walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Metropolitan Corridor_, John R. Stilgoe

Subtitled: Railroads and the American Scene

The chapter list indicates the strong structure of this book: Gateway (about terminals and switching yards), Elegance (luxury long-distance passenger rail travel), Zone (the move of heavy industry to the suburbs of cities, so they could have huge, one-story works and be as dirty as they wanted to be), Generator (coal powered electricity and its relation to trains and the industrial zone), High Iron (railroads built for heavy trains and speed, their signals and switches), Crossing (what intersections of rail with rail and rail with road were like, the other side of the track, Main Street perpendicular to rail, over and under passes to reduce fatalities), Depot (station design and function), Garden (plantings at stations and along the right of way, especially on commuter rail), Cinema (the relationship between the view out the side of a train, especially a fast one, cinema and detachment), Villa (the growth of suburbia as "country" housing for the managerial class still working in cities), Trolley (really _great_ chapter about electric street cars in cities and in rural areas), Beyond (the emptying of hill towns in New England especially but not exclusively NH for a variety of reasons), Ruins (the rediscovery of off-the-railroad towns for summer vacations, the abandonment of rail and a sentence or two about its possible return).

_Way_ stronger structure than _Train Time_, at least at first read. It's possible _Train Time_ will improve when read a second time. Stilgoe's authorial voice is less elliptical and obscure in this one, but I'm starting to get a handle on what's wrong with it: too many clauses starting sentences, and too many adjectives that just fucking shouldn't be there. I will mention one example, because I cannot get it out of my head. In the discussion of intersections between railroads and roads, he mentions at right angles and oblique angles. This makes no sense; if you cross at an oblique angle, you also cross at an acute angle, so that clause is just confusing.

Stilgoe includes many photographs in this work: art, sketches, trains, stations, advertising material for everything imaginable associated with trains. The visual material lets the reader extend the commentary herself: oh, look, there's a bicycle in that photo; gee, look how the ad is berating parents to buy a suburban home for their child(ren); gosh, I wonder whether those quarter acre lots near the station are on a sewer, etc.

As with _Train Time_, Stilgoe's nuttiness is worth putting up with in order to get at the insights. Sure, you have to slog through some really bizarre commentary that suggests Stilgoe's aesthetics and politics are probably a lot more annoying than his prose style. But there's some great good stuff here.

I've got the four ILL books sitting in a stack, so they are up next if I'm going to get through them before I am forced to return them, altho Minuteman does seem to permit renewals on ILLs.
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