Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: Silent But Deadly

Silent But Deadly: Another Lio Collection
by Mark Tatulli

This was the second collection of – and my first introduction to – Lio comics and Mark Tatulli. According to the publisher, Lio is a “morbidly mirthful pantomime comic strip.” It is the exploits – told mostly in illustrations, with little dialogue – of a strange little boy and his friends, including a squid and his Undead Bunny (think Uglydoll). Basically, imagine Calvin and Hobbes on drugs. And I mean that nicely.

I thought the illustrations, especially the full color Sunday strips, were well done. (My husband was less kind; he thought they were somewhat average.) My favorite strips were the one-off’s – Lio discovering a sunken ship at the bottom of his inflatable pool or setting a restaurant’s lobsters free. The longer storylines and arcs were just okay in comparison. I didn’t get Lio’s adoration of Eva Rose, the mean girl in his class, and the comics with his clueless father fell flat for me. In general, too, I would say that, for me, many of the strips were sweet or amusing but that very few of the strips were laugh out loud funny. I think, though, that fans of Emily the Strange will feel right at home in Lio’s world.

Guest Book Reviews

My sister has posted  on her blog quick reviews of several nonfiction books she has recently read. They are The Wrecking Crew by Tom Frank (here), Gang Leader for A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, and Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John (both here). In a nutshell, she liked all of them. From her descriptions, Rammer seemed like the book I'd be most interested in reading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Email Book Club

In addition to my actual book club, I belong to the Dear Reader email non-fiction book club (sign up here). Every weekday I get a 5-minute portion of a book. By the end of the week, I've usually read the first chapter of the book and have a really good idea of whether or not I'm interested in reading more. This week, I am reading Out of Poverty by Paul Polak. Its about poverty and why traditional approaches to poverty eradication haven't worked. So far, its interesting.

Other books I have read from Dear Reader that I have been really intrigued by include The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodward,  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, that is the number 8, its not a typo), The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (one of my favorite authors already) and Too Far From Home by Chris Jones.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who me? An Amateur Critic?

Here's an interesting article from the Washington Post by author Chris Bohjalian (photo above), who I have heard of before, much less read. The article's title is "In which the author obsesses over potshots by amateur critics on" Hey, he's not referring to someone like me, is he?

Thanks to SqueakyChu for the link.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Architecture School

As discussed in this article from archinect, the Sundance Channel has a new reality TV show entitled Architecture School. I've set my DVR to record and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll report back on my thoughts after I've had the chance to watch.

Friday, August 22, 2008

NPR and Book Review: Look of Architecture

NPR has been doing a series on the city called The Urban Frontier and today they spoke with Witold Rybczynski about a Chester County, PA development called New Daleville (see the story here). Rybczynski is a really prolific writer -- he's the architecture critic for the on-line magazine Slate and, according to Wikipedia, he's written over 200 articles. His most recent book was Late Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville. I read an excerpt on Slate when it came out last year; its exploration of the history of development and New Urbanism didn't really intrigue me, so I haven't read the rest of it. I have, though, read The Look of Architecture, his book from 2001, which I enjoyed.

Look is a really short read, only 144 pages, and its very compact. In it, Rybczynski explores style -- what it is, why its important to architecture, and, in the most interesting part of the book, the relationship between style and fashion.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More from Stinson Beach

I love the stained concrete floor -- its just a wonderful copper patina finish. I wish I knew who was the architect.

Book Review: Blue Sword

As a follow-up note to my previous review of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, I thought I would also write about the book's prequel, The Blue Sword.

The Blue Sword takes place generations after the events of Hero; Aerin is a legend and the former land of Damar is part of the Homeland empire. After her father dies, Harry Crewe is sent there to live with her soldier brother. She is drawn to the hills and to the free-folk who live there, and their king, Corlath, is in return drawn to her. He abducts her, trains her, and she becomes Harimad-sol, the first woman since Aerin to wield the blue sword.

This is a fun book to read -- the story is interesting and the people and places feel real. Unlike my experience with Hero, however, I first read this book as teenager, not as a kid. I think that may be why I couldn't get past Corlath kidnapping Harry, which is a very pivotal plot point. While I enjoyed the book, this event colored my opinion of the characters and because of it, I had a hard time with the ending. Maybe some authors can gloss over difficult subjects in their books for younger readers, but Robin McKinley is generally good about confronting them head on and I thought this was a bit of a cop out. None of this is to say that I don't think its a good book; it is and I recommend it to any young adult reader. I just think it could have been better.

As a side note, the question may come up of which book should you read first -- Hero, since its first chronologically or Sword, as it was written first? This is probably my bias since this is how I read them, but I would suggest reading Hero first, especially for younger readers. Both books stand alone pretty well, though, so its fine either way.

Buy The Blue Sword on Amazon.

Stinson Beach

From our quick trip up to Stinson Beach this week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

PS-1 by work architecture company

Lord knows, nothing goes better together than cardboard and water. Check out this year's PS-1 installation by Work Architecture Company at the NY Times here. Let's see if they post a follow-up in a month about how well it held up.

Book Bloggers

As you may know, there are a lot of book bloggers out there. Amy (of My Friend Amy) has decided to start a Book Blogger Appreciation Week, to be held September 15-19. To find out more, read her post about it here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Book Review: American Wife: A Novel

In American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld, our heroine is Alice Blackwell, a mother, former librarian, and well-liked First Lady. She is married to Charlie Blackwell, a member of a wealthy, politically connected family. He is a born-again Christian, a teetotaler, and the hawkish, controversial current president. Sound familiar?

To a certain degree, I knew what to expect going in to this book – I knew it was based on Laura Bush and I knew the bare bones of her life story. What I didn’t know was how compelling this book would be. It’s not some trashy story about one woman’s tragedy or a smear campaign against the president. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, interesting look at a woman in a powerful position -- how she got there and how she became the woman she is today.

American Wife is structured into three parts; the first two focused on Alice’s childhood in Wisconsin and the early years of her relationship with Charlie. The final section takes place during current events – a Supreme Court nomination and the Middle East war are at the center of the character’ attention. By far, I preferred the first two sections of the book over the last section, which felt like a lot of wishful thinking about the real First Lady. The early years are filled with interesting characters – the stand-out for me was Alice’s grandmother Emilie Lindgren – and emotional situations. In comparison, the last section, which takes place during current events, felt jumpy and forced.

Even with its flaws, this is a great read and I would definitely recommend it. Thank you to the Librarything Early Reviewer program for the opportunity to read this book before publication.

American Wife

I just finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (on sale 9/2 but you can pre-order now at Amazon). I'll post my review later, but as a warm-up, I thought I would post a link to Maureen Dowd's NYTimes op-ed about the book here. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More on Loving Frank

I found a good little article about Mamah Borthwick and Nancy Horan's book Loving Frank (see my review here). Part review, part commentary, I thought it was worth pointing out:

I think its interesting how much more to this story there is; I will be interested to see if Horan writes a sequel. On the other hand, there are so many other interesting women in history that deserve a second look, perhaps Horan should turn her talents towards one of them.

Book Review: The Hero and The Crown

I was at Border's yesterday and they were having a book drive for the Alameda Boy's & Girl's Club. Out of the stack of books they had as suggestions for donations, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley caught my eye -- I had to buy it for them, because I wanted to make sure those kids had the opportunity to read this fantastic book. I first read this book in the 8th grade, when a sympathetic teacher gave me a copy. Since then, this has continued to be one of my "comfort food" books -- a book I pick off the shelf and cuddle up with once a year.

Aerin, the book's heroine, is a familiar character -- the outsider in a crowd, the girl who doesn't fit in. (Yeah, its something a pre-teen girl could relate to.) Despite being the king's daughter, she is struggling to find her place in the kingdom. Instead of following the usual path a princess (or sola, in Damar) should take, Aerin follows her own course and becomes the hero the kingdom didn't know they needed. I highly recommend this book for young adult readers, whether they are young or not.

Buy The Hero and the Crown on Amazon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan first came to my attention some time ago, when I heard Pollan being interviewed on NPR. I had previously read his book The Botany of Desire and loved it, so when Omnivore's Dilemma came out in paperback, I read it right away. My book club (yes, a real, in person book club) just read this, though, so I thought I would review it now.

In short, I really enjoyed this thought-provoking book. Structured around four meals, the book is a look at how different food productions influence both what we eat and our culture at large. I know that description makes it sound terribly boring, but its not. Pollan is an excellent writer and his descriptions of the people and food he comes into contact with are fantastic. With his telling of small pieces of a big business -- like the life of a steer, the politics of corn, a boar hunt-- Pollan brings real drama to food.

One point of criticism (pointed out to me by my husband) is that this is not necessarily a full look at the food industry. Pollan may have started out as journalist, but he does not spend much time looking at opposing viewpoints in this book. I think he gives short shrift to the good that large-scale food operations do (like providing a stable, year-round source of food) and even shorter shrift to "Big Organics" that want to bring organic food to a wider audience. I was captivated by the section of the book devoted to "grass farmer" Joel Salatin and enjoyed the section on hunting/gathering food, but always in the back of my head was the thought that this is not the answer.

Maybe the answer will be in Pollans' follow-up book,  In Defense of Food. I haven't read it yet, but if it is as provocative and well-written as Omnivore's Dilemma, I will have to soon.

Turning the Pages

Thanks to another blogger, I found Turning the Pages by the British Library. My eye was caught by Andrea Vesaliu's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, an old (1543) and beautifully illustrated anatomy book. Thanks to my husband's work as an anatomist and professor, we have a lot of anatomy books. I am impressed by how well-illustrated many of them are. I have a hard time looking at some of these illustrations but usually I can put it aside and appreciate the drawings as works of art.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stretch Ceiling

How cool is this? Thanks to the NY Times for bringing the Extenzo stretch ceiling to my attention. I like the photo they have (here) but I like the pool version on the Extenzo website even better. Now I just need a client who wants a stylish indoor pool...

Book Review and giveaway!

Medieval bookworm reviewed Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter by Susan Nagel and is kind enough to be giving away a copy here!

In honor of French royalty, I thought I'd blog about a sweet little gem in architectural history, Le Petit Trianon (photo above). This was built by Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour (who, by the way, was the subject of a very cool episode of Doctor Who). When Louis 16 became king, he gave the mini-chateau to Marie-Antoinette for her exclusive use as a retreat.


The Southern California Institute of Architecture, aka sci-arc aka my graduate alma mater, is getting some good press for their new exhibit: Voussoir Cloud by Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott (photo courtesy of sci-arc). It looks really interesting; I hope they exhibit it in the Bay Area so I can see it.

Sci-arc is a really interesting place. I just have such mixed feelings about having gone there, which I will probably blog about some other time. 

Update: See here and here to read about my thoughts on sci-arc.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Review: Loving Frank

Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan

I thought this was a very good book about someone I knew very little about, Mamah Borthwick. As someone who has studied architectural history, I knew the bare bones of the story, so I knew the ending, but that was all I knew about this remarkable woman. Very interesting subject material. And it was nice to see a side of FLW that wasn't so... Fountainhead. (And by that, I mean a look at FLW that is not hero worship but an examination of the actual person beneath the persona.)

As a side note, I was impressed, too, by how closely (it seems) the author kept to the facts of the story. I enjoy historical fiction, but it annoys me when an author takes too many liberties with the historical record. Good show to Nancy Horan for telling a story well and telling it how it (probably) happened.

Fast Pool

What makes the Beijing National Aquatics Centre (aka the Water Cube) such a fast pool? From what I've heard, its fast because its deep, which reduces drag on the swimmer (3 meters as compared to 2 meters for most pools). I think its because it is absolutely gorgeous so maybe everyone is inspired by the design to swim faster! The building was designed by PTW Architects, with world-famous engineering/everything firm Arup and CCDI.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Best Thing on the Web

So, the best thing on the web (other than this blog, of course!) is Librarything. After buying the same book way too many times, since we couldn't remember if we owned it or not, I was pretty excited to find an easy way to keep track of our collection. See my profile here and my catalog here.

Olympic Judo

We watched the Olympics Judo qualifying matches streaming online last night (photo, above, of Brit Craig Fallon, by the Telegraph). It was great. It was also pretty complicated for a sport that mostly involves making your opponent bleed and/or pass out. Its incredible that there is a legitimate sport where choking your opponent until he (or she) goes unconscious is a valid way to win.

I'll be interested in seeing how judo compares to Tae Kwon do, since I imagine we'll be watching that, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bird's Nest

I finally watched the Olympics opening ceremony this morning and, while I know I'm not the first person to point this out, I'm so excited by how much of the Olympics' coverage to this point has been focused on the architecture. From the photos I've seen Herzog & de Meuron did a wonderful job with the Bird's Nest (above, photo by the NY Times). I have high hopes that seeing the transformative power of design (a concept I strongly believe in) will inspire others to become architects. Or even better, to respect what architect's do and to hire architects for design projects.

A long time ago (okay, when I was in grad school, so probably only about 5 or 6 years ago), I saw a Rem Koolhaas lecture at UCLA. He presented some very interesting statistics about the percentage of building projects designed by architects (as opposed to being owner or builder designed). I don't have the numbers, but as I recall, the percentage in Europe was very high (not surprising), the percentage in the USA was about middle and the percentage in China was very, very low. It seems to me that as the building boom in China has taken off, this may be changing, but still, most the of the high profile projects have gone to well-known western architects. It just seems that there is not much of a culture of respect for Chinese architects in China. I hope that is changing.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book Reviews

One of my primary reasons for starting this blog was to house my book reviews. I've decided to start copying over the reviews that I wrote for my Librarything catalog. Since LT will only let me review books I own, this space will give me the opportunity to review borrowed books and books I no longer own.

So, here's my first one:
Architecture: From Prehistory to Post-Modernism : The Western Tradition by Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman

This was my architectural history textbook during undergrad. Its comprehensive, especially up through the 80's, and well illustrated. My problem with this book is the, in my opinion, silly re-branding of Post-Modernism as "Second" Modernism. I recognize that all history books are inherently subjective, but I think that this is a thinly veiled attempt to promote a movement that the author supported. He gives almost no room for criticism of Post-Modernism. Its a shame, because the book's last chapter left a bad taste in my mouth when the rest of the book was quite even-handed.

Friday, August 8, 2008


So, hi and welcome to my shiny new blog. I'm planning on this just being a random repository of things that interest me -- books, architecture, art, movies, my family, politics. I look forward to hearing from you.