July Book Club Pick: Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger

For our July book club selection, we’ll read Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile. Grescoe, a travel writer, recounts his rides on public transportation systems in cities around the world. Meet back here on July 25 to discuss!

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I’m very much enjoying discussing Alexandra Lange’s Writing About Architecture with you over on the inaugural installment of Next American City’s book club. Hopefully, you’ll want to stick around for the second round!

Next month, we’ll read Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile. Grescoe is a nonfiction writer whose work skews toward the travel-journalism variety; in Straphanger — which takes its name from those who, well, hang from the straps of buses and trains — he recounts his rides on public transportation systems in cities around the world, including Moscow, Tokyo, Phoenix and Portland.

I hope in tackling Straphanger we can be reflexive about our own modes of transportation (my preferred way of getting around is my bike, and I’m car-free) and assess whether Grescoe’s observations of various systems match our own. Grescoe’s website promises that Straphanger “isn’t just another screed against the car.” We’ll see about that, given the book’s subtitle. At the very least, Straphanger should take us to a number of cities few of us have the chance to visit on our summer vacations.

The cover design reminds me of David Owen’s Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability, which argues that dense cities (mostly, for Owen, New York) are the greenest and most efficient — largely in part due to their well-connected transit systems, which reduce the necessity of a car. I expect that Grescoe will expand on that fact with his experiences in world-class, and not-so-world-class, cities. The Atlantic Cities recently ran an interview with Grescoe, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called Straphanger “a persuasive and urgent book.”

Straphanger is available on Amazon, but if you can, pick it up from a local bookstore or library. On that note: Some readers mentioned on the book club’s announcement that Writing About Architecture wasn’t available at their local library, and that one month wasn’t long enough to obtain it. With Writing About Architecture, I had hoped that — since it was a newer title, despite being a technical publication — it would be available in public libraries.

I’ll do my best to pick books that seem like they’ll be stocked by public libraries (I did a cursory check and it looks like there are copies of Straphanger in D.C., New York, Chicago and Los Angeles; the flipside is that it’s not yet out in paperback), but since Next American City is a national website, that may not always be possible. Additionally, I don’t want to give more than a month’s lead time on a title selection, since current events or our discussions here may influence my pick.

My apologies if this keeps you from participating. I hope you’ll continue to check back here and see if you can get your hands on the book I’ve chosen, even if that means waiting a few months to jump into the book club.

I’ll see you back here on July 25 to discuss Straphanger.

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Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationcommutingmontreal

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