Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday Update (on Saturday)

Welcome to the Friday update on Saturday! No, I'm not at BEA (the big book conference in NYC), unfortunately. I just had a busy day yesterday and, as the Friday update is one of the very few posts I write "live," I didn't get the chance to finish it up in time to post Friday. Plus, this way, I get to use my voice recognition software- woo hoo! (and yes, I did just use the software to type woo hoo.)

While I went to a bookstore this week, I ended up not buying anything. I don't know why, it was an art book store and go after nothing jumped off the shelf at me. Instead, I really loaded up at the library this week. Here's what I got:

Magic's Child (Magic Or Madness Trilogy) by Justine Larbalestier

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead by Nick Drake

I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech by Ralph Keyes

And just for fun, I also got two books of short stories by Roald Dahl, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and The Best of Roald Dahl. I read the first story from Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life while I was at the library and it made me laugh out loud, standing in the aisle. This is not your kids' Roald Dahl.

On the architecture front, I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Thursday night. It was my first opportunity to see the new rooftop garden (designed by Jensen Architects) since it's been finished. I really loved it - it was wonderful being up on the roof and getting such a different perspective of the city. I didn't get the chance to take any of my own photos, so here's a little one from the MOMA website.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eric Owen Moss Architects at SCI-Arc Gallery

Tomorrow is opening night for Eric Owen Moss Architects' project IF NOT NOW, WHEN? at SCI-Arc Gallery in Downtown LA. The exhibition runs to September 13th. There will be a gallery talk with Eric and Jeffrey Kipnis on July 29.

EOM is the director at SCI-Arc, as well as a world-known architect.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: House

House is not a new book; it was published in 1985, long before I decided to become an architect (really long before). But I was reading a post on the blog Life Without Buildings recently that reminded me of this book. Author Tracy Kidder has since gone on to write Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is a much better known book, but House is a really worthwhile read as well, especially for anyone contemplating a building project of their own.

A journalist, Kidder spent two years with the Souweine family, their architect William Rawn, and their builders, through the entire process of building their Greek revival home in South Amherst, Massachusetts. Kidder’s sympathies, in my opinion, rest squarely with the builders of Apple Corps, a small cooperative of (former hippie) carpenters.
Jim [Locke of Apple Corps] said, “When you see a house written up in the New York Times Magazine, they usually give the name of just the architect and the owner, and I think the builder has every right to be passed off.” Jim leaned against the kitchen counter. “The thing about the architect is, the architect is sort of the artist, and the practical person who works with his hands always disdains the architect. Why should I be able to make a living doing that, just because his head works in a different way? But there are these things that Bill should know, and I have to come up with them.”

Jim raised his voice lightly. There was a little new color in his face. What was the cause of his argument with Jonathan [Souweine]? It was money, obviously. When the Souweines want to add something to their house, Jim’s the one who has to put a price tag on it. He’s the one who has to put a meter on their dreams.

“I’ve gotta bring reality to the Souweines. He brings them the pretty pictures. I bring that.” Jim smacked his fist into his open palm. “I’ve gotta bring them that.” He punched his hand once more. “And that,“ he said, and then he smiled.
This is a really wonderfully told story. The writing is simple and straightforward, but really evocative of place and emotion. I will say, though, I’ve read this book several times, and every time it succeeds in pissing me off. I get so frustrated with the builders, and the clients, and even with the architect. That’s what I get for reading books that hit so close to home! But I can’t deny that this is a really good book. Architects may decide to skip this one to avoid frustration and anyone in the middle of a home renovation should probably stay away (House would also certainly serve as a cautionary tale for anyone planning on building their own home). But for anyone who likes well-written nonfiction, I highly recommend House.

Here are reviews from when House was originally published in Time Magazine and the New York Times (may require log in).

Buy House on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FLW Legos

This has been all over the interwebs (at least the bits I read) so some of you may have already seen it. But just in case anyone is stumped as to what to get me for my birthday (just a month away!), I present the Frank Lloyd Wright LEGO collection: [via Archinect and many other places]

Remember how, in college, I said no FLW gifts? Yeah, turns out that doesn't apply to LEGOs. In fact, these are part of a whole new LEGO Architecture collection. You can buy the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower sets at select stores in Chicago now, and they are gradually rolling it out everywhere. Very cool!

I don't know any architects who don't just love LEGOs, at least none my age. One of the highlights of my college semester living in Denmark was our trip to the LEGO Land in Billund.

Looking at that map, its amazing how much bigger LEGO Land has gotten since I was there. Guess I'll have to go back someday! Or maybe I should just visit the one in California, since its a bit easier to get to from here!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

It is 1950 and Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old aspiring chemist, has found a dead body on the lawn of her family’s estate. Deciding that it’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to her, the precocious Flavia decides to beat the police at their own game and solve the mystery herself, especially when suspicion falls on her reclusive father.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie reminded me of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books, with its gothic mood and plot twists. With her sharp wit and eagerness to prove she was smarter than the adults, Flavia reminded me of Harriet the Spy (the character). Unlike the Lemony Snicket books or Harriet the Spy, Sweetness was written as an adult book. For me, this book would have been much stronger had it been aimed at teens, instead. While the subject matter (including murder, depression, and PTSD) was adult, I felt like the writing was too young, maybe because the story is told from Flavia's point of view.

I think this book is really a matter of taste. Harriet the Spy always annoyed me and Flavia was no different. But I think a lot of people will really like this book. I just wasn’t one of them.

Here are some other (favorable) opinions:
The Guardian
Entertainment Weekly
Lesa's Book Critiques
A Bookworm's World

In addition, in 2007, author Alan Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award of the Crimewriters’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I think I am in the minority opinion on this one.

Buy The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on Amazon.

Visit Alan Bradley’s website.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cupertino Footbridge

Cupertino, California, is best known for being the home of Apple Computer, but around our house, its even better known as my husband's hometown. We were there a few weeks ago to see his family and went for a walk across the new Mary Avenue Bicycle Footbridge. According to the city's website, it is the first cable-stay bicycle pedestrian bridge over a California freeway. I thought it was a sweet little bridge. (Photos are from my iPhone, so sorry about the low quality.)

The bridge was built by Swinerton and designed by HNTB. As my father-in-law pointed out, its like a simplified version of the famous Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay, which was designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Update

Thank goodness for Voice Recognition Software. As I've mentioned before, I'm having a lot of problems typing, so I wrote most of my posts - including my reviews of The Thirteenth Tale and Painting the Invisible Man - last weekend using the software. Its not a perfect system, but its a good way for me to get a rough draft in the computer without so much typing. Yay!

I can't believe it but no new books for me this week. I will be sure to make up for that this weekend. I did make a big run to the library, though. It was not to get any reading for pleasure, but to get some architecture books for inspiration for a project in the office. Among the highlights was Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area by Dave Weinstein (Author) and Linda Svendsen (Photographer). Its a really lovely book with descriptive text and tour ideas in addition to the photos.

In other news, happy birthday, Mary Cassatt! I'm fond of Cassatt's work, as this post makes pretty clear.

For those of you in the US, happy Memorial Day! Enjoy your weekend, everybody!

Bookshelves as Art

From dornob, Job Koelewijn's infinite bookshelf:

From Jacket Copy, Jordi Mila's "Wisdom Tree" bookshelf:

Related: books as art, and cool bookshelves.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: Painting the Invisible Man

From the back of the book:
While researching the online archives of the providence journal, writer Anna Matteo makes a keying error -a simple mistake that leads her to a path she'd been avoiding most of her life; on a journey inside the world of her father, Paulie Matteo, killed gangland-style more than two decades ago.

Driven by fate and goaded by a muse in the persona of writer Amy tan, Anna delves into her painful and unresolved past, to uncover the truth about her father-dubbed The Invisible Man.
Painting the Invisible Man is one of the the most compelling stories I have read all year. Maybe it's because I knew it was based on the author's own life or maybe it was the similarities to people I know,* but this story really resonated with me. And once I got into the story, I really didn't want to put this book down.

I wish the story's ending had been a little bit tidier, that it had a neater resolution. But real life isn't like that, I know. The author admits this as much:
In my attempt to paint the portrait of my invisible man, I realized that I will, at best, end up with a representation that is a semblance of my father.
In the end, the story became less about discovering the Invisible Man (the protagonist's father), and more about reconciling with one's own past. It's a powerful message.

Now, notice that I keep saying story, rather than book. The book itself was a little rough around the edges, in my opinion. I found the writing to be choppy, and the author frequently jumped back and forth in time, which sometimes left me confused. But the author's message and her story trumped these complaints, and I felt compelled to keep reading, to find out where the story would take me.

I can't compare this book to other books about the mob, since, as I've mentioned, I haven't read any, but seems like a pretty unique and unusual story to me. I think anyone who normally reads books about the mafia would be intrigued by this look at the effects a life of organized crime has on the family.

Buy Painting the Invisible Man on Amazon.

* No, I don't know anyone in the mafia. But Italian and catholic? I know lots of people like that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Secret Rooms & Other Cool Stuff

This house is insane. Its not a house, its a castle. So, of course, it has a secret room. Read all about it here.

Here's a news article about the same house and the woes of trying to sell a home for over $30 million. My heart goes out to them. (/sarcasm)

I've seen something similar to this car lift used in parking garages, but this is the first I've seen of its use in a residential application. How cool is that? It would only be better if it was also serving as the exit from your secret lair, a la Batman.

Nothing secret about this, I just think its interesting: Student Works: Rock and Roll Fantasy - SCI-Arc at Coachella: Elastic Plastic Sponge. The image above is of the pre-construction rendering; follow the link to the article for osme images of the real thing. Best quote:
One big lesson that people got out of it was that materials and their aggregations can generate the parameters for form making... you couldn't just twist the big ribbon in Maya and expect it to perform the same way in meat space.
Meat space? Ew. (oh, and see my previous posts about sci-arc (here and here) and blobs.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reading Coincidences

I read a couple of posts recently about finding interesting correlations between different books. Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog called these mental connections a Daisy Chain. It was really interesting for me to read about other bloggers thinking about this, because it was really on my mind while I read The Thirteenth Tale (review). I was reading The Well of Lost Plots at the same time (see my review here), which is the opposite of The Thirteenth Tale in so many ways. Well is one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books - it is about as silly and light as you can get. In sharp contrast, The Thirteenth Tale is gothic and spooky and sad. But rather than dwell on their differences, I kept finding all the things that they had in common.

There are some superficial things that are easy to see in common about these books. Both are set in England, both owe a huge debt to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, both feature a female protagonist solving a mystery.

At a deeper level, though, both of these books, to me, are about storytelling and how an author creates a book. In The Thirteenth Tale, Vida Winter is a famous author who drew from her own life to create the characters in her books. For books created within Fforde's world, writing is a mysterious process that involves characters with minds of their own and contraptions we never see. But I think that in the end, both of these books address that, for all its apparent simplicity, writing is a mystery to even the most devoted readers.

What do you think? Am I reading too much into these two books?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a pretty remarkable debut novel. It tells the story of a famous and reclusive author, Vida Winter, who hires a troubled young woman, Margaret Lea, to write her biography. The book consists of Vida telling Margaret her life story, and Margaret's research in finding out the truth behind Vida's story. Margaret has her own secrets, though, and she and Vida find themselves uncovering each other's stories. It is a real Gothic tale - spooky and strange - and draws on some of the great old Gothic romances, most especially Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

It took me awhile to get into this book. I read about the first third and then put it down for a week or two while I read some lighter fare. But once I picked it up again, I tore through to the ending, eager to know the end of Vida's story. I, for one, did not see the plot twist coming at all, and I even flipped back a few times once it was revealed to see if I could find any clues the author may have left in the earlier part of the story.

This book made splash when it came out a couple of years ago, so lots of other bloggers have already reviewed it. Here are a few:

Maw Book's Blog
Devourer of Books
The Book Lady's Blog

As you can see, I am not alone in enjoying this book. Book lovers and fans of books by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen will particularly like this book.

Buy The Thirteenth Tale on Amazon.

Friday, May 15, 2009


This has not been a great week for me, to be honest. I may end up needing to take a break from blogging, soon, unless I can work something out. The thought makes me very sad, because I love doing this.

On to some happy news - new books!

My awesome husband (sensing that I needed some cheering up, I think) got me the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus: Volume 6. Thanks, honey!

Via LibraryThing, I received The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.
In his first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces ... eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

In other book news, Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum! Check out mental_floss's interesting post about Baum. I like this factoid:
When the costume designers for the movie [in 1939] were looking for a coat for the Wizard to wear, they went to a secondhand shop and bought a bunch, then brought them back to the set for the actor to try on. He tried them all and made his choice, but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that he discovered a label inside the coat with the original owner’s name in it – L. Frank Baum. Everyone was understandably skeptical, but the story checked out – the coat was specially-made for Baum by a tailor in Chicago and his widow Maud recognized it from his collection.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

SE Hinton Interview

Nathan Bransford (the agent) has a gem of an interview with author SE Hinton up on his blog here.

Also, I wrote about Hinton previously here, after her appearance at the LA Times Festival of Books.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maggie the Architect

Maggie plays Howard Roark in a recent episode of The Simpsons. How many of the buildings can you identify?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sorry I didn't have anything new today. My tendinitis flared up so typing is a no-no. I'll have to see how tomorrow goes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Zoë's Tale

Zoë's Tale is the fourth book in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. (Here are the links to my reviews for the previous books in this series: Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony.) The events in Zoë's Tale happen in parallel with The Last Colony and, where the previous books are told from John and Jane's points of view, this story is told from their adopted daughter Zoë's viewpoint.

For those of us who have already read The Last Colony, this is great companion piece. The overall plot is the same, so there are no twists and turns, but instead there is depth. For example, I knew when a major character was going to die and was still moved, almost to tears, over that character's death. Scalzi's treatment of that scene was well-written and just seemed spot on for what a teen girl would feel.

Still, in some ways, I wish I could have read this on its own and I think someone who has not read the rest of the series may actually get more out of it than I did. [If you want a virgin eyes opinion, I suggest you go read this review by Jen of Devourer of Books. (Then come back here!)]

Scalzi has said (on his blog) that he wrote Zoë's Tale to be "young adult" friendly. I think he's pulled it off quite well and that teens would enjoy this book.

Buy Zoe's Tale on Amazon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Update

I finished a couple of books this week, including The Well of Lost Plots (review) and Zoe's Tale (review forthcoming). I'm still reading The Thirteenth Tale but I'm certainly enjoying it and I'll probably finish it tonight. (I did not get any reading in last night because we went to see Star Trek.)

Only one new book for me this week: Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano, which came for review. Isn't the cover fantastic? Its so striking. Painting is about a family with mob ties. Despite (or maybe because of) my Sicilian heritage, I've never read any mafia books, so this will be new territory for me.

On a totally unrelated to me note, did you all hear that Dark Horse Comics has released its first iPhone App today? (Thanks for the tip, ElleVee.) I have an iPhone but have never set up iTunes so I have no apps. This may change that, if they start issuing Buffy comics on it. Because that would be cool.

Happy Friday everyone! Have a great week!

Movie Review: Star Trek

This may be an entirely unnecessary review but I thought I'd report back on our impromptu decision to see Star Trek on opening night. I'm not a Trekkie but my husband is and he was so excited about this movie that yesterday afternoon he decided that there was no way he could wait until this weekend to see it. So off we went and, I'm relieved to say, it was great!

The best thing about this movie is that its really not for die-hard fans (the kind that will be wearing costumes or chatting in Klingon). In fact, as we were leaving the theatre, we heard a fair amount of "but in episode blah-blah, Spock was seen clearly seen doing such-and-such" and grumbling that Vulcans would never be that emotional. But for the rest of us, there was no reliance on knowing these characters before. This movie really looked at everyone with fresh eyes. I recommend it for anyone who likes sci-fi or action flicks, even if you usually have no interest in Star Trek.

Oh, and for Alias fans, we caught at least one shout-out in this movie. Lost fans will have to let me know if JJ Abrams included any references (I'm only halfway through Season 1, so I wouldn't know).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Art & Architecture Links

If you need a little inspiration today when you are trying to design something, I present the National Design Awards from the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. From graphic design to architecture to product design, there is a whole range of beautiful, well-designed work to get your creative batteries charged. Just the color and movement in this image from Rodarte is enough to make me smile.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, check out this New York Times feature on the production design for the fourth Terminator movie. There are some pretty interesting images in it. Unsurprisingly, I like the city and building images (like this one of a post-apocalyptic Griffith Observatory) better than the machines.

I'd be interested if any of you can identify the medium designer Martin Laing is using for his paintings. Some of them look like photo-composites to me. [via Archinect]

Here's some very cool book art, from photographer Thomas Allen. He carefully cuts up old book covers to create dioramas and photographs them (and sometimes using what looks like tilt-shift photography). Check out images at his gallery and here. [From Boing Boing via Omnivoracious]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For those of you who saw it, sorry for the post mix-up earlier! My review of Zoe's Tale will go up Monday.

Wish List: Graceling

I know, I know! I can't believe I haven't read Graceling yet, either. I can't even link to where I heard about it first because I have heard about it everywhere.

If you, like me, are eager to read this book, I have wonderful news. Bookluver-Carol's Reviews is hosting a giveaway! So click on that link, enter to win and let me know if you win! Good luck! (FYI, it closes 5/15 so enter soon!)

For those of you who can't wait, you can buy Graceling on Amazon.

"Waiting" Wednesday: Leviathan

Its been ages since I've done one of these Waiting on Wednesday posts but Scott Westerfeld posted the (previously top-secret) cover art of his newest yesterday and I had to share. Westerfeld - you know, the guy who wrote the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy (review), and Peeps and The Last Days (review) - owns me. I'd just about follow him off a cliff - or at the very least into the 1910's.

Leviathan comes out in October. There's no description on Amazon yet, but here's what Scott had to say on his blog:
Leviathan is set in an alternate world in which Charles Darwin discovered biotechnology. So the British Empire was built on the backs of strange, fabricated beasties. Living airships! Fighting kraken! Message lizards!
(Insert me making Westerfeld-zombie-follower noise here.) Must. read.

PS: I forgot to mention - "Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Hunting of the Snark

One of the best things about reading the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde is getting all the inside jokes of literature. So what to do when you haven't read the work being referenced? It depends to a certain extent. I don't think it matters at all to the enjoyment of The Eyre Affair if you've read Dicken's The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, but it would be a problem if you hadn't read Jane Eyre. Still, the books are so much more enjoyable when you get all the references, so I try to look up anything that is clearly going over my head. In the case of The Well of Lost Plots (review), I had no idea who the Bellman was and why he (or she) would be in charge of Jurisfiction. Isn't a bellman the guy who carries your luggage for you at a hotel?

Thanks to Wikipedia, I found the strange and lovely poem by Lewis Carroll that features the Bellman, The Hunting of the Snark.
"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."
Read the rest of The Hunting of the Snark at

Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: The Well of Lost Plots

The Well of Lost Plots is Jasper Fforde's third book in the Thursday Next series. In it, Thursday, who is pregnant with her missing husband's child, has moved into Book World to hide out and work as a member of the Jurisfiction police department, under the tutelage of Miss Havisham. None of this will make sense unless you have read the first two books in the series, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book (see my reviews here).

There's a lot going on in Well, it can be kind of disjointed, and not too much happens to drive the overall story arc of Thursday saving Landen (her husband), forward. (Lenore, of Presenting Lenore, commented on a recent post of mine that this is her least favorite of the Thurday Next books.) I still thought it was a lot of fun, though, and worth reading for any Jasper Fforde fans.

One of the things I liked about it (and this is a little bit of a spoiler, if you are cautious about these things) was that this book is a prequel of sorts for The Big Over Easy (see my review of it here). So for me, reading Well was a little like getting to see a "Making Of" or "Before They Were Stars" special for Over Easy.

Buy The Well of Lost Plots on Amazon

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Happy Free Comic Books Day!

Get yourself to your local comic book store* and pick up some free goodies to celebrate Free Comic Book Day!

You can also celebrate by visiting Things from Another World, which is having their spring cleaning and lots of sales during the month of May. Here are two coupons:

Free Domestic Shipping on $25+ IN-STOCK ORDERS with Coupon Code: ROCKOUT
$5 off Any Order for $50+ IN-STOCK ORDERS with Coupon Code: CLEANUP

* For me, that would be Alameda Sports Cards and Comics, where they will sell you something awesome and drink you under the table.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday! Woo-hoo!

I've been so jazzed to read this week. I'm reading three books right now and they are all different and all good. Does it get much better than that? They are:

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

On another note, I noticed that Amazon's Omnivoracious blog has named Colson Whitehead's new book, Sag Harbor, their Best Book of May. I've only read one of Whitehead's previous books, The Intuitionist, but it was one of the best books I have ever read. (Thanks, Andrea, for making me read it - you were right.)

Have a great weekend!

Advertising Joan Didion in 1970

I liked Joan Didion's book Play It As It Lays but I can't imagine ever having picked it up on the basis of Gene Shalit's* recommendation! Maybe he was less scary in 1970.

This ad is from an excellent New York Times slideshow of archived book ads. It makes me wonder if in forty years, we'll look back and be amazed at how publishers today are advertising. "Book trailers? That's so quaint!" [Via BookSlut]

* For those of you having a hard time placing the name, here's a refresher: