What’s on my Nightstand: November 2014


I used to think that I did too much of this feature, so I was surprised to see that it’s been a year since I last filled you in on what I was reading. I wasn’t as voracious over the summer as I sometimes am, but I did pick up a few books towards the end there and have been working through them. Here are the ones at the top of the stack.

Flight, Volume One

This book features 23 short comics by 21 artists, all organized around the idea of Flight. It’s interesting to see all of the ways that the artists interpret that idea. Birds are common, so are planes and other flying contraptions, but there’s an angel, too, and some animals that are typically less air-worthy (like a whale). The array of styles is radically diverse as well, ranging from the traditional three-panel lines to surreal collages, from noir tales dense with text to stories told entirely through drawings. I Wish, Formidable, and Beneath the Leaves: Jump are standouts, but they’re all worth a look.

Kicked a Building Lately?

I want to get better at being a real-life writer, so to that end I want to start reading more work by actual critics. Ada Louise Huxtable is one of the best of those actual critics. I was first introduced to her work in a Design Observer article titled “How to Be an Architecture Critic”. I’m only coming to her work now, but she’s been writing since the 1950’s, writing all the way up until her recent death. She’s well known in architecture for being the first architecture critic for the New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer for her 1969 works. She’s well known in popular culture for being a recurring character on The Cosby Show. Or maybe that was a different Huxtable. Either way, she was amazing, and her writing still resonates: Building by the System, written in 1973, sounds like it could have been written last week.

How To Be Black

I grew up in a community that was 100% white, so I was exposed to 0% of black culture as a kid. Needless to say, it was a huge shock I went got to architecture school where I was immersed in it. o wait. I have the same kind of cognitive dissonance with racism that I do with sexism, which is that I don’t consider myself a racist or a sexist, but then the more I learn, the more I notice how much racism and sexism is woven into our cultural fabric. And then I just get paralyzed, because if such and such a word is racist and such and such a pop culture reference is also racist, well, I might as well not say anything. For example, I’m pretty sure someone will call me a racist for using the phrase “black culture”. Luckily we have comment section below where, as in all comment sections, people can rationally discuss issues of race without fear of judgement. o wait.

So anyway, I did what any insecure white liberal confronted with a thorny complicated issue would do: I read a book. This one was by Baratunde Thurston. It was more of an autobiography than I expected, but including details of his life experience was crucial to making the point that the “black experience” is not just one experience. And there’s plenty of the social commentary that I was looking for, too. The book is worth buying just for the last two chapters and the afterward.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.

^ Obligatory short story collection. I really enjoyed this one. All of the longer stories are very good. The short ones (often very short) didn’t always land with me. I think that was because they deal with more specific experiences and I couldn’t relate to all of them. That never really bothered me because I could always read 2 or 3 more and end up on a high note. It lives up to my expectation for it to be smart, funny, and occasionally dirty while surprising me by being emotional at times. Sophia covers all of that ground, so give that one a read if you’re not convinced by the hype for this book.

I have a bunch more on the stack, so I’m sure it won’t be a year before the next post. If you have anything I should add, tell me in the comments. It’s almost time to start shopping for a certain holiday, after all …


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