Non-Fiction

  • The Book on the Bookshelf

    Henry Petroski

    Possibly you’ve read something by Henry Petroski before, as he is quite prolific: writing about the pencil, useful things in general, as well as more abstract concepts like Success through Failure.

    In this book he begins staring at his bookshelves and wondering how much he really sees them or just the books on them, or some combination of the two entities in which they are fully dependent on each other being there to be seen at all. It segues into a history of bookshelves through the book itself, but not just the progression from scroll to codex, but also how books were used and stored and organized. From the earliest scribed volumes to later printed...more

  • My Life in France

    Julia Child

    I mentioned when I read Julie and Julia that I felt this book might be more up my alley. Indeed, I sped through this in a matter of days. While the book is focused on Julia and Paul’s time in Paris and France and later time spent in Provence, it oversees the entirety of their life together, with just enough background on the non-France parts to give context without detracting from that focus. There isn’t necessarily always a steady narrative flow—things, like her younger sister’s pregnancy for instance, are introduced, but then it isn’t until years later that the child is discussed again. But then seeing as her grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, collected these stories through interviews and casual conversations...more

  • Geography of Home : writings on where we live

    Akiko Busch

    This collection of personal essays dissects the house as home, meandering from room to room while simultaneously shifting between Busch’s personal experiences and more general ideas gleaned from history and literature. She doesn’t really succeed in placing her experiences into a comprehensive context, yet the book isn’t presented entirely in an anecdotal manner.

    At times she seems to suggest some kind of universal Home experience, yet she is pretty much talking about a specific middle-to-upper class, suburban/rural demographic, perhaps more specifically the locales where she herself has lived. One of the few times she talked about urban homes, I felt that she was writing from assumption rather than experiences. From the chapter on porches:

    While stoop sitting continues to be prominently featured

    ...more
  • 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 twilight

    ...more
  • 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 last...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 where

    ...more
  • 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

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