Friday, November 28, 2008

YA Giveaway

Presenting Lenore is hosting a great Penguin YA giveaway at her blog. Go here to enter to win a whole box of new YA books! Good luck and let me know if you win.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Because I am crazy, I decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. Because of my test, I couldn't really write much in the first half of the month, so I am trying like crazy to get it done now. It's not going well. As you can see from the widget I just put in my sidebar, I am way behind where I am supposed to be. Still, I'm a competitive person, and I want to see this through. So expect me to be pulling out the stops trying to get as much written as possible between now and the 30th.

Oh, and, yes, I am cooking Thanksgiving this year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Flying Books

Via Curbed SF, a new book-themed public sculpture was unveiled in San Francisco this weekend. Entitled "Language of the Birds," it looks pretty cool. The light-filled birds are actually books and the ground below has words in English, Italian and Chinese etched into the concrete. Photo above from SF Gate. Check out their article for more cool pics.

The Real American Wife?

Sadly, I think that this book will turn out to be uninteresting, but after reading American Wife, I am intrigued by the idea of Laura Bush writing a biography. Jezebel speculates on what she'll say.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Architecture Books

John King, the SF Chronicle architecture writer, has an article in today's paper with his recommendations for new architecture books to buy this holiday season. One of the books he discusses is Big Box Reuse by Julia Christensen, which Slate had an illustrated excerpt of recently.

Buy Big Box Reuse on Amazon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Preview: Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar

First of all, I have to say that Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar is an excellent title. I've seen this book at the bookstore several times and been pretty tempted to pick it up. Other obligations and shiny things have distracted me, though, so I was glad for the chance to read some of this as part of my email book club this week.

Written by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, this book is a light-hearted explanation of Philosophy, which uses jokes to explain big ideas. Or as the blurb says, "Philosophy 101 for those who like to take the heavy stuff lightly." (Find more on the authors' website here.)

From what I read, I wouldn't really call it laugh out loud funny. The humor reminded me of an older era - think Benny Hill and vaudeville. Some of the jokes are bawdy, most of them are kind of corny. Still, the authors' goal wasn't to write a tract on how to be funny, it was to write a readable book on philosophy, and it looks like the succeeded very well on that front. Will you walk away knowing everything there is to know about Spinoza and Kant? No, not by a long shot. But will you have a broader understanding of well-known philosophical concepts? Yes, absolutely.

In some ways, Plato and a Platypus reminded me of Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. Published in 1996, Sophie's World is by now, I think, used in many Philosophy 101 classes in the world. It's more of a textbook, couched as a story about a young girl learning about who she is through studying philosophy. I enjoyed reading Sophie's World a lot, and thought that both the story and the concepts it explained were fascinating. Plato and a Platypus is, though, much funnier and more light-hearted, so if you want to learn more about philosophy and prefer humorous books, this is the one for you.

Buy Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar on Amazon.
Buy Sophie's World on Amazon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chapel for St Loup, Switzerland

I've yet to post about the architecture of other churches I've visited (see my previous posts here and here) but this caught my eye on Arch Daily, so I thought I would share.

Gorgeous! It's so simple, yet so lovely. I would love to see that in person. There are lots of other photos at Arch Daily, plus plans. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Betty (Book Review: Feminist Mystique)

I'm late to this, I know, but I've been watching Season one of Mad Men on DVD over the past few weeks and have just been loving it. The clothes, the men, the aura - it's all just so cool. What else do I love about it? Being reminded of Betty Friedan and The Feminist Mystique.

It has been a long time since I read The Feminist Mystique for a high school history class assignment. For those of you who aren't familiar with this landmark work, here is the Amazon description:
The book that changed the consciousness of a country—and the world. Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely describe the earthshaking and long-lasting effects of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. This is the book that defined "the problem that has no name," that launched the Second Wave of the feminist movement, and has been awakening women and men with its insights into social relations, which still remain fresh, ever since.

Like Betty Draper (photo above, from Mad Men, for those of you who haven't seen it)(but you should, FYI, if that wasn't obvious), Betty Friedan was a well-educated suburban housewife who gradually grew more and more dissatisfied with her life as wife and mother. Friedan, though, had been a journalist, so was motivated to find out whether she was alone in her unhappiness. She sent a questionnaire to the graduates of her Smith College class, the results of which showed that most of the women were disappointed with their lives. In her book, Friedan wrote that women are "victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. Such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family" (from Wikipedia). Basically, Friedan thought middle-class women were set up to fail: they were only allowed to find their purpose through their role as wife and mother. If they didn't, then tough.

As a historical document and a classic feminist text, The Feminist Mystique is first-rate. And as a stand-alone book, its very intriguing. The first half of the book, where Friedan explores her "awakening" and the findings from her questionnaire holds up better than the latter portion, but in general, this is an excellent book. Yes, there are dated ideas/passages, but I think this book holds up very well. I encourage you to read it if you have not done so already.

Buy The Feminist Mystique on Amazon.
Buy Mad Men Season One DVD on Amazon.

An Architect Bandwagon?

Apparently, it's not just Obama who thought about being an architect. According to the Chicago Tribune, VP-elect Biden wanted to be one as well. Now the Trib is speculating if next year's Pritzker Prize dinner will be held at the White House. I think that would be awesome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giveaway: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Presenting Lenore is hosting a giveaway on her blog for Chalice by Robin McKinley. Here is her post where you can enter to win one of four copies! I haven't read Chalice yet, but I loved almost all the McKinley books I have read (Hero & the Crown, for example).

And if you can't wait, buy Chalice on Amazon now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Big Day

So, today is the day: my big test. Wish me luck! And if you pray, pray for me!

I'm really looking forward to getting my life back after this exam. I miss reading.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Thanks to Anysia for the laugh!

Doo, doo, doo-doo-doot!

I never do these things, but I just love the Muppets!

You Are Animal

A complete lunatic, you're operating on 100% animal instincts.

You thrive on uncontrolled energy, and you're downright scary.

But you sure can beat a good drum.

"Kill! Kill!"

I don't think its accurate, though. I've never chanted "kill!"

Thanks to a lovely shore breeze for the link!

Ugly Buildings

I went to Yahoo this a.m. and was greeted by a photo of Boston City Hall (above) and the headline 10 top ugly buildings and monuments. I have to say that I agree with whomever picked this list that Boston City Hall is pretty awful. For me, it's not so much, that it's visually unappealing (though it is), I dislike how it looms over the stark plaza in front of it and it's not much better on the inside.

However, I have to disagree with their inclusion of the Scottish Parliament (above). Its a strange building, to be sure, but I think its very visually interesting. Visit the Holyrood website for lots of photos and a virtual tour, and let me know if you agree.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Negative Reviews

In light of some recent posts I've read where the author was very upset about getting a negative review from a book bloggers, I wanted to make something very clear:

I love getting books from publishers to review. I love being exposed to books I may not have otherwise picked up. Please send me an email, or leave me a message, and, most likely, I will be happy to read and review your book. However, I make no promises that I will like the book or write a positive review. I will be fair, and I try to think of who else may like a book, even if I did not. But I won't act like I liked something when I didn't.

That's all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preview: Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Company

My book club has picked our next book: Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Company by Maria Amparo Escandon.

From Amazon:
From the author of Esperanza's Box of Saints (1999) comes this semi-surreal tale of Libertad Gonzalez, imprisoned in the Mexicali Penal Institute for Women. The jail has a decidedly looser environment than its name implies--one of the wealthier inmates has transformed the yard into a beachfront--and model prisoner Libertad decides to start a book club. No matter what book she chooses to read aloud from, though, she always has the same story to tell. In telenovela fashion, complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings, she tells her increasingly large audience a story about a former literature professor and fugitive from the Mexican government who becomes a truck driver in the U.S and his loving but controlling relationship with his daughter. Libertad's audience grows hooked on the story line (much like Escandon's will), chiming in with heated opinions on the twists and turns of the plot. It soon becomes apparent that the story is Libertad's own, and it has become her way of making sense of her life and her crime. This highly readable novel is a paean both to storytelling and to freedom. Joanne Wilkinson Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
I think it sounds interesting and I am looking forward to reading it. I'll report back after our book club meets in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Architect-elect

According to the Telegraph, even Barack Obama thought about becoming an architect. See, what did I tell you? (Thanks to Life without Buildings. Funny photo there, by the way.)

An Italian Phrase

I learned a wonderful new Italian phrase yesterday while I was working on a translation project.* The phrase was filo di Arianna. I didn't get it at first. Who was Arianna, and why did she have a string?

After re-translating it, I realized that the name in English was Ariadne, and it was a reference to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It means the solution to the labyrinth, or more prosaically, the blueprint/outline/plan for a project. Its more than just "solution," though. More like, "guiding light."

I think its a lovely expression and I love that this is a phrase that an Italian would just use. (In looking the phrase up online, I found a discussion board where there were Italians who didn't understand that the phrase wasn't easily understandable to everyone. They just knew who Ariadne was and that was it.) I really enjoy mythology (and my copy of Edith Hamilton is well-worn) but I never use mythological references casually. I think most people wouldn't get what I was saying and, even if they did, I think it would make me seem like a snob.

*For those who know me, and are now thinking "Translation? But Lorin doesn't know any foreign languages," here is a little background. The rest of you can feel free to skip it.

In addition to my regular work as an architect, I also serve as the marketing coordinator for my firm. Mostly, this involves writing (proposals, ads, etc.). My firm has an office in Italy and I also coordinate our marketing efforts with them. We're re-doing a lot of our marketing material, and updating our website, so we have been writing descriptions for all of our newer projects and re-writing the older ones as well.

Despite my half-Sicilian heritage, I don't speak, read or write any Italian (except maybe "Ciao! Bella!" from the Italian tradition of "greeting" women on the street), so my counterpart in Italy translates anything they write and then sends me the drafts for review and editing. Usually, it just involves word order or a swapping out a more common word choice. Sometimes, though, their translations are a little rough so I will read through the original Italian to see if I can get her meaning from them, and will frequently plug it into Google translate to see if that can come up with a better word choice. So its not really translating, as someone else does the hard part of actually knowing two languages, but I spend a lot of time going back in forth between the two texts, trying to make the English work, and not just be a literal translation.

Monday, November 10, 2008


At the risk of sounding like my sister, the guy who wrote this NY Times op-ed may be the most insufferable, obnoxious human being I've encountered in a while. Read at your own risk.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who Wants to Be an Architect?

Very, very frequently, when I meet someone new and I tell them that I am an architect (or, more accurately, that I am working on getting my architect's licence), they tell me that they wanted to grow up to be an architect when they were younger, but that something got in the way. Sometimes, they found something else that they loved to do, but sometimes, I think, they just got intimidated by the process of becoming an architect. Yes, it is a long process, and kind of a pain in the neck.

So, I am really happy to share a new website that can help guide young people through the process of becoming an architect. ARCounsel offers free on-line counseling to high school students who are thinking about becoming an architect. The project was started (and run) by Bill Simonian, who helped found the Southern California Institute of Architecture (sci-arc, which I've mentioned before) and was the academic counselor there for 34 years, including the years I spent in grad school. Bill is a great guy and I am thrilled that even in retirement, he is sharing his expertise with future architects. If you (or someone you know) are a high-schooler thinking about becoming an architect, I encourage you to contact ARCounsel.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wish List

Between the public library and my library, there are more books to be read than I will ever get to, and yet I am constantly adding to my wish list. Here are three new books that I want to read, courtesy of other great book bloggers.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler, from Shelf Love:
This is what the best science fiction and fantasy can do. It forces us to question our assumptions and look carefully at the very roots of our morality.

The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik, from Pop Culture Junkie:
So besides the fact that I felt like those characters were very real to me, this book was just funny. Your everyday, can't help it funny! That's just who they were. I loved that and found myself laughing often while reading this
Paper Towns by John Green, from bookshelves of doom:
Okay, first of all, thumbs up. No reservations at all. ... Paper Towns is melancholy, laugh-out-loud-funny, downright sad, often hopeful and always thoughtful.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stylish Secret Room

I'm loving this posh secret room. See more from this designer at desire to inspire.

On The Road

This week's e-mail book club book, is Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion.

From the book jacket:

A pampered Long Island princess hits the road in a converted bus with her wilderness-loving husband, travels the country for one year, and brings it all hilariously to life in this offbeat and romantic memoir.

Doreen and Tim are married psychiatrists with a twist: She's a self-proclaimed Long Island princess, grouchy couch potato, and shoe addict. He's an affable, though driven, outdoorsman. When Tim suggests "chucking it all" to travel cross-country in a converted bus, Doreen asks, "Why can't you be like a normal husband in a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?" But she soon shocks them both, agreeing to set forth with their sixty-pound dog, two querulous cats--and no agenda--in a 340-square-foot bus.

"Queen of the Road" is Doreen's offbeat and romantic tale about refusing to settle; about choosing the unconventional road with all the misadventures it brings(fire, flood, armed robbery, and finding themselves in a nudist RV park, to name just a few). The marvelous places they visit and delightful people they encounter have a life-changing effect on all the travelers, as Doreen grows to appreciate the simple life, Tim mellows, and even the pets pull together. Best of all, readers get to go along for the ride through forty-seven states in this often hilarious and always entertaining memoir, in which a boisterous marriage of polar opposites becomes stronger than ever.

So far, I'm enjoying this one quite a bit and think its pretty funny. It is also, I fear, a look into my future. Here's a little story about my in-laws (who I love):

Many years ago, my father-in-law bought a Unimog that had been converted into a camper. [FYI, a Unimog is a Mercedes-Benz truck originally built as a German missile carrier (or something).] Since then, he has tricked it out with everything you could imagine (including a wind turbine for off-the-grid electricity) and it is one serious RV on steroids. I wish I had a photo of the finished product. Here's a photo of a virgin Unimog:

Even though they are retired, my m-i-l and f-i-l both volunteer and keep busy, so going off for a year isn't in the cards for them. But still, the in-laws, God love 'em, have taken this thing all over, including to Alaska. I don't imagine that this was my m-i-l's first choice for summer vacation, but she's a great sport and this was a dream of my f-i-l's.

And, like father, like son. Though my husband's dream isn't to spend extended periods of time crammed into a truck, cruising the roads of America. No, no. His goal is to some day spend an extended period of time crammed into a boat, sailing the Pacific. We occasionally sail and pretty much every time we do, my husband suggests that we throw it all in for life living aboard a sailboat. In my more delusional moments, I agree, but then I get home, and look at my closet and our bookshelves and I think, I could never live on a boat.

So, if author Doreen Orion and my mother-in-law are any indication, I'll be packing up my belongings and moving to a boat in about twenty years. Yay!

Buy Queen of the Road on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Maya Angelou II

Apparently, Maya Angelou herself was inspired by Barack Obama's victory to read from another one of her poems, "Still I Rise." Its a poetry kind of day. (Clip here.)

On the Pulse of Morning

I don't generally write about politics, even though I follow it pretty closely, but I had to make an exception today. I woke up this morning thinking about the poem Maya Angelou wrote for Bill Clinton's inauguration, "On the Pulse of Morning." Its long, but beautiful. Even if you skip most of it, please read the last stanza. (And a belated thanks to Sister Peggy for making me read this, back in '93.)

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.

Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers -- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours -- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

I got my sticker. Did you?

Don't know where to go? Check out the League of Women Voter's Polling Place Finder.

ETA: For a little inspiration, here's Cute Overload telling us to Vote like a Stoat!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Review: The Constant Princess

This is the story, as told by Philippa Gregory, of Katherine of Aragon, Spanish princess, Queen of England. She was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales at just four years old and grew up knowing she was destined to be Queen of England. As he lays dying, she promises Arthur to become Queen even without him. The only way to do this is to lie, and claim that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, and to marry his brother Harry. After years of waiting, she finally fulfills her deathbed promise to Arthur and marries the new king Henry VIII to become Queen. In the end, though, of course, Henry will betray her for Anne Boleyn.

The Constant Princess is Gregory’s fourth (of five) books about the Tudor family of England. This book takes place primarily before the events of her first and best known Tudor book, The Other Boleyn Girl.

In general, I thought this book was good. Katherine is frequently a secondary character to the story of Henry and his wives, but in her youth she was as compelling as any of the other Tudor women.  I especially liked the way Gregory interspersed the third-person narrative with the Katherine's first person point of view; it was an excellent narrative device that allowed us to see both the outsider's point of view and Katherine's inner thoughts.

Unfortunately, I can't help but compare The Constant Princess to The Other Boleyn Girl, which makes Princess seem a little dull in comparison. This is probably partly because The Other Boleyn Girl was new for me, as it was one of the first historical fiction books I read set in this era (I have since gone on to read lots). But mostly I think Princess fell down a bit in comparison for me because its pace is slower. While Gregory focused the book on incidents throughout Katherine's life, there are stretches where not much really happens, as all the players are just waiting for someone to make a move. Princess is contemplative book, whereas The Other Boleyn Girl is more intense. Now that I think about it, though, this is a pretty apt comparison of the heroines of each of these books, Katherine and Anne Boleyn, too!

Altogether, though, The Constant Princess is a worthwhile companion to Gregory's other Tudor books. Fans of her writing, or historical fiction, will enjoy. And since this book stands on its own very well, those who haven't read The Other Boleyn Girl will be able to jump right in and enjoy.

Buy The Constant Princess on Amazon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Secret Bar

The History Channel had a show on today about a cool bar in Milwaukee, the Safe House. Its a spy-themed bar/restaurant filled with secret passages and tricks. (Here's a good description.) If I'm ever back in Wisconsin, I'd love to check it out.
Photo of the secret entrance above from flickr.