Here is the remainder of the list of books I read in January -- I think I need a little fiction for February!
101 Things I Learned in Architecture School -- Matthew Frederick
It's only 101 pages long, and I keep thinking I'm finished with it, but then I come back to it again. I am fascinated by the interplay of our interior experiences and the external world -- not only how we respond visually to images, but also how we respond to spaces. How does a building feel holy or home-like or bureaucratic or majestic? Frederick conveys the work of architects both as nitty-gritty how-to, like his suggestion that plans and drawings be rolled with the drawing surface on the outside so that they'll lie flat when laid out on a table; and aesthetic theory, like his observation that an appreciation for asymmetrical balance demonstrates a capacity for higher-ordered thinking. He covers everything from how to draw a straight line a discussion of ego and design.
Eat, Pray, Love -- Elizabeth Gilbert
The jury is still out on this one. Reading it felt indulgent and a little escapist, but I loved the descriptions of Italy. I enjoyed the sojourn in India a bit less, and by the time Gilbert reached Bali, I lost interest, and only got to the end so that I could find out how her journey ended. She's a terrific food writer and travel diarist, and a few sections of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, but I'm not adding it to my list of great spiritual memoirs.
Microtrends -- Mark Penn
January must have been my month for books that could be read in small, small bites. Mark Penn is a well-known pollster and the man who defined the term "soccer moms" in time for the 1992 election. Here, he examines the niches of American society, and instead of "soccer moms," he brings us "cougars," middle-aged women who date younger men. Hmmm . . . wonder if that's what happened to the soccer moms.
How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian -- Mark Bittman
Speaking of books that you read in bites, this cookbook is yummy, wonderful, and written by one of my favorite cookbook authors, Mark Bittman, who writes the New York Times weekly column "The Minimalist."
Personal Village -- Marvin Thomas
I had several conversations in a short time with people I care about who expressed a sense of loneliness and a lack of satisfying friendships. One of them asked me point-blank how I maintain a maze of personal connections. I wasn't sure how to answer, and several days later came across this book. I hoped to find a way to talk about building community that would be helpful. I found in this book an enlightening discussion of the different levels of relationship that form a full sense of community. Some people in our lives enrich us by being friendly and familiar touch points as we move through our day, and we can be the same to them. My father taught me the importance of honoring the people I encounter daily by learning their names, asking after their children, noticing their absence when they're ill or on vacation. I know the names of most of the security guards in my office building, the secretaries at the school my children attend, the mayor of our town, most of the people who work on my hall, and many of my colleagues, and they know mine. Thomas describes other levels of relationship --neighbors, friends from church, and people we socialize with occasionally. More intimate are the relationships with our closest friends and family. Thomas believes that we need some of each kind of relationship at a variety of levels of intimacy, but that each of us is better at some kinds of relationships than others. For instance, I love being part of the civic community, but I am not so great at somewhat mid-range relationships in groups, like clubs or sororities, though I know people who get tremendous satisfaction from these associations. I'm lucky to have some close friends and a family that I not only love, but enjoy spending time with.
When I had a chance to resume the conversation with one of the people who inspired the purchase of this book, I was aware that my friendliness with cab drivers and co-workers had been mistaken for more intimate friendships. The two of us then talked at length about what makes the right mix of relationships for different people, and I learned a lot about which realms of our respective social networks felt full and which felt empty. Emptiness in different areas produces very different kinds of loneliness.
On my bookshelf for February--
March -- Gwendolyn Brooks
Tin House: Graphic Issue -- Win McCormack, et al,
The Thirteenth Tale -- Diane Setterfield
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die -- Chip Heath and Dan Heath