Guest blogger Alissa Walker—design and urbanism journalist, critic, and author—sent four notable design titles published in 2012 to kick off summer reading. — SK
Guest blogger: Alissa Walker (Los Angeles)
Summer reading should be light but not fluffy. You don’t want to feel overly tethered to the demands of reality as you pack your bag for the beach, yet you don't want your brain to grow soft like an ice cream cone in the sun. These four books I’ve selected will make you smarter but are still enjoyable enough to be read poolside. And they all pair well with a hammock and a cold glass of rosé.
If I could hand-pick someone to write the handbook for my profession, it would be the passionate, provocative, prolific Brooklyn-based architectural critic Alexandra Lange. In her singular voice, Lange essentially allows us to sit in on her lectures for the graduate classes she teaches at New York University and School of Visual Arts, including entire pieces by famous critics—like Herbert Muschamp's legendary review of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao—followed by comprehension questions. But even those of us who don’t aspire to make a living off our writing will benefit from reading Lange's book. While her intent is to educate the next generation of architectural critics, she is also focused on expanding the profession—building an army of citizen critics. Those of us who live in buildings should not only decide how we feel about a particular building, she explains, we should actively aspire to make the building, the block, the neighborhood, better. Writing About Architecture purports to be a textbook, but it’s really Lange's highly personal guide for any urban dweller on how to experience, explain, and improve our cities.
When I told people I was reading a book on the physicality of the Internet—the colocation centers, undersea cables, and yes, tubes that carry our emails, Facebook statuses, and YouTube videos to our desktops—I usually got a smirk. Under anyone else's guise, Tubes would have been a really dull read. But the witty and engaging Andrew Blum turns this topic into a global adventure, a Verne-esque Journey to the Center of the Internet, if you will, filling the pages not with boring treatises about “packets” and “rack units,” but the plucky personalities who move our data. Plus, in a book that's so much about place, he’s meticulous about setting each scene, noting temperatures, colors and scents—yes, the Internet smells!—with graphic detail, which makes these locations catapult off the page and into your subconscious. Since I’ve read the book, I think about Tubes every day, as I try to look for signs of the Internet as I move through our busy world. I can’t think of another book which has changed my worldview like that. And this book does it in a truly delightful way.
In my Notable Books of 2011 list, I mentioned A Book Apart, a new publishing company focused on creating short, useful books on designing websites. The latest volume is by Mike Monteiro, the San Francisco-based designer-slash-Twitter personality, which actually goes far beyond the web-design realm, and serves as an excellent primer for running a design business, or, I'd argue, any type of creative business. Easily devoured in an afternoon, the book is made even more enjoyable by Monteiro's refreshingly honest tough-love approach (not surprising from a man who gives lectures with his lawyer and is known for creating a painting that reads “Fuck You, Pay Me”). So many books like this are written by accounting types who want to “help” creatives, so Monteiro's work is long overdue: he's translated business basics back into the language of designers. And he does it with such a skillful sense of humor that it proves his other point: Running a business, like reading this book, can and should be fun.
I first wrote about Frank Chimero's book over a year ago, when he mounted an incredible Kickstarter campaign to fund it. Chimero raised over $112,000, funding his project in four hours, then going on to almost triple his goal. The book gets so many things right before you even get to the words: it's a beautifully designed, hardback, self-published (in the U.S.!) entrepreneurial success, which made me want to buy it just so I could see the result. But the actual writing is also fantastic. Chimero offers intelligent meditations on the motivation for designing, and looks far outside of the design world for examples, drawing anecdotes from musicians and chefs, and illustrating theories with references ranging from 18th-century haiku masters to Wall-E. Chimero writes a lot about the connections between design and jazz, and that's what his writing reminds me of most: it’s lyrical, rhythmic, soulful. It was a book that I didn't want to end. Incidentally, Chimero has launched a new Kickstarter campaign for his next book, Scratch.
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