Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alvar Aalto

There's a very nice slideshow up on Slate today about the residential design of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto: A Low-Key High Modernist: The unpretentious houses of Alvar Aalto. Villa Mairea is one of my favorite buildings, but I also loved the last house in the show. I have the exposed brick in my house - now I need a lovely little reading corner like that!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: My Man Jeeves

My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse is one of those books that everyone says is funny, but I'm always suspicious that it actually is. So, get this - it is! My Man Jeeves is a collection of eight short stories by Wodehouse -- half feature the perfect* butler Jeeves and his employer, Bertie Wooster, while the others are about Reggie Pepper, an early prototype for Wooster. While I definitely preferred the Jeeves stories over the Pepper ones, the whole book is quite amusing. And short! Just the perfect thing to read between diaper changes and late night feedings, when your brain is too frazzled to read anything more serious. Or maybe that's just me.

Buy My Man Jeeves on Amazon or download free at Project Gutenberg.

*Edited for bad writing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: The Cookbook Collector

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is about two sisters, one a successful, practical-minded business woman, and one a somewhat flighty perpetual grad student, as they navigate life and love during the dot-com boom/bust and the 9/11 attacks. It is, I believe, a modern day retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (not having read the Austen, I'll take everyone's word but the plotline seems very Austen-y to me.) This is the second book I've read by Goodman, after Kaaterskill Falls, and I much preferred it to the earlier work. Maybe that's because it is set in Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA, two places with which I am quite familiar.

I read this book for my book club and we had an interesting discussion about it. One of the women in my group had experiences that were very similar to the book's main characters - MIT, Berkeley, worked at a start-up, and so on. She said that at first, she liked that someone had written a book about these experiences, but as the book went on, it was all just a little off - just not quite right about what that time and places were like.

I didn't really love The Cookbook Collector in totality - it tried to do a lot with its big cast and broad scope and just ended up being spotty. But there were pieces - little moments, like someone eating a peach - that I did love. It was a worthwhile book, though not one I'd call a classic.

The paperback will be released on July 12, 2011. Pre-order The Cookbook Collector: A Novel or buy The Cookbook Collector: A Novel on Amazon now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Heidi

Yodelay, yodelay, yodelayheehoo! There's no actual yodelling in Heidi, the classic children's novel by Johanna Spyri. Nor does a cherubic Shirley Temple pop out to say all the charming platitudes that the little Swiss girl spouts during the book. But otherwise, it was much like I remembered it from reading it in my younger days.

Orphaned at an early age, Heidi is sent to live with her curmudgeon of a grandfather high in the Swiss Alps. But Heidi soon finds that things are not always what others say they are, makes friends with her grandfather, and happily runs wild in the glorious mountains with the goat boy, Peter, and his goats.


Suddenly her aunt returns, and Heidi finds herself confined in the city to be companion to the invalid Klara. But Heidi is bitterly unhappy away from her grandfather and the outdoor life she has grown to love.

There's actually a lot in common between this book, which I enjoyed, and The Secret Garden, which I did not (link goes to my recent review). I don't know what the difference was. For example, where I found Colin in The Secret Garden to be insufferable, I thought Klara was quite sweet. This is definitely a kids' book - I don't expect to see it suddenly become hot beach reading - but I thought it was charming to read again. Buy Heidi on Amazon or download free at Project Gutenberg.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: Bird by Bird

It seems like Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott took me forever to finish. I started it eagerly - I had heard so many good things about it and the beginning was great. I just loved the story that inspired the title:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'
But after that great start, this book felt very scattered, like a series of unconnected essays rather than a coherent thought. It was easy to read just a little bit then put down - unfortunately, it was just as easy to forget to pick up again. As I said, I loved the story behind the title, but the rest of the book didn't live up to that promise.

Buy Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life on Amazon.

My apologies to those of you who accidentally saw this in your feed reader last week - I had some bumps in trying to get it to publish correctly!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Update

This morning, little M rolled over! She's done it before, sort of by accident, but this morning she did it three times in a row! M is four months old now and just gorgeous. Here she is, looking rather thoughtful and playing with her favorite toy. (Don't worry - she's in her car seat, but she's not in the car. I'm not letting her ride around without her belt fastened.) Enjoy your weekend!