• The Future of Nostalgia

    Svetlana Boym

    I loved the concept of this book but eventually had to accept that it was a bit more academic than I wanted it to be. But that enabled me to just skip to the parts I wanted to read instead of feeling like I had to read every word. That may sound like a lackluster recommendation, but I’m sure to return to this book and skim again.

    Nostalgia, like progress, is dependent on the modern conception of unrepeatable and irreversible time. The romantic nostalgic insisted on the otherness of his object of nostalgia from his present life and kept it at a safe distance. The object of romantic nostalgia must be beyond the present space of experience, somewhere in the

  • Book One

    Chip Kidd

    One of the great advantages to designing book covers is that you don’t ever have to have an idea, much less a thought, ever, in your head. That is the author’s job. Through a manuscript, he or she will give you all the ideas and thoughts that you could possibly need to design a jacket.

    If you’ve heard of Chip Kidd before, the phrase “the closest thing to a rock star in graphic design” will probably ring a few bells, if not a huge gonging irritation for the inordinate ubiquity of the quote. That said, Kidd is probably one of the few contemporary designers well-known both in and outside of the design world. This monograph collects his work from the...more

  • The Year of Magical Thinking

    Joan Didion

    Not having it in front of me now, I can’t skim through and remember the precise points that caught me when I was reading this. I can recall that I appreciated the elements that returned throughout the book, waves washing back over, appropriate for a memoir of grief. I poke through a few reviews to jog the memories, noticing that a few describe a lack of “inwardness” or distance from emotions; this one in particular critiques it as “oddly lacking.” I would argue it’s not odd at all. Didion herself describes the hospital social worker’s declaration of her as a “cool customer” with what I felt was full awareness of this distance.

    They took me into the curtained cubicle

  • By Its Cover

    Ned Drew & Paul Sternberger

    Looking back through all the covers reproduced in this book, subtitled Modern American Book Cover Design, I love Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand’s covers from the 1950s, a few things here and there from the 1960s, and then nothing much else until the last chapter, looking at the late 1990s with a section focusing on various Knopf designers.more

  • American Pie

    Pascale Le Draoulec

    A roadtrip centered around a pie quest, Le Draoulec and her travel partners stay off the interstates and hit mostly small towns, asking the locals, “Where do you go for pie around here?” Worth reading if anything for all the recipes. Maybe it’s because I know so many people who enjoy baking and cooking, but I found the direness of the homemade pie situation a bit overstated. I don’t think we are (yet) witnessing the death of pie, though it’s true our culture in general doesn’t leave time for learning the art of pie dough.more

  • Penguin by Design

    Phil Baines

    This is an image-rich overview of Penguin cover designs from 1935–2005. I’ve been thinking a lot about book design lately, and there is something oddly fresh about some of the older cover designs. Or perhaps it is just refreshing to see a limited palette when compared to the attention-getting standards of today.more

  • The Devil in the White City

    Erik Larson

    There’s something a little uneven about this story which simultaneously travels behind architect Daniel Burnham as he works towards organizing the realization of the Chicago World’s Fair and Dr. H H Holmes as he murders a potentially great number of people in a creepy hotel built just a few blocks from the fair (estimates run up to about 200). Most times such dual storylines are used, there is a point of convergence. Here, it is more a plane of comparison, how two people similar in background can end up in such different endplaces.

    The Holmes chapters are centered around his ability to entrance people into his power, with speculations about the exact nature of his murders. The Burnham...more

  • Savage Inequalities

    Jonathan Kozol

    I’ve been meaning to read this for several years and finally managed to get my reminder of it and a gap in reading prospects at the same time. Kozol spent a few years in the late 1980s visiting urban schools across the US, observing students, their schools and districts, and the disparities between them — centered around race and class lines. While schools have officially been desegregated since Brown v. Board of Education, the reality is that new, sneakier forms of segregation have arose in their place. Between rich districts isolated from the poorer areas around them through private incorporation and largely race-based tracking within one school and magnet schools that essentially act as publicly-funded private schools for those accepted...more

  • Julie and Julia

    Julie Powell

    I was fairly excited about this book when I first heard about it. I never read the blog that started it all, but I went through a month or two of entries on a slow day at work. It seemed pretty entertaining. I have a certain affinity for Julia Child since we shared the same birthday; I like the idea of projects like making all the recipes in one cookbook; plus the book has a cute cover.

    Unfortunately my expectations floundered early on, as Julie Powell delves in further than just Julia Child and her groundbreaking cookbook; more often it’s a memoir of a frustrated, going-on-30 secretary at a government agency in New York City, including sidetracks...more

  • Time’s Magpie

    Myla Goldberg

    I haven’t spent much time exploring the world of travel essays, but after reading Wickett’s Remedy a couple of months ago, I happened to notice this book mentioned and hadn’t heard about it before. It turns out Myla Goldberg is a former Prague expat, and this book of essays was written on the occasion of returning there ten years later.

    The thing I like about Myla Goldberg is she has an eye for quirks and charming details that I can relate to, so I get the feeling reading these capsules that this is the sort of Prague I’d see if I ever got myself there. The essays touch largely on the experience of Prague in its post-Communist era but...more