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This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. To see all posts I’ve written for Read @ MPL, click here.

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff by Jeffrey Head

The bubble houses of Wallace Neff are something to behold indeed. Weird white bubbles of concrete, these houses look more like science fiction than suburban subdivision. The first bubble houses were built in Falls Church, VA during World War II as housing for government families. The small community was nicknamed “Igloo Village” because all the houses are odd white domes.  After that, Neff was hired to build a little community in Litchfield, AZ, a linen supply building, and a dormitory at Loyola Marymount University. Bubble houses were built as fun resorts in the Caribbean and in Turkey.

Neff created a unique method he called Airform construction – houses built with air. The houses were built by laying a round foundation and anchoring a giant balloon (imagine a giant half grapefruit, flat side down) to the foundation. They used a stronger-than-concrete concoction called gunite, firing it from a high pressure gun over the surface of the bubble. When the concrete dried, the bubble was deflated and removed leaving a dome! All told, an Airform house could be functional in about 48 hours. They were quick, cost-effective, simple, and durable structures.

When he started building his bubble houses, Wallace Neff was already a famous architect. He designed Pickfair, the Spanish colonial mansion designed for silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. He designed houses for all three Marx Brothers. Reese Witherspoon owns a Neff house. And yet the houses he hoped would be his legacy were concrete bubbles. In the United States, only one of Neff’s original bubble houses still stand.  Located in Pasadena, California, it is the house Neff himself lived in. The architect to the stars decided to live in a 1,000-square foot bubble.

In addition to the house in California, there are still some houses standing today in Dakar, Senegal of all places. Between 1948 and 1953 about 1,200 bubble houses as the city started expanding. People wanted houses to replace their traditional grass dwellings, and Airform structures were cheap and fast. Today they have been adapted to be more traditional houses with bathrooms, living rooms, and other spaces, often surrounded by traditional rectangular buildings to make a sort of compound. After all this time they are quite resilient structures.

There are lots of places to learn about these bubble houses. I first heard about them in an episode of the radio show/podcast 99% Invisible, which includes an interview with a woman who lived in one of the original Falls Church bubble houses. You can also check out the 2011 LA Time feature about the last remaining bubble house in the US, and a (highly recommended) photo gallery from Planet Magazine.

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff was published in 2012 by the Princeton Architectural Press.

 

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 51 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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I wrote this for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Additionally, this review is based on an ARC I got from netgalley.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is well-versed in the language of self-help. Her father is a psychologist, parenting expert, and self-help author. In Promise Land she explores the culture of American self-help, trying to find why self-help has such a strong appeal and how the self-help industry became so huge. She goes to conferences, walks on hot coals, makes a vision board, attends lectures, takes a class to deal with her fear of flying, and volunteers at a camp for teens dealing with grief.

Promise Land starts with Lamb-Shapiro and her father attending a workshop/conference by Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup franchise. The conference focuses on how to write and market the next big self-help book series. Her father has written numerous books, but none have been best-sellers. His setbacks don’t seem to matter, because he is still relentlessly, endlessly, annoyingly positive. In addition to writing books, he makes and sells educational/therapeutic games and toys (the Ungame, anyone?). She experiences the world of self-help first-hand by helping him sell his products at conferences all over the country. At every turn she counters her father’s boundless positivity with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Her relationship with her father is a constant thread throughout the memoir. He provides a way into a lot of self-help communities, but more than that Lamb-Shapiro uses the time spent together and the self-help world to explore their relationship and her upbringing. They have an interesting rapport because her mother died when she was very young. They never talked about it, and all the knowledge of her mother comes to her secondhand. After that rather traumatic event, he remarried, moved around, got divorced – lots of change at a time when people often recommend stability. In this book she looks at the legacy of self-help within her own family, how that has shaped her, and how that can help her deal with her unresolved grief.

The real strength of this book is that it is a memoir: it is not a full-scale exploration of the culture, but her journey through it. She acknowledges that self-help can be really helpful, but that it also might be total hokum. It depends on the person, and it also depends on the self-help. She starts the book with cynicism, but in the end she learns to open herself up. That’s not to say she tried a miracle cure and it totally worked, but instead that she saw that holding all her emotions in might not be the best way for her to be healthy. That was her journey through self-help, and I enjoy being there with her.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 31 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Enjoy!

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is incredibly fantastic, offering a peek into the lives (and perhaps minds) of great cultural figures. The project started as a blog, so it has that same short, easy-reading format.

The book covers authors, composers, poets, artists, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and filmmakers; and the huge variety in how different people create. Some toil waiting for inspiration, others chug ahead day after day. There are early risers (like W.H. Auden who said, “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” Harsh!), night owls (Jackson Pollock said, “I’ve got the old Eighth Street habit of sleeping all day and working all night pretty well licked. So has [my wife] Lee. We had to, or lose the respect of the neighbors.”), and nappers (Buckminster Fuller practiced “high frequency sleep” where he slept for 30 minutes after every 6 hours of work). There are many parents who write while their children are napping (Alice Munro and Sylvia Plath are two) and civil servants and blue collar workers who work after a full day on a job (like Anthony Trollope and Joseph Cornell).

And their eating habits! Holy moly, their eating habits! Soren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into his coffee cup so it was piled to the rim, and then slowly pour coffee in until it dissolved. He would down that concoction swiftly, then chase it with a sherry. Beethoven counted the beans in each cup of coffee (60, if you’re interested). Patricia Highsmith didn’t care much for food – an acquaintance remarked that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”

Currey focuses on the ritual, not necessarily the product. All of these individuals produced great work, but with wildly varying levels of productivity. People have quested for the perfect routine since the beginning of time, and this book is evidence that there are as many productive ways to work as there are people getting work done.  This book can also serve as inspiration for people looking to change up or tweak their routine.

As a sneak peek, here is Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine as outlined in his Autobiography.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 27 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. If you want to read all of my Read @ MPL posts, click here! Also, cross-posted at Happy Bodies!

February is still the time for self-improvement, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

And if you need a further inspiration, you should read Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. What’s that about? Just go back in time and read the review!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 17 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This was written for my work blog (what are the odds, right?) Read @ MPL.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat.A common complaint about cookbooks is there aren’t enough pictures. Boy howdy do I have a cookbook for those complainers! Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. by Katie Shelly is a graphic cookbook where the recipes are drawn not written. Each recipe features drawings of the ingredients and the process of preparing the dish, with the instructions contained in the drawings. The recipes aren’t strict blueprints for perfect food, but more like a framework to experiment with. Instead of a recipe for tacos, she has “Some Thoughts on Tacos” featuring a huge variety of ingredients that you can combine in any way you want to create your perfect taco. People who are strict recipe followers probably won’t like this; it’s very loosey-goosey. Shelly does finish each recipe with a ribbon across the bottom of each page featuring the measurements and quantities of ingredients, so you aren’t totally out on a limb. If you want a taste of the cookbook (pun intended!), she has posted several preview recipes on her website.

In addition to the yummy food, I am totally smitten with Katie Shelly’s drawings. The lines are beautiful and clean, the colors bold, and the recipes very tempting. Cookbook innovation is pretty infrequent. People stopped trying to change it up once they figured out a standard format. And don’t get me wrong, that format is wonderfully efficient; but not all recipes have to be that way! This cookbook is beautiful, interesting, and delicious. Some cookbooks have a tone of haute cuisine, but Picture Cook is just an artist sharing her favorite recipes.

My absolute favorite part of this recipe is the hands. Mix! Around!

Notes:
Cover photo via Goodreads.
Recipe photo from katieshelly.com.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 2 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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As usual, this post was originally written for my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman

If you are an artist or a creative type, Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman will
likely appeal to you right off the bat. Originally given as an address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the speech was adapted to this playful little tome. I say “playful” because it was designed by Chip Kidd (if you don’t know who he is, I think there is a good chance you’ll recognize his design work. Ignore what I said before.) and it is certainly not mere words on a page. The text is often layered, angled, colored, sized or otherwise altered to convey or emphasize part of the message. Some pages are stark white with a bit of text, where others are boldly colored and filled to the brim with information. Part of the beauty of this reading experience is that it’s so short; meaning that nothing has time to feel superfluous, extraneous, or annoying. I can’t imagine reading a novel like this, but this speech is ideally suited to a comical, light-hearted format.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

In addition to the visual appeal (which is great), the book is very engaging. Neil Gaiman gives some really dynamite advice; which might be advice you’ve heard before, but it’s also likely advice you still need to hear. He talks about his life as a creative person, and the perils of doing a job just for the money. Even if you’re not creative for a living, “what do I want to do with my life?” is not a question you answer once. It’s a question you ask, answer, or are confronted with constantly. Frankly, good advice is good advice.

As a bonus, you can also watch the original speech online:

Super bonus: an interview about the book with Neil Gaiman on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Note:
Cover photo via Goodreads.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Have you ever lost a pet? Did that pet ever waltz right back into your house like nothing ever happened? That has happened to me, and it is also the premise of Caroline Paul’s book Lost Cat: a True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology.

Tibby & his view of the world

The book begins when Caroline Paul gets in a terrible accident where she breaks the tibia and fibula bones in her leg. That part is awful but also funny because her two cats at the heart of this book are also named Tibia and Fibula (or Tibby and Fibby for short). She’s home on the couch, feeling depressed, and attempting to heal when Tibby, the fraidy cat of the two, runs away. She feels this is literally adding insult to injury. She searches her neighborhood wailing for Tibby, hanging up posters, and feeling utterly worried about her beloved cat’s safety. She even enlists the help of a psychic, to no avail. Then after five weeks gone, Tibby walks back into the house. Not only that, but Tibby looks great! He isn’t underfed or dirty, he is just Tibby.

This is where Caroline Paul goes off the deep end. She becomes engrossed in a quest to find out where Tibby went. She wants to know who took care of him. Who heard her yelling for her lost cat and neglected to bring Tibby home? Clearly this person is some king of cat-napping monster. She uses cat-tracking GPS, a tiny cat’s-eye-view camera, and a cat communication class to deal with all her feelings of jealousy and betrayal. In addition to Paul’s sincere prose, the entire book is illustrated by her partner, Wendy McNaughton, whose work is truly excellent. She’s maybe best known (at least on the internet) for her series Meanwhile on the Rumpus.  Her drawings beautifully compliment Caroline’s ongoing neuroses (and prose). They are on this weird, purposeful journey together; and over the course of the book Tibby becomes their cat, not just Caroline’s cat.

Tibby, equipped with GPS.

Things happen in the second half of the book that I didn’t expect, and, be warned, not all happy things. But this story was so heartfelt and earnest, and so unlike what I expected from a book about cats. I definitely recommend this if you have cats or have had cats in the past, but I think it’s mostly a heartfelt story about a woman becoming obsessed with why something got lost.

+++++
N.B. The pictures came from an interview with Wendy MacNaughton & Caroline Paul on the Rumpus.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 187 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t exactly have a super cool reputation.  It’s a fantasy role-playing game popular among nerds with no social skills living in their moms’ basements, or so the stereotype would have you believe. In reality, D&D is an incredibly rich communal storytelling experience where you control and guide a single character, week after week, through a fantasy world adventure.

Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt explores the rich history of the game and the incredible variety of people who play. It started in Lake Geneva, WI and St. Paul, MN where two guys, Gary Gygax and David Arneson (respectively), ran fantasy role-playing games of their own creation for their friends. People were so excited by the prospect of having a character (persona, really) you create and play week-to-week, instead of a stagnant predetermined character. Your character has adventures where you could make any decision and do anything your imagination wanted, and molding your character and gaining experience.  The game started gaining a foothold among wargamers, but it grew pretty quickly when people started realizing the potential of a game you had a stake in shaping. It grew through the 70’s, and became quite a cultural force by the 80’s. The book delves into the company’s unconventional and tumultuous history, from self-publishing in a basement to a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Aside from hearing about it second-hand from people nerdier than me, D&D came to my attention as the focus of an episode of the TV show Community. The game is used to frame a conflict between the characters. Someone can easily become the villain because they can do whatever they want! You can turn against your friends! You can loot a corpse! You can do a musical number! You can breakdance until you puke! Anything you can imagine, you can do. In the game, as in life, your success or failure isn’t totally in your control. You have a character sheet with your features on it, your level determines what kind of stuff you can do, and furthermore the Dungeon Master rolls dice to factor in chance. You are only limited by your imagination. I know that sounds cheesy, but just imagine how much fun Monopoly would be if you could decide to trek the opposite direction around the board, attack a rival’s hotels, or cast spells to escape from jail.

The book alternates between chapters about the history of the game/the company that made the game, an exploration of the D&D community, and Ewalt’s own experience. The running narrative of Ewalt’s game provides a glimpse at actual game-play, so you can see the exciting fiction that draws players in. Dungeons & Dragons is a game, but also an entire world, an escape, a way of life, a creative outlet, and a fantasy. You might not be that impressive in real life, but within a game you can be a total freakin’ hero.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL and cross-posted at Happy Bodies.

Allie Brosh, author of the new book Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, and I are soulmates. I am absolutely sure of this. Not just because both of our names are Allie (spelled correctly), but because she gets it. She gets pets, she gets depression, she gets cake, she gets procrastination, adulthood, and spider fear, and she gets me. This book gives me all of the feelings.

This book is a collection of her writings and drawings from her website Hyperbole and a Half that cover just about whatever she wants. Her drawings are some of the best things to come out of MS Paint since the programs invention. She represents herself as a stick-ish figure with a pink dress a tuft of yellow hair that kind of looks like a party hat. It’s not high art, but it is hilarious. There is a bunch of stuff in there about her dogs, who are quite dumb but very very sweet. She also tells a hysterical story about a childhood run-in with some cake. Her stories can be incredibly funny, but also tender and meaningful.

One of the best things she does is talk honestly about her depression. On her site she addresses how she used to post a lot more but slowed down because she was depressed. It’s not something she dealt with and now it’s gone, it’s something she deals with all the time. She told the Guardian, “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.” YES. She doesn’t gloss over it; she dives in and brings you with. But it’s not all sad, and there is some truly priceless comedy in those stories.

You can read an excerpt on NPR. Let it be known, I like this book alot.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
hide

This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Good Poems for Hard Times

There is so much poetry in the world; breaking into the world of reading it can be really difficult! Old, new, conceptual, rhyming, short, epic – poetry basically covers all the adjectives. Sometimes it can be a real slog trying to get through a poetry book, no matter how much you like the poet or the poetry, because reading a bunch of someone’s work right in a row can be a little exhausting. Enter: the poetry compilation.Garrison Keillor hosts an entirely enjoyable week-daily radio piece/podcast called The Writer’s Almanac. Each episode clocks in around a mere 5 minutes long, making it an unobtrusive addition to your daily listening. The first half is literary and historical information about that day in history and the second half is a poem. From the archives of these shows he has put together several poetry compilations that are absolutely perfect for the novice poetry-reader. They are Good Poems, Good Poems for Hard Times, and Good Poems American Places. They are a very eclectic mix of poems organized along themes, and the poems vary greatly in style, length, and tone. There are some terrifically funny poems and some absolutely devastating ones too. If there’s one you don’t like, you can just move on to the next. That’s the beauty of a compilation!

My personal favorite of these three is Good Poems for Hard Times. The poets range from old favorites Walt Whitman and Edna St. Vincent Millay to new favorites Barbara Hamby and Maxine Kumin. They’re organized in earnest and poignant chapters such as “This Lust of Tenderness,” “Let It Spill,” and “Such as It Is More or Less.” My personal copy has little flags throughout for all the poems I love reading when I’m not feeling so great. I can always flip through and find the right one that hits the spot.

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