of Hotel Kaliakra in Albena, Bulgaria, a resort area on the Black Sea. It has more than 6,000 books in 15 languages. German architect Herman Kompernas designed it so visitors could easily share and enjoy books while on vacation. A nice touch: the shelves are weather-proof.

Now that’s my kind of beach. Can I go there, now?

(Image via Goodreads)

Eddie Huang on NYC’s Food Culture

eddie_huang

I’ve been reading a ton this summer, and recently finished Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat.

In the book, Huang retraces his rough upbringing in Florida—constantly dealing with blatant, violent racism—to a life-changing few months in Taiwan, to law school and beyond in NYC, where he launched a street clothing line and opened Baohaus, his successful restaurant.

Huang’s voice is distinct—slang-inflected and and at times rambling. His ’90s hip-hop references and matter-of-fact observations had me laughing out loud. And I appreciated how he didn’t sugarcoat just how tough it can be as an Asian-American. I could certainly relate to dealing with ignorant people while growing up, and even now.

But by far, my favorite part of the book was the end, when things started looking up for Huang. He discovered the amazing breadth of the NYC food scene and eventually found his own place in it:

I liked how we all took ownership in the city, its culture, and its food. We still argue all the time about soup dumplings. Tourists and cornballs love Joe’s Shanghai, but everyone knows it’s Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao holding down in Flushing…we’ll go on and on about how great the lox and whitefish are at Russ & Daughters, but how undeserving their bagels are. The biggest travesty in downtown New York is that you have to buy your lox at R&D then take the train up to Ess-a-Bagel to put together a proper lox, caper, red onion, cream cheese, on sesame or salt bagel. We wish 2nd Ave Deli was still on Second Avenue, we worry about the old man’s health at Di Fara Pizza, and we still don’t understand how people can go to Szechuan Gourmet and order from the American Chinese menu while we get busy with the chili leek intestine casserole and a Diet Coke.

But despite the misfires, overhyped openings, and super-restaurants that mar the landscape, New York is the best eating city not named Tokyo or Taipei, and we owe it to the people Fresh Off the Boat. From the old chick selling churros on the Sunset Park D train to the stray cat crawling over the counter at Fort Greene’s Farmer in the Deli to Peter Luger’s in Williamsburg to Great N.Y. Noodletown on Bowery to Shopsin’s on Essex to Baohaus on Fourteenth to La Taza de Oro on Ninth Avenue to Sapporo on forty-ninth to the golden elevator at Kuruma Zushi to Lechonera in Harlem to SriPraPhai in Woodside to Mario’s on Arthur Avenue, it’s an army of first- and second-generation immigrants that feed this city.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read those two paragraphs—because it’s all 100% true!

I’ve had awesome meals at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, Szechuan Gourmet, Great N.Y. Noodletown and SriPraPhi. I’ve eaten more Ess-a-Bagels than I could ever count. (In fact, that was my “poverty diet” lunch for years, when I worked across the street from the shop. I was making so little money that all I could afford was a bagel with nothing on it, because it only cost $1 and filled me up for hours.)

And we really do worry about the old dude’s health at Di Fara! Because if he goes, who will make the pizza?!

Plus, whenever I ask myself if I could ever leave NYC, the same few things remind me that I couldn’t: My family. Ballet. And the food, for exactly the reason Huang states: all the immigrants from around the world, cooking their specialties and serving them up to hungry, curious and appreciative New Yorkers.

Not something you find in every city!

(Image via Friends We Love)

Retro Airline Ads

This is one coffee table book I’d love to have: Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975, by Matthias C. Huhne.

The 400+ page tome, broken down by airline, features ads from the golden age of flying.

Many of them exude a retro glamour scarcely associated with flying, these days:

Airline Visual Identity 1945 – 1975

Airline Visual Identity 1945 – 1975

Airline Visual Identity 1945 – 1975

While others are cringe-worthy in how un-PC they are, by today’s standards:

Airline Visual Identity 1945 – 1975

Yiiiiiiikes!

The book has a hefty price tag ($400!) so I’m doubtful that it’ll end up on my coffee table any time soon. But if you’re interested in seeing more interior pages, check them out here.

(Images via Callisto Publishers)

A Neighborhood Bookshelf

A few weeks ago, this appeared outside Cafe Buunni, a great coffee shop in Washington Heights (my neighborhood).

Nomat Book Club: A bookcase where people can take and leave books, in Washington Heights

The idea is incredibly simple, but brilliant: It’s a bookcase for the whole neighborhood. People can take or leave books as they please.

I love everything about that bookcase.

It fosters a sense of community—I like the idea of neighbors sharing books. It’s a money-saver—I’m all about supporting authors, but it’s a treat to get books for free! But perhaps the thing I love most about the bookcase is that it gives me a place to pass along books I no longer want or can fit in my apartment.

I think it’s fair to say that most New Yorkers are short on space—apartments in the city are generally small, even in pre-war buildings in more affordable neighborhoods, like my own. As a result, we’re always purging in an effort to maximize our spaces.

I’m a strong believer in the sharing economy, and really appreciate having places to donate or drop off items so they’re not going to waste. My building, for example, has a clothing and textile bin that benefits a local charity. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dropped in clothing or shoes. And that’s why I welcome that communal bookcase to my ‘hood. It’s a great addition, and it’s amazing more neighborhoods don’t have something similar.

Is there anything in your building or area that encourages sharing among neighbors? I’m curious and would love to know.

Dancing Through It

The Four Seasons

Jenifer Ringer was a longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet. She retired just this winter, and her memoir, Dancing Through It, came out a few weeks later.

I downloaded and finished it within a couple days. It’s a quick, engaging and fascinating read. Though Dancing Through It often feels like a long, personal essay—or a series of interconnected personal essays—I appreciated Ringer’s clear voice and honesty. She comes off as very likable, humble and down-to-earth. At times, she’s also self-deprecating and very funny.

Dancing Through It traces Ringer’s journey from a talented kid in her local, South Carolina dance school, to the Washington School of Ballet, to the School of American Ballet and her acceptance into City Ballet. As she rose through the ranks there, she struggled with an eating disorder that took her out of the company for a year. Eventually, she worked her way back in, and became a principal a few years later.

As someone who’s only danced for the pure joy of it, I’ve never experienced the struggles elite professional dancers go through. They may have what seems like the best job in the world (at least, in my book), but it takes an insane amount of hard work. Ringer describes long, grueling days in the studio taking class, learning ballets and performing others pieces that same night. And doing this day after day.

Plus, anyone who’s ever danced ballet—at any level—knows how difficult it is, and how it never gets easier, in our pursuit for perfection. Ringer captures that perfectly, here:

If something about our dancing is good, we ignore it because it will take care of itself. We fixate on the parts that are wrong. Ask a dancer what her weaknesses are, and she will be able to give you an immediate and very detailed list. Ask a dancer about her strengths, and she has to pause and think about it.

So true. (As I typed that, my own list of weaknesses started to run through my head: Tombe coupe jete turns, especially to the left. Fouette turns, especially to the left. Actually, all turns to the left…) This pressure to appear perfect on so many levels was what led to Ringer’s eating disorder.

While I enjoyed Ringer’s personal story, I especially loved her tales of dancing in NYCB’s ballets, especially since I’ve seen some of them, myself. Ringer tells of dancing until nearly passing out during Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, slipping and falling on another dancer’s vomit as a snowflake in Nutcracker, and inhabiting the various female characters in Dances at a Gathering.

My very favorite description is actually the opening line of the book, in which Ringer describes Balanchine’s Serenade, the ballet that inspired her to become a ballerina. That piece carries particular meaning for me, as well, because it’s the one that motivated me to return to ballet, after several years off.

Here’s how Ringer describes it:

There is a ballet that is like an ocean; it seems to stretch beyond the horizons of the stage. No matter how many times I see or dance this ballet, George Balanchine’s Serenade, I always find something new to discover, something so beautiful that I wonder if the audience should laugh or cry.

I couldn’t have put it better, myself.

serenade

(Images by Paul Kolnik via New York City Ballet)

Humans of New York

Sometime over the past few years, you may have stumbled across Humans of New York. Photographer Brandon Stanton shoots New Yorkers wherever they happen to be when he runs into them: on the subway, in parks, on the street.

His photos are gorgeous, but the heart of his work is really in the quotes he collects from his subjects—they dispense bits of wit, wisdom, humor and poignancy.

I’m still waiting to come across a portrait of someone I know.

Or maybe myself in the background of one.

Today, the Humans of New York book comes out. I’m looking forward to seeing Stanton’s photos in the printed format and seeing what stories he’s chosen to feature.

Until then, enjoy scrolling through the Humans of New York blog—believe me, you can lose yourself in it for a while!

Here are just a few photos I really liked; be sure to click through to read what the subjects have to say:

We just finished singing Beethoven’s Ninth

I’m dealing with the aftermath of a really horrible breakup

Whenever I did a show in the park, Doris would

We’ve been married 31 years

It was easier than I thought it’d be

(Humans of New York photos by Brandon Stanton)

The Pacific Crest Trail

One of the best books I read this year was Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

wild

In this memoir/travelogue, Cheryl Strayed recounts the hardest years of her life: When she’s just 22, her mother suddenly dies from cancer. Shattered by her death, Strayed loses touch with her siblings, cheats on her husband, destroys her marriage and dabbles in drugs. Four years into her grief, Strayed decides to embark on 1,100-mile a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Washington—never mind that she’d never backpacked before. Her journey is full of mishaps and brushes with danger, as well as encounters with many kind strangers. Along the way, she finds the strength that eventually helps her put her life back together.

Perhaps it’s because I’m an east coaster, but I’d never heard of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) before I read the book. I’d known about the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, and even encountered it on my own hikes. But I didn’t know it had a west coast cousin that runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

And now I—and surely millions of others who’ve read Wild—really want to hike the PCT, too.

But just part of it.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m bad-ass enough to quit my job and spend months hiking by myself. Strayed makes it clear that while the PCT was a rewarding adventure of a lifetime, it definitely wasn’t easy. She lost toenails, encountered wild animals and battled the fatigue, hunger and tedium that comes with walking 20+ miles a day.

But her descriptions of the trail are gorgeous. The PCT runes through six of North America’s seven ecozones. Strayed writes about sweating through the desert, sliding over icy patches in the mountains and walking among wildflowers in the woods. Almost all the hiking I’ve done has been on the east coast—amid gray mountains and pine trees—or up and down Central American volcanoes. The PCT sounded completely different and intriguing.

Photos, taken by hikers, on the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s website attest to how beautiful and varied the scenery is:

Southern Terminus: Pacific Crest trail head at US/Mexican Border Photo by Alan Beneventi

Southern Terminus: Pacific Crest trail head at US/Mexican Border. Photo by Alan Beneventi

Mojave Desert; Photo by Aaron Doss, www.pbase.com/aarondoss

Mojave Desert. Photo by Aaron Doss, pbase.com/aarondoss

Muir Pass; Photo by Aaron Doss, www.pbase.com/aarondoss

Muir Pass. Photo by Aaron Doss, pbase.com/aarondoss

Velma Lakes - Desolation Wilderness; Photo by Paul Zaretsky - www.paulzaretsky.com

Velma Lakes. Photo by Paul Zaretsky, paulzaretsky.com

View E, Mt. Shasta, Section Q, mile1609.5 - photo by Jim Payne.

Mt. Shasta. Photo by Jim Payne.

Diamond Lake Photo by Tyson Fisher - www.tysonfisher.com

Diamond Lake. Photo by Tyson Fisher, tysonfisher.com

along the PCT in central Oregon; photo by Ana Gipe

Central Oregon. Photo by Ana Gipe

Crater Lake, Photo by Eric Valentine

Crater Lake. Photo by Eric Valentine

Mt. Rainier from Goat Rocks Wilderness. Photo by David Geisinger

Mt. Rainier from Goat Rocks Wilderness. Photo by David Geisinger

Even more gorgeous photos here. Plus, see the winners of the 2012 Pacific Crest Trail Association’s photo contest.

Have you read Wild and become inspired to hike the PCT? Or have you already done it?

(All images via the PCTA)