Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Books: Keep or Toss?

Do you keep your books after you've read them, or do you get rid of them? Apparently, this is a pretty hot topic, based on the blog posts and articles I've found about it (here, here, here and a cool one here). I understand it; books can be powerful, so tactile and evocative. I love them. Historically, they've been potent stuff. Just think about a time when every book had to be hand written. Or when printing became feasible (thanks, Gutenberg!) and to own a single book was heretic.

So, clearly, we're a keep family. My husband is an even bigger book addict than I am. When we moved into our little loft, we downsized everything except books. I got rid of two or three books that were in pretty bad shape, and my husband was startled that I would even get rid of that many. Now, we have 5 very large bookshelves, and our collection keeps growing.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Zaha Hadid's Shoes

Pritzker laureate Zaha Hadid launched her shoe line this Fashion Week. See this link for the official launch animation. Apparently, Zaha doesn't think women have toes, or arches, or any requirement for comfortable footwear.
Zaha is pretty well-covered in the product design world. In addition to shoes, she's designed door handles and cutlery for WMF. I think the cutlery is more successful, though I'm not sure I'd want to drink hot soup out of that spoon. Her buildings, by the way, are really cool.

Review: The Last Days of Krypton

I’m not particularly a fan of Superman, so I primarily approached The Last Days of Krypton as a stand alone book. Oh, I’ve seen the various Superman movies and I’ve even seen a few of the old black-and-white television shows. But in comparison to fans that have read all the comic books and seen the various movies and TV shows multiple times, I knew little of the official Superman back story. I also had never read a book by Kevin J. Anderson before (here's an interview that highights just how much he's written). I do, however, read science fiction, so I know how much of it gets published and how little of that is any good. It’s no surprise then, that I approached this book with some apprehension

I was happily surprised, then, to find that this book was quite enjoyable to read. The bare bones of the plot are from the familiar (even to me), existing Superman story: Superman was born on the planet Krypton to a scientist named Jal-El, and his father sent him out into space before the planet exploded. Anderson has done a very good job of fleshing out well-known characters, and of creating a well-paced story that I think works both well for Superman fans and by itself.

The book, of course, has flaws. The writing in the book is good, though not great. Some of the characters, like the secondary villains of Aetyr and Nam-Ek (basically the same baddies from the movie Superman 2), aren’t particularly developed, despite their near-constant presence in the long middle portion of the book. And the constant introduction of disasters—would this be the one to destroy Krypton?—became almost comical. Fortunately, I think even Anderson knew this possible complaint, as he used it to explain why the governing council ignored Jal-El’s final warnings about Krypton’s imminent destruction.

After reading this book, I did some online research to see what die-hard Superman fans had to say about it. Reaction seemed pretty mixed, with a vocal contingent who disliked how Anderson viewed the average Kryptonian (not great). I have to imagine, though, that no matter what Anderson wrote, someone was going to dislike this book, just for daring to tackle a beloved storyline. I’m impressed with how much of the existing Superman canon he managed to incorporate, without overly bogging down the story.

So, who will like this book? Certainly, sci-fi readers, casual fans of Superman and comic book fans in general will all really enjoy The Last Days of Krypton. Will it convert anti-science fiction types to the genre? Probably not. But I think other readers, who find might themselves tempted to stray out of their comfort zone and pick this one up, will be pleasantly treated.

Oh, and the hologram cover? Very cool.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interview with Dave King

Paper Cuts, the NY Times book blog, published an interview with Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha. Find it here. What amused me most about the interview was who the first commenter was-- Erica Jong! Assuming that's not a hoax, I'm jealous. I doubt Erica Jong will be commenting here anytime soon.

By the way, The Ha-Ha is a great book. Here is the Publishers Weekly description off Amazon:

Owing to a head injury he suffered 16 days into his Vietnam tour, Howard Kapostash, the narrator of King's graceful, measured debut novel, can neither speak, write nor read. Now middle-aged, Howard lives a lackluster existence in the house where he grew up, along with housemates Laurel, a Vietnamese-American maker of gourmet soups for local restaurants, and two housepainters—essentially interchangeable postcollege jocks—whom he refers to as Nit and Nat. But everything changes when Sylvia, the former girlfriend he's loved since high school, heads to drug rehab, saddling Howard with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. What happens over the course of the next couple hundred pages will not surprise readers—slowly, Nit and Nat learn responsibility, Laurel discovers her maternal side, Ryan opens up and Howie learns about life and love amid school concerts and Little League games—but it is lovingly rendered in careful, steady prose. Like Michael Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World, the novel explores familial bonds arising between people with no blood ties, and if the novel lingers too long on its notes, thematic and otherwise—Howard often ruminates on the nature of his injury and the things he'd say if he could; his days vary little—it does so with poise and heart. Drama arises with Sylvia's return and Howard nearly loses it, but life and healing are now forever
Check it out.

Fun Author Tool

I discovered a new, fun little tool online (sorry, but I can't remember who I found it from!). Its the Literature Map and it creates a map/chart of authors. According the web site, "the closer two writers are, the more likely someone will like both of them." Above is a screen shot of the map for Italo Calvino (one of my favorite authors). I get why Jorge Luis Borges is nearby, but I'm less clear on how James Frey ended up so close as well. Unfortunately, there's no explanation of the methodology that I could find, which is a little annoying. Then again, we're not trying to solve the world's problems, just to find a good book, so I guess that's okay!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Architecture Books On Sale!

Thanks for a heads-up from Archinect about a sale going on now at YouWorkForThem, an independent architecture/design book store. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Banned Book Week

Just a reminder that this is the American Library Association's Banned Book Week (until October 4th). From the ALA, here is the list of the Top 10 Frequently Challenged Books:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
2) "The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
7) "TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky

Go out and read one today!

Visit Devourer of Books for some great banned books posters! The image above is from an article in The Catholic Register regarding a Catholic school district banning The Golden Compass for its "aetheistic ideology."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


For Book Bloggers Appreciation week, My Friend Amy posed several questions for book bloggers to answer, including this one: How many hours a week do you spend on reading?

I try to read books for about an hour or 2 a day. That includes about a half hour in the morning, plus maybe an hour before bed. And I usually squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes here or there over the course of the day. I'm notorious for just pulling out a book anywhere, anytime to squeeze in a few minutes of a good book. Then, on the weekends, I'll read for a few hours everyday. I used to read almost non-stop, though. Life gets in the way, though.
How about you? How many hours do you read a week?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

There is a secret world that humans never see, where mice have cities hidden away. These cities, and the trading routes between them, are protected by the Mouse Guard. They are fearless and intelligent… and they are totally adorable.

This is the world of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel by David Peterson. I was first drawn to this book by the exceptional illustrations. Visually, this book is a real treat. I was especially impressed with the coloring – quite lush and rich—and the expressive faces of the characters. Peterson employs various styles, within a unifying color palette, to make the artwork evocative and portray mood. His work is excellent.

The story is good, though maybe not quite as good as the artwork. It moved very quickly and was occasionally jumpy, though in general was just a very simple story. What I liked, though, was the world that Peterson has created. You get the sense of history and of layers of stories still to be told. Maps, wall hangings, etchings, details fill each panel. Clearly, there are many more Mouse Guard stories to be told. I really look forward to reading future installments from Peterson (including the second volume out now).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Out of Town

I'll be out of town this week (yes, again), so I will only sporadically be posting and am not planning on checking my email. I will, however, be doing lots of reading!
Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Richard Bangs' Adventures with Purpose

Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose by Richard Bangs

The concept for this book is great and most of the adventures are amazing. The book is full of good stories and compelling personal journeys. Many of the places and stories in this book are fascinating. There were many highlights in this book for me –like the trip down the Neretva River in Bosnia or visiting an isolated village in Papua New Guinea. I found the last chapter of the book—a quick sketch of an African safari—to be touching.

At issue for me, unfortunately, is the writing. It took me over a month to read Adventures with Purpose and I struggled to finish it. Bangs is clearly a storyteller at heart and I imagine his wit comes across better in person than it does on the page. Bangs is a very casual writer and his writing doesn’t hang together very well. I think if the editing had been better it would have vaulted this book to the next level, because the bones of a great book are here.

After struggling to stay involved with the book, I asked my husband (who is also a voracious reader and is unlike me an outdoorsman) to read Adventures. He, too, found it difficult to get through and gave up about a quarter of the way through.

The first several chapters highlighted the plight of places/people in need of help. In the first chapter, for example, takes Bangs to the Nile, where he explores work to bring the crocodile back from the brink (see photo at top, from a NY Times article). In another, very interesting chapter, he visits the Moken people of Thailand’s Andaman Islands, who are struggling to recover from the devastating 2004 tsunami. There was a good mix in these chapters of both environmental/ecological and humanitarian concerns to which Bangs brings attention.

I was really disappointed, then, when the book lost this focus on helping. Richard Bangs’ definition of purpose is broader than I expected, but I thought that once the scope expanded to include stories of personal purpose, the book bogged down. The chapters on mountain climbing, in particular, were indulgent and out of place in this book—especially when there so much other material Bangs could have explored in more depth in some of the other chapters. Bangs, in my opinion, should have cut the number of chapters in half and put more energy and information into the remaining chapters.

In the end, I am torn about whether to recommend this book or not. There are so many good things to say about Adventures but the overall product is spotty. Adventures with Purpose is also a syndicated public television show; I would be interested in checking it out. Find out more about it and Richard Bangs at his website here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I *heart* Book Bloggers

This is one of those real life gets in the way of blogging weeks, unfortunately. Unexpectedly, I have to go out of town this week, so I will probably not get the chance to post much, which is too bad for a couple of reasons. First off, I have several new books to review and I'm not going to get the chance to do so before I go. (In fact, I should be packing right now, not writing this post.) To wet your appetite, please see my previous "preview" posts here and here to find out more about what books I've been reading recently. Here are some ...

Adventures with Purpose by Richard Bangs
Mouse Guard Volume 1: Fall 1152 by David Peterson
Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger by Therese Poletti

The second reason that I'm bummed that I won't be around this week is that its Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Start at My Friend Amy's for the fun, and enjoy getting to read lots of great bloggers and hear all about lots of wonderful books.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Books

I recently got two new books that I am looking forward to reading and reviewing. The first is Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger. Pflueger was a well-known turn of the (last) century architect in San Francisco who has been largely forgotten in recent years. But his work is getting a revival, as many of the fabulous movie theatres he designed are being restored. Luckily for me, one newly restored Pflueger theatre is the Alameda Theatre and Cineplex, which is just minutes from my house and a great place to see new movies.

The other new book I am really excited to read is Mouse Guard: Fall 1152. I had never heard of Mouse Guard, which is an Eisner-winning series of comics about a secret colony of mice. When I saw this book on the shelf (its actually a reprint, but is new in hardcover, I believe) and saw how cute the mice in it are, I just had to have it! Fortunately, my husband rocks and he got it for me. I've flipped through it and the story looks great, but haven't had the chance to sit down and read it yet. I'll let you know what I think when I do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

BBAW Giveaway

The kind folks at Bookroomreviewers's Weblog are doing an awesome giveaway to encourage readers to explore all the fantastic book blogs out there. Find the post here and enjoy! Oh, and the prizes? A chance to win one of three new books:

Sweet Life by Mia King
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

Good luck and let me know if you win!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rem Koolhaas & Howard Roark

The Seattle Times has an interview with Rem Koolhaas, who designed the Seattle Public Library, which opened four years ago. Its a great building, but that's not why I am posting the interview. My favorite part of the interview is this exchange:

Q: It was a large project to undertake when you had so much skepticism.

A: Yes, but of course we were not alone. And I think that is kind of actually one of the difficult and distorting things at the current moment, is that basically some architects are seen as kind of almost bullfighters who somehow have to kill an animal, but you're part of a much larger enterprise.

Q: I think there's a reason for that: too many people have read "The Fountainhead" and it's ruined them for life.

A: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think that's actually extremely inconvenient, because there was Deborah (L. Jacobs, former City Librarian), of course, and there was also a board, and we had a lot of bonding in the beginning. So it's definitely not an ego thing, you know, and it's definitely not where you kind of are looking for morons or ever think that somebody — you realize that some of the criticism is unfounded or naive or not particularly kind of ... benevolent, but it really comes with the territory and it's not something that you kind of respond to in egotistical terms.

Don't get me wrong -- The Fountainhead is a great book. But, as alluded in my review of Loving Frank, it is a very particular view of architects and the act of building. It is, also, a very incorrect view. If even Rem Koolhaas -- who is probably (with, maybe, Frank Gehry) the closest thing we have in this day to Frank Lloyd Wright or Howard Roark -- thinks the idea of the "hero-architect" is a fallacy, I assure you the rest of us think its total B.S. It is fun to read, though.

Architecture Book Buying

As you can imagine, with my love of books and my love of architecture, I really love architecture books. This is a big genre in of itself and can be broken down into many categories -- there are technical books, glossy picture books, theory books, books for the layman, idea books, etc.

Archinect has a good architecture book listing collection (find it here). Their architecture books categories include education, reference, firms (i.e. monographs), criticism/theory, fiction, history, interiors, landscape, planning/urban design, technology, and web design. They even have an entire collection for Los Angeles.

There are so many architecture books out there, I find it very hard to shop for them online. I always love shopping at bookstores, since I love the tactile nature of a book, but for architecture books, its much more practical than that. With all those books, there is a whole lot of crap and sometimes its hard to tell online the difference between a good looking book and a poorly printed one.

Fortunately for me, there are some really great architecture bookstores in California. When I lived in LA, I shopped at Hennessey + Ingalls. Unfortunately, at the time, I was a student and had no money to be spending on books. They have a fantastic sales, though, which is when I did most of my shopping there. For those of you who prefer buying online, they do have a web store, in addition to their great bricks-and-mortar store.

Now that I'm in the SF Bay Area, I shop at the Berkeley branch of Builder's Booksource (they also have a SF store). When I am on 4th Street, I love stopping by just to see what's new. In addition to their great selection of glossy and "fun" books, they are also the go-to place for building codes (blech) and reference books.

The photo above is a Medieval copy of Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture I found here. More recent printings are also available.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Herzog & deMeuron's Dominus Winery

Following up on my post about the Bird's Nest and Herzog & deMeuron, I wanted to post some photos from their Dominus Winery project in Napa Valley (photos from dezeen). One of the first things I did when I moved to LA from the East Coast was to come up to visit my sister in the Bay Area and go see this building. Unfortunately, its not open to the general public, so I have never gotten this close, but even from the road, its really cool.

More Bird's Nest

Some great photos (via Arch Daily) of Herzog & de Meuron's Olympic stadium, the Bird's Nest. To generalize broadly, architects (including me) love the interstitial spaces of buildings. This is a great example of using this space in between -- not outside, not inside -- and making it alive and animated. The more I see of this building the more I like it. (previously) And, of course, I love the view of the Water Cube!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Review: Food Books

This week's Email Book Club book (see my previous post here) is Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch. Its about her time working at Per Se, famed chef Thomas Keller's NYC restaurant. From reading the first chapter, I'm intrigued and really excited to read the rest. That's not surprising, though, because I love reading most of those behind-the-scenes food and restaurant books out there.

The Papa Bear of these books (at least for me) is Kitchen Confidential by the one and only Anthony Bourdain. If you haven't read it, I can't imagine why. It is fantastic -- a fun read, great stories, really funny. Go read it now!

Another food book I liked (though its not up there with Kitchen Confidential) is Heat by Bill Buford. The best part of Heat is Mario Batali from the Food Network. The man is clearly crazy. I'd love to meet him.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

American Wife Book Giveaway

I liked this book a lot (see my review here), so I thought I'd bring your attention to a contest at Pop Culture Junkie to win a copy all your own! Enter here and let me know if you win.

Slow Blogging Week

My office moved this week, and our internet access is down for a while, so I won't be posting much this week. I'll leave you with something cute to look at instead!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Currently Reading

I have two books I'm reading right now to review. One is Adventures with Purpose by Richard Bangs -- its an adventure travel book in which the author visits places in order to bring attention to either an ecological or humanitarian crisis there.

The other book I'm reading is Last Days of Krypton by Kevin Anderson. Its not something I would normally pick up (I actually got it for my husband to read, but he is too busy with school starting) but I'll see how it goes!

Out today - American Wife

Just a reminder that Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife is available today. I reviewed it here and also linked to an editorial from Maureen Dowd here.