Taras Grescoe's Straphanger is a must-read for transit nerds. Grescoe wanders the earth, visiting different cities and reporting on the history and current state of their public transit systems. Each chapter is a taut little primer to a very different city—New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tokyo, and Copenhagen, among others. Grescoe explains the forethought and dedication that went into New York City's subways and the many ways that public servants have tried to foil transit in Los Angeles. (It's telling that he visits Portland and British Columbia in one chapter, but conveniently skips over Seattle, with our underwhelming light rail and unexciting buses.) Grescoe explains the positives and negatives of each system, comparing and contrasting them and using the aggregate picture that forms to explain why transit is so necessary to the future of the world. Most transit nerds like myself have imagined taking a trip around the world to try out the subways and monorails and buses of dozens of cities; Straphanger is probably as close as most of us will get to living that dream.
Walter Mosley's newest book is supposed to duplicate the pleasure of those old Ace Doubles novellas. Like Ace Doubles, it's made up of two science fiction stories placed back-to-back. When you're done reading one novella, you turn the book upside down and start reading the next one. The problem is thatThe Gift of Fire/On the Head of a Pin is a strangely joyless endeavor. The Gift of Fire tells the story of Prometheus, who has come back to earth and becomes entangled with a career criminal. On the Head of a Pin tells the story of a new viewing technology that becomes a window into the secret history of the world. By far, On the Head of a Pin is the better of the two, but both stories suffer from clunky dialogue and an awkward sense of seriousness. Mosley's prose generally feels relaxed and fun, making this a disappointment on a couple different levels.