Bicycle Diaries By David Byrne: A Book Review

bicycle-diariesDavid Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries is 303 pages of poetic city planning sandwiched between occasionally moving and often-times thought-provoking stories from cities around the world. The bicycle fanatic may be a bit disappointed, however, as the two-wheeled people mover plays little role in David’s book. In reality, the bike is nothing more than a background character, there only to get our author from one location to the next.

Like Willie Weir’s Spokesongs, David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries is a collection of stories, thoughts and reflections from various locations around the world. But unlike Weir’s work, which I found to be scattered and  dubiously padded, Bryne’s puzzle-piece story makes sense in the strangest of ways. While there is no exact plot, the sometimes jagged stories weave together in a way that Weir’s Spokesongs failed to achieve.

At times, Byrne’s impressions of the cities I myself have traveled to are dead on. It almost seems as though he wrote the book while walking these places with me as I myself discovered them for the very first time. Byrne’s impressions of Berlin grabbed me the most – making me feel as though I hadn’t been in Germany’s capital city by myself, but that he had been right there with me the entire time and that our conversation about the city and the people there had somehow been recorded and cast down on paper.

At other times, I found myself nodding off, unable to relate to the story, the place, or the people that Byrne was sharing with me. Unlike Bill Bryson who so thoroughly describes the places he visits that even if you’ve never been there you can still see it in your mind, Byrne’s descriptions and stories from the cities of Buenos Aires and Manilla (especially) left me feeling lost, confused and sometimes a little bored. That said, I doubt this is entirely the fault of our author. Instead, I have a feeling it is my fault – for not having been to these places yet or having experienced these particular things.

More than anything, I feel that Bicycle Diaries, as it is called, is a text that has been sadly mis-named… and potentially mis-marketed. At numerous times throughout the book I found myself wondering if this was a book meant for individuals passionate about bicycle travel, world culture, and foreign music… or if this was a book that should be read by future city planners, architects, and university design students. At numerous points throughout the text I imagined this book, somewhat like a time capsule, that the people of the future might find sitting on a dusty bookshelf somewhere, only then cracking it open and realizing how many mistakes they had made along the way – only then realizing that the secret to a well-run city was there, hidden between the lines of this relatively unknown (and mis-titled) book.

For a book that had me shaking my head in agreement at times and feeling lost and confused at others, Bicycle Diaries is a text, much like Willie Weir’s Spokespongs, that may have been produced more for the author than it was for its potential readers.

In the end, I have a feeling some people will love this book and the descriptions the author gives of the major world cities he profiles in it… and others will be bored and lost, unable to bring themselves to the last page… or even the middle.

My rating: 5 out of 10

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0 thoughts on “Bicycle Diaries By David Byrne: A Book Review

  1. ha1ku says:

    I totally agree. The bicycle is really a “vehicle” of sorts through Byrne’s views on urban life and culture around the world. At least, so far, that is how it strikes me (as I am still reading it). Since it is based on his travel memoirs, I suppose there may have been some challenges for how to market it.

    Those who pick up the book purely for bicycling-related reasons may not like it. I’m keeping an open mind and look forward to reading it in its entirety.

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