Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Percenter

By Dave Nichols.

One Percenter is probably the most poorly written book I’ve ever read, which is too bad because there is the potential of a decent book in amongst all the whining about misunderstood and universally picked on bikers (“You couldn’t even ride your scoot down to the corner store for a pack of smokes without getting pulled over for any number of bullshit violations.” ), the RICO Act (“Welcome to America, land of the long as you don’t ride a motorcycle that is.”), and frequent plugs for Easyriders magazine (of which he is the editor) and Harley-Davidson.

Clearly he has a pretty good handle on the history of the one percenter, and his observations on such diverse topics as rubbies (rich, urban bikers) and the reality TV custom bike building world (OCC, Biker Build-off) are interesting. But Nichols is all over the motorcycling map providing a brief history of piracy, talking at length about biker films good and bad, dissing the Hamsters (“Rolex riders”) while providing the reader with the complete bylaws of The Weasels (apparently an Easyriders creation), and ending with a pitch for environmental responsibility. And except for a multi-page rant on the RICO Act he glosses over (ignores?) the entire subject of the descent of motorcycle clubs from “good natured drinking clubs with motorcycle problems” to the modern day criminal enterprise that some clubs have become – or perhaps that’s just because his 10-page list of every American motorcycle company since 1903 needed the space.

One Percenter is desperately in need of a good editor. The quality of the writing is awful (“servicemen who fought ... in the muddy trenches during World War II”?) and as indicated above, the book lacks any kind of focus other than anything to do with motorcycles. As published, it reads like a stream of consciousness as Nichols bounces from one topic to another, often in mid-paragraph, only to come back around to the same point pages or sometimes even chapters later. To call it a jumble is being charitable.

You wouldn’t miss much by not reading this book at all, but if you are someone who needs to read every motorcycle book you can get your hands on, wait a month or two and save your money. One Percenter is destined for a very short shelf life and should be in the bargain bin for a buck or two well before the riding season begins.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Through Black Spruce

By Joseph Boyden

Through Black Spruce is a beautifully-written and tightly wound story of a Cree family from Moose Factory, Ontario. It is a contemporary tale of intrigue and violence, terror and beauty, loves lost and love found, but most of all, the family and the strength of the ties that bind it together.

Will Bird is in a coma from which the doctors think he will never emerge. Annie is his adult niece who visits him in the hospital daily, talking to him, holding his hand, refusing to let Will give up.

The story comes out in pieces as Boyden alternately takes us inside Will’s head as he lays comatose, and then to Annie who initially struggles to find something to say to her uncle and then increasingly uses their long, one-sided talks as an opportunity to put voice to her own life.

What emerges is a picture of a family beset by more than their share of troubles, but also a family that has held together with faith and determination. And woven throughout is a rich portrayal of life in Canada’s north, on the ‘wrong’ side of the Moose River.

Boyden strikes a fine balance in the telling. Despair and hopelessness is countered with optimism and liberal doses of wry humour – an elder living on the streets of Toronto hosts goose cookouts under the Gardiner, and has an e-mail address; a drinking buddy declines to take up jogging, saying, “I thought about it, but my truck’s running fine, so I don’t see the point.” His characters are alive, and his descriptions of life – whether alone on a trap line in the northern woods, or living on the streets of Toronto – draw the reader in, until it seems they become part of one’s own experience, not simply written words on the page.

This is a fine novel and a great read. Highly recommended.