Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Lately, I have read several potshots claiming that bloggers have somehow led to the decline of reading in the general public. I wasn't even going to dignify that with a response. I realize that professional writers (and musicians) are having a difficult time adjusting to the rapid changes in the dissemination of their intellectual property. But I would like to point out that scientists have been having a very hard time of late as well. Why else would a Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers even be proposed?

Anyhow, let's call a truce. I read a couple of good great books recently that I want to recommend.

I always enjoy reading the work of Witold Rybczynski and The Most Beautiful House in the World is no exception. (I read this at the Lair last month; see the aside below.) WR tells the story of how he came to build a house for himself. Of course, he digresses endlessly into history, engineering and philosophy and these digressions make the story so much richer. The book does not lend itself easily to description and you must read it in its entirety for yourself.

WR made one point that resonated with me as I struggle with the decision of whether to remodel our home to make it more functional for us. Near the end, he told the story of Ramón Castrejón, a Mexican man who built a home for himself and his family using whatever materials he could scrounge.
Building your own home-and inhabiting a space of your own making-is considered by most be be a luxury.
That is why the places that people have fashioned for themselves are more touching than those-no matter how splendid-that others have made for them.
The most beautiful house in the world is the one that you build for yourself.
Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness is equally difficult to describe. To say that it is a book about the history and meaning of architecture would be an understatement on par with describing his book, How Proust Can Change Your Life as a book about the work of Marcel Proust. ;-)

Both architecture books have taught me to see and to interpret what I see. They have also given me a vocabulary for describing and understanding how I relate to buildings.

What makes the "Painted Ladies" of San Francisco so universally admired? It is the diversity of color and design within a uniform framework. There is enough variation to give the eyes something to look at, yet does not confuse the brain with a dizzying array of contrasts. There is plenty of Frank Lloyd Wright's "eye-candy", yet there is also a coherent whole.

OK, now what is that at the top of this post? It is certainly not San Francisco. It is a row of houses as seen from the Hampton Inn in Pittsburgh. I flew for over 9 hours to attend a 2 hour meeting at Carnegie Mellon University. I asked if I could telecon it in, but was told that I needed to be there in person. Go figure.

On the outbound flight, I took a picture of my home town. The haze is mostly the marine layer.

As we flew further inland, I noticed the haze had a distinctly brown cast. At first, I thought it was localized Los Angeles smog. But the brownness did not lessen as we flew further and further east. It appeared that the smoke was a widespread phenomenon due to the large number of wildfires in the western United States this week.

As we approached Pittsburgh, I began seeing clouds like this. You don't see this very often in Los Angeles!

One of my favorite times of the day at the Lair is before breakfast. Mark and I get up as soon as we can brace ourselves for the cold. We walk to the head (separate communal bathrooms for men and women) and then rejoin for coffee on the sunny deck of the main lodge. When the first breakfast bell rings, we head back to our tent to wake Iris up.

One morning, I sat with a couple that I had seen several times but never spoken with at length. I put my book down and they instantly lit up. They had both read the same book. In fact, one of them, a practicing architect, had read everything Rybczynski has ever written.

One of the features of the lodge is the "take one, leave one" bookshelves. I forgot to take a picture of it. You will have to look at a picture of the bookshelves at the smaller Vista lodge and imagine 3 times as many books.

Visitors choose hotels by location, price and amenities. Mark and Iris are not wild about the Hampton Inn SFO. (They prefer the Embassy Suites SFO North with the koi pond in the atrium and the huge swimming pool.) However, I do prefer the Hampton Inn next door because of one amenity which you can glimpse in the tiny photograph on the hotel's home page. Here is a larger picture of the lobby fireplace.

You can take a book and bring it back during your next stay. If you don't bring it back, no big deal. A service restocks the shelves regularly to keep them full. You can't see the titles from this photograph, but you will have to trust me that the service and the other guests have great taste in used books. Like many airport hotels outside the city, it is very reasonably priced on weekends. The location can't be beat. It is 5 minutes from my mother's house and 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco with good traffic. Iris agrees with me that the staff at this hotel are nicer than the ones at most hotels. They are phenomenally nice and service-oriented.

Now, if you excuse me, this blogger will go and read another actual book now. I will write more about that book and why my home needs some design tweaking later. I also finished Iris' Latoya sweater and will post about that soon. First, I need to write and file my trip report and findings.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous17:38

    Those two books by Alain de Boton are on my reading list for this summer but I haven't gotten to them yet.

    I have been lurking but not responding but am still here.


Comments are open for recent posts, but require moderation for posts older than 14 days.