Sunday, November 11, 2012

desert solitaire: edward abbey

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey

desert solitaire coverPublished in 1968, Desert Solitaire narrates in journal-style Edward Abbey's trio of summers in the desert surrounding Moab in southeastern Utah. Although he was there during the mid-twentieth-century, before the Department of the Interior had commercialized and touristized Arches National Park's 33,000 acres quite to its current condition, Abbey is close to prophetically critical about rape of the land by government and industry in order to accommodate outsiders and garner profits, actions that began to ruin it as habitat for native species. In other ways, the author chronicles with no apparent sense of shame his own complicity in ruining the land by littering, in violating animal creatures who depend upon it for sanctuary.

I truly enjoyed how his clear, elaborate descriptions of the desert scape and its flora transported me back to countless times I've visited and loved Utah's (Arizona's and New Mexico's) desert spaces, though half as many words would have conveyed the flavor just as well without getting as plain boring as it sometimes did.

Apparently Desert Solitaire became somewhat of an undergrad / hippie cult essential (note the publication date). Although I'm happy to place it on my list of famous books I've read, and I found its reputation way overhyped, indeed it is "good in parts." The desert has been one of my own best healing places; it must be because "Love flowers best in openness and freedom."

my amazon review: good in parts

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Dog Is Listening

A Dog Is Listening: The Way Some of Our Closest Friends View Us by Roger A Caras on Amazon

A Dog Is Listening CoverThis is the second of Caras' pair of books about most people's most familiar household companions, domestic felines and canines. For the title, the author picks up on the very very well-known phenomenal acuity and range of dogs' hearing. The book design is identical to that of A Cat Is Watching, and in this book also, I love the line drawings featuring snippets of dog anatomy for each chapter heading. Chapter 12 describes and lists members of each (at the time of writing and publication, 1992) American Kennel Club-recognized groups of dogs: Terrier; Non-Sporting; Herding; Sporting; Hound; and Working. As someone who loves dogs but doesn't know them the way I almost instinctively "get" cats, I especially enjoyed and appreciated the history, anecdotes, and stories in the book. Similar to A Cat Is Watching, this book give the reader a sense of what's it's like to live with dogs who adore you rather than with cats who demand to be worshiped. A Dog Is Listening fully is worth any animal lover's acquiring, reading, and re-reading.

my amazon review: dogs in the household

A Cat Is Watching

A Cat Is Watching: A Look at the Way Cats See Us by Roger A Caras on Amazon

A Cat Is Watching cover A Cat Is Watching was the earlier of Roger Caras' pair of books about most people's most familiar companion animals, domestic felines and canines. He writes from lifelong knowledge—sometimes specifically about the Cats of Thistle Hill Farm. Caras' stories and observations are engaging, and even as someone who has lived with cats and known cats for a long time, I learned some new information. B&W photographs and drawings enhance the book and I love the chapter headings that each feature a line drawing of part of a cat's anatomy! Including an extensive index also was a smart move. This is the kind of book you might enjoy on a rainy afternoon or evening or carry to the beach for some pleasure reading. A Cat Is Watching definitely is worth finding at the book shop or yard sale, or borrowing from the library more than once.

my amazon review: felines and friendships

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It's a dog's life

It's a dog's life by Mark Stern on Amazon

It's a dog's life coverQuite a while ago I picked up this socialist dog's book and decided it needed a review and a blog. Mark Stern's illustrations are fresh and fabulous! Author Stern follows and narrates the experiences of Patch, a dog whose days progress from true happiness with his simple life in the hood to the production and marketing by someone else of a great idea he has dreamt of. The "someone else" overdog then It's a dog's life backco-ops Patch's entire existence, along the way setting up himself and his expansively growing company in superfluous luxury—no surprise?! Eventually Patch escapes from being an enslaved cog – and worse – in the means of production and returns to "the true joys of life: fresh air, grass and trees," alongside his sweetheart Honey. Call it a cautionary tale, a cogent example of "I told you so," or a vision of a more just society that features "what's really important," It's a dog's life is enough to make a human think, think again, and reconsider her or his own dreams and priorities.

my amazon review: from happiness, to utility, to happiness...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Leah's Journey

Leah's Journey by Gloria Goldreich on amazon

Gloria Goldreich has listened to her relatives and ancestors and also done a lot of historical research. From chapter 1, Leah's peregrinations take her from Russia, where her ancestors had moved to from Poland, to a New York City tenement, on to New York's affluent suburbs, then finally to Israel; as the story unfolds, she also visits the American South and makes a trip back to Russia to visit her aging parents. How interesting it is to observe how pieces of the past cling to present places and events and how Leah and her family consciously and sometimes not-so-intentionally shed parts of their pasts as they try out and embrace new ideas, new ways of living, and ways of being. At the start of the book it seemed to me the author had drawn the landscape and backdrop with far more clarity than she'd pictured the people, but as the chapters evolved and I kept reading, the characters became clearer and more alive to me. Possibly a combination of how the book was written and my greater familiarity with them as I turned pages?!

In Leah's Journey, violence, death, disappointments, losses, endings, and beginnings interweave to form more than a half-century long narrative that includes hard work, advocacy for safer working conditions for immigrants and for everyone, relatively fast upward mobility, and a fair amount of assimilation into the era's contemporary American culture that yet retains more than an overlay of the families' religious and cultural Jewish heritage.

Author Gloria Goldreich's prose reads pleasantly and easily. I'd be interested in checking out more of her writing in the popular magazines she has written for, or another of her books.

my amazon review: the old, the assimilated, the new

Monday, May 28, 2012

zoë's cats

Zoë's Cats on Amazon
Zoe's Cats cover
Cats from her rural setting in Cornwall illustrate and provide narrative in Zoë Stokes' book of exquisitely detailed, full-colour, mostly realistic felines. You can leave Zoë's Cats on a table or nearby shelf, pick it up, read a paragraph or two, enjoy a cat view, and find yourself ready to return to mundane tasks. You might want to buy this book as a gift for yourself or a cat lover; the recipient will not be disappointed in the least!

my amazon review: lovely gift

Sunday, May 27, 2012

paul rand: thoughts on design

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand

thoughts on designIf ever there lived an iconic designer/illustrator, it was the late Paul Rand (1914-1996). In this now 4-decades old treasure of a book, Rand exegetes, illustrates, and explains symbol and word. But is word not symbol in itself and is symbol not a kind of speech? In less than 100 pages you can read about beauty and utility, humor, typography, and imagination. In contrast to fine art, design has a function, typically as a solution for a problem or concern; graphic, photographic, and typographic design is most familiar to consumers as a modality for presenting a product, event or idea. We live amongst many varieties of architectural, industrial and "other" types of design, as well. This simply modest yet elegant paperback is packed full of actual illustrations of mostly advertising design solutions accompanied by the "how to" and "why to" involved. You know IBM, UPS, and Westinghouse? Paul Rand designed those logos and campaigns and in the half century since they first impacted the public, Rand's style and philosophy has influenced literally countless others. Thoughts on Design is a "don't miss it" if you can find it and afford it!

Paul Rand online

my amazon review: a jewel, a keepsake

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the exploding metropolis

The Exploding Metropolis on Amazon—there are several versions; most likely you can buy one very inexpensively.

exploding metropolis coverI'm blogging and reviewing the original © 1958 that has been in my library close to forever but I'm posting my review with the 1993 revision.

A group of "Editors of Fortune" magazine at the time, William H. Whyte, Jane Jacobs, Francis Bello, Seymour Freedgood, and Daniel Seligman considered essential elements of urban design and pondered their effects on city dwellers and urban workers. The book's working definition of city simply is the area within the city limits (viii); almost needless to say, "metropolis" indicates the functional and statistical area or areas geographically beyond yet contiguous to the named incorporated entity. Exploding sounds like unanticipated, sudden, randomness; if the authors knew they'd seen a lot of that from the mid-20th century up to the time they put this book together, they hadn't seen anything yet, though each of them accurately describes the unexpected, often distressingly unattractive results of urban growth and sprawl—even in some cases of planned change and development. In terms of explosive, the schematic "classic case of sprawl" (on page 119) in Santa Clara County, California from 1945 to 1956 is instructive.

Chapter topics of Are Cities Un-American?; The City and the Car; New Strength in City Hall; The Enduring Slums; Urban Sprawl; and Downtown Is for People add up to Urban Studies 101 as the authors explore existing infrastructural and superstructural configurations in a dozen established USA population centers (along with a couple of references to Toronto, Ontario, Canada), assess ideas in progress and process, and propose future arrangements that might work in terms of "how to live in cities," the central thesis of The Exploding Metropolis.

exploding metropolis backThis book now is more than a half-century old, but ever since humans began moving from hunter-gathering into settlements, they've had to figure out the best relationships between living space and working space and the most convenient ways to get back and forth from one to the other; planning and implementing the most pleasing, amenable, visual layouts alongside the practical became close to essential.

Jane Jacobs especially emphasizes "working streets," and advises us to walk, walk, walk, in order to feel and learn how the city all comes together. Whether discussing clearing and developing land, rehabilitating and rebuilding on an existing site, different styles of city government, housing authorities, port authorities, water works or watersheds, every one of the contributors comes back to human scale and human functionality again and again, making The Exploding Metropolis both basic and classic.

my amazon review: urban studies 101

Thursday, May 03, 2012

the image of the city

The Image of the City. Kevin Lynch, Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, © 1960

image of the city book coverThe Legible City—a city you can read! As an iconographer writes rather than draws or paints an icon, a city comprised of colors, shapes, motion, and light can be viewed, read and interpreted as an environmental image. The picture includes identity (what is it?), structure (space, shape, pattern relation and discrimination) and meaning (emotional, psychological, historical values) from the observer's own experiences. Each image derives from here and now; the city "image also is soaked in memories and meanings." [page 1] And, of course, there's not a single public image of any city, but a series of overlapping and interrelated ones.

From author Kevin Lynch: "This book is about the look of cities, and whether this look is of any importance, and whether it can be changed." This book is "a first word not a last word…" it's "at once tentative and presumptuous." The research method consisted of relatively objective systemic field reconnaissance and relatively subjective interviews with a small sample of mostly professional and managerial city residents. Citizens interviewed in Chapter 2, "Three cities," were exceedingly small samples: 30 in Boston, 15 each in Jersey City and Los Angeles, so these are not necessarily commonly held public images of those cities.

Kevin Lynch and his colleague Gyorgy Kepes researched and wrote this book during the 1950s; since then we've moved from Metropolitan Statistical Areas to a string of Megalopoleis (I found 3 possibilities for the plural of megalopolis and chose this one). At least two Boston features in the book no longer exist: Scollay Square, superseded by Government Center that includes City Hall of still controversial love it or hate it (I adore it) architectural design, and the Central Artery, replaced by the most expensive public works project in history, The Big Dig. But you will find physical structures of paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks in any human population center larger than a village, so they're not necessarily an urban distinctive. "Districts are structured with nodes, defined by edges, penetrated by paths, and sprinkled with landmarks." [pages 48-49]

The five chapters include:

• The Images of the Environment

• Three Cities&—Boston, Jersey City, Los Angeles. In each case, studies came from a small central area of 2.5 x 1.5 miles.

• The City Image and Its Elements

• City Form

• A New Scale

Appendices are sufficient to make another short book:

• Some References to Orientation

• The Use of the Method

• Two Examples of Analysis [Beacon Hill and (the late) Scollay Square, Boston]. There's also a bibliography and index. Margins throughout the book include many many line drawings and there are quite a few B&W photographs.

In terms of future cities The Image of the City might influence, "We have an opportunity of forming our new city world into an imageable landscape: visible, coherent, and clear." By definition a city is multi-purpose with mixed functions yet with "fundamental functions of which the city forms may be expressive: circulation, major land-uses, key focal points. [pages 9-92] The common hopes and pleasures, the sense of community may be made flesh. Above all, if the environment is visibly organized and sharply identified... it will become a true place, remarkable and unmistakable."

As a handbook about present and about possibilities, "what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further developments" [page 8] The Image of the City "is about the look of cities, and whether this look is of any importance, and whether it can be changed," but appearance is an immeasurably critical part of the infrastructure that supports all the activities of the urban enterprise, the work, play, school, and home lives of the city's citizens. A city's physical appearance and the emotional responses that arise from it can be the reason someone wants to move there or the reason they long to leave. "The map, whether exact or not, must be good enough to get one home." [page 9]

Close to the end Kevin Lynch reminds us of Susanne Langer and gives us her definition of architecture: "the total environment made visible." Remember Langer's Philosophy in a New Key where she writes about our human need for symbols and our need to symbolize, to invent and invest meanings in objects, our environments, our activities and our world?

These are shapes, spaces, and vistas that will – or won't – attract new artistic, educational, and commercial enterprises; no wonder this book is a classic! Kevin Lynch's prose is dryer than I'd prefer, but it is what it is, and if someone doesn't write like a poet, they don't. I'll give The Image of the City a high recommend to read and to read again.

my amazon review: the legible city

Saturday, February 25, 2012

winning university city street banner

here's the basic banner:

university city street banner

They hung one of the banners on the Genesee approach to University City:

university city street banner university city street banner

On the other side of the street, going south on Genesee:

university city street banner university city street banner

I'll take pictures later of the other banners on Governor Drive and Regents Road.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

unforgettable vignettes of love

Unforgettable: Vignettes of Love by Susan Schneider on amazon

unforgettable coverSusan Schneider traveled far and wide collecting "vignettes" from couples in all 48 contiguous United States and several other countries. You can open at random to any page and discover an enjoyable first-person narrative of how strangers met and eventually became spouses. A couple of the accounts I read when I first checked out the book were stories that ended in divorce making me think, "Oh, no! I do not like this at all!" but though I didn't keep count, divorce was a rare final outcome. I especially like the clean, open-looking layout and the fact the author did not try to make each story exactly the same length with precisely the same opening, middle and closing format. One of the best stories the author presented as (sort of) a single account is actually a trilogy of how three brothers from one large family married three sisters from another large family. Whether you've been single for a long time and aren't seriously looking for someone or you're happily newlywed or approaching a major milestone anniversary, I predict you'll enjoy this book as much as I did. What is more, it would make a great gift for almost anyone on your list, from high school kids just starting to date to centenarian great-great-grandparents!

my amazon review: nicely crafted, not contrived