Thursday, December 26, 2013

City of Glass

So it is time for a bit of Google-style disambiguation.

City of Glass may refer to the first (and arguably most successful) books in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy.  Despite it being grounded in well-worn (even worn out) postmodern tropes, I liked this trilogy quite a bit.  While it seems to have been done before, I was drawn to the concept of the man wandering through the city, with his path tracing out letters spelling out some message, whether to God or to a potential unknown observer (at least I believe it happens in the first book of the trilogy but don't have time to check).  There are a few reversals with the author and the main character bleeding together by the last book in the trilogy (again pretty standard pomo stuff).  Not sure I've enjoyed anything Auster has written since nearly as much.  I don't quite know what happened, and whether the fault lies with Auster or myself or both.

(I may have been vaguely aware that City of Glass had been turned into a graphic novel, but I'd never read it.  As it turns out the library has a copy, so I think I'll check this out.)

City of Glass is the 3rd novel in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments (a series for young adults).

City of Glass may refer to a CD recorded by the band leader Stan Kenton comprised entirely of modernist charts by Bob Graettinger.  I really do admire Kenton for going ahead and recording this, but even after repeated listens, it just never fully grabbed me.  It's one of those problematic records that doesn't swing (as most jazz should) and it isn't quite serious enough to be a classical piece.  It certainly isn't something I have on regular rotation, that's for sure.  I do love the cover(s), however.

Original 10" issue

The CD reissue
(I came thisclose to picking up the LP on eBay just for the cover, but decided that was just ridiculous.)

While many cities can claim to be a city of glass, the strongest contemporary claim seems to go to Vancouver, which has taken it as a bit of a nickname.  Douglas Coupland actually wrote a book on Vancouver with that title, perhaps hoping to cement its grasp on the name.  I will get around to a short review of said book at the end of this post.

Finally, there is a Vancouver-based independent band that goes by the name of City of Glass.  At the moment, they have an EP (The Diving Bell) and a full length release (The Modern Age) both of which can be streamed in part on Bandcamp (and purchased as downloads as well).  Once again, the cover art is pretty interesting, and at least a part of the reason I decided to take the plunge and support their efforts.

Ok, on to the review of Coupland.  I have to admit, I have not read a lot of his work, though he did have a flash short story called "Temp" that popped up in Metro (the local free paper -- and most likely in the Toronto edition of Metro as well).  He's certainly well known as a chronicler of Gen X'ers, but his work is generally intentionally quite shallow, so it doesn't hold a lot of interest for me.  However, City of Glass is an interesting attempt to encompass Vancouver and explain it to outsiders.  Coupland seems to feel that Vancouver is just as alien to other Canadians as it is to Americans, though Americans are more likely to lump all Canadian cities and provinces as an undifferentiated "Up North," so he perhaps has a few more sections explaining just how isolated Vancouver is from the rest of Canada, even Calgary/Edmonton to say nothing of "back east."  The book has some really nice photos.  Most of it holds up pretty well.  Vancouver is definitely part of the Pacific Northwest far more than it is part of Canada writ large.  The separation cuts both ways, and Vancouver really does often seem shafted by the federal government (the truly criminal shutting down of a major Coast Guard station being only the latest example).  However, Vancouverites seem far less worried about and/or being resentful over what is going on in Ottawa than the good folks of Calgary.

Coupland also writes quite a bit about the drug trade, which is still flourishing.  However, it is possible than in 5-10 years if the legalization takes hold in Washington State and Oregon, and no progress is made at the Canadian federal level, then Vancouver will lose its "title." I do think it is more likely that there will be a saner approach to winding down the Drug Wars in Canada before the same occurs in the U.S., but I guess time will tell.  His bits on Grouse Mountain and the Lions Gate Bridge are good.  I didn't think the entry on Stanley Park was as informative as it could have been.  I would have added something about crows to the entry on birds.  Where I live in Vancouver, we have a huge crow population (far beyond anything I remember from other cities) and we almost never see seagulls.  I do occasionally see a bald eagle that has a nest somewhere near the Metrotown Mall, and that is always kind of neat.

Coupland is spot on (in the Seattle entry) when he laments how ridiculous it is that B.C. exports all these natural resources and doesn't do any of the manufacturing or other value added processing in the province.  It is an unbelievably short sighted strategy that lets B.C. be treated more or less like a third world economy.  Sadly, one of the few areas where Coupland is out of date is that the provincial tax breaks for film makers dried up, and all the films shot in Vancouver departed for other pastures (largely back to Toronto).  The actors that made a pretty decent living have been squeezed and there has been serious problems in the theatre scene as well.  While this may not be directly related, the video game industry that had a small footprint in Vancouver is also starting to shut down.  Vancouver's few attempts to diversify its economy are not doing well at all in the 2010s, and this really doesn't bode very well for the region.  Vancouver is really vulnerable to economic shocks in a way that is less true of Calgary (at least until the last of the oil sands are sucked dry) or Toronto.  It definitely doesn't help that real estate is absurdly over-priced and wages are quite low relative to the cost of living.  When this imbalance is factored into account, Vancouver goes from a top 10 place to live to well outside the top 50.  Coupland may not share my feelings on this, as he does seem to be part of the brigade that considers Vancouver to be a kind of paradise on earth.  He also goes on at some length on how Vancouver is one of the youngest cities on earth.  He seems to glory in this, whereas in general I just found it a drag that the practical implications of this were that Vancouver had weak cultural institutions and perhaps the worst art museum I've ever seen in a city of over half a million.  So this is a book written by a booster, but it still contains good insights (written in a pithy style) and nice photos.

Note: I don't quite know what changes he made to the revised edition, but I imagine most was carried over from the first edition but perhaps with some updating of comments on the broader economic trends impacting Vancouver.  Apparently the revised version is 24 pages longer and features a few Fred Herzog photos, which I probably already have in this volume: Fred Herzog.*

* Holy smokes.  I had no idea this had gone OOP and was fetching such high prices.  I picked up my copy for $35.  It certainly makes that seem like a bargain now.  I suppose if one doesn't own the Herzog book, it may make the revised City of Glass that much more appealing.

No comments:

Post a Comment