Phil Patton

Critic; Curator; Writer / United States /

Phil Patton’s Notable Books of 2011

The best books offer new angles on subjects, like dramatic spotlights on stage or a clever shot on a pool table.

So a book about painting turns out to say a lot about architecture and a car maintenance manual can reveal a hidden human story. Look at Le Corbusier as a “car nut” and you get a fresh impression of his cities; study the details of the architecture firm KieranTimberlake’s walls and windows and you learn about technology.

This is an important lesson in a time when books and the business behind books are changing. The definition of what constitutes the proper subject for a book is also changing. What this new situation demands is our constant curiosity about books: we need to pick up and leaf through and note down titles and search out references.

Here are some titles that sent me off in surprising directions.

1 book
Christopher Boucher

A novel that takes off from the classic 1969 counterculture do-it-yourself manual “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive.” A mash-up of a document and a narrative: the hero’s child is a Volkswagen Beetle. “If you think raising a kid in today’s world is hard,” the jacket copy reads, “imagine how tough it would be if your child also happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle.” Picking up on Geoff Nicholson’s Still Life With Volkswagen, the story is also about the mix of spiritual and mechanical that characterizes our relationships with technology and objects. Echoing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Shop Class as Soulcraft, the theme is one designers are concerned with: how to bring life to things.

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