Duck Duck Book

10 – frogs
01.31.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: science

Frogs / text by David Badger ; photography by John Netherton.
Stillwater, MN : Voyageur Press, c1995.
[MCL call number: 597.89 B135fn 1995; eighteen copies, no holds]

This is a picture book about frogs. It has text too, and the small amount that I’ve read is interesting, informative, and convincing. But really all I’ve concentrated on is looking at the heartbreakingly lovely frog photographs, from the beginning to the end and then right back to the beginning again. Frogs begins with an introduction, an essay about frogs and people, a section on frog characteristics and behavior, and finally a section with detailed descriptions of 37 frog families and species. There is a note about the decline of amphibian populations, a nice appendix about photographing frogs, a bibliography, and a competent index.


10 – tiny, tiny houses
01.31.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Tiny, tiny houses / Lester Walker.
Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 1987.
[MCL call number: 728.37 W181t; one copy, no holds]

Walker describes some weensy houses, and provides photographs and sharp architectural drawings of each. Some of the houses are one-offs — such as Thos. Jefferson's starter house at Monticello or the little inside-out house that has everything but the bedroom on the wraparound porch — but others are designs that were used for many buildings — such as the bandbox rowhouses (three 10' x 10' rooms stacked on top of each other) of Philadelphia and the "camp" houses built for Methodist summer religious retreats around 1900. It's a nice book to leaf through as you daydream about your own tiny little castle.

n.b., Tiny, Tiny Houses was reprinted in a slightly smaller format (23 cm rather than 29 cm tall) and with a new title:

A little house of my own : 47 grand designs for 47 tiny houses / by Lester Walker.
New York : Black Dog & Leventhal, 2000.
[MCL call number: 728.37 W181L 2000; two copies, no holds]

Walker is probably most well-known for his more comprehensive work on domestic architecture in the United States, American Shelter : An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home (1981, reprinted in 2002 under the title American Homes : The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture; don't ask me why his books have such mutable names), which provides detailed descriptions and meticulous drawings of home types, from houses made of ice and sod to trailer homes to the fancy Victorians with gingerbread on them.

10 – ornament of the world
01.31.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

The ornament of the world : how Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain / María Rosa Menocal ; [foreword by Harold Bloom].
Boston : Little, Brown, c2002.
[MCL call number: 946.02 M547o 2002; three copies, no holds]

This book was heartily recommended to me by a library patron.  She came to the reference desk in the Literature and History room and confessed that she was looking for a book she’d read before, she was sorry to be a bother, but, embarrassingly, she couldn’t remember the author’s name or the title.  (Many, perhaps hundreds of library patrons have made similar confessions to me, so you can see it is not an uncommon difficulty in which to find one’s self.)  She described the topic: The book was about how people in Spain were very multicultural in the middle ages.  You know, Islam and Judaism and Christianity, they co-existed and people just lived with each other in a friendly way that people don’t now.  And there was a flowering of literature, science, everything.

Well, because the book has such a describes-the-topic title, I found it easily, and it was even on the shelf and available for the patron to check it out.  She stopped on her way back past my desk, showed me the book, and then spent about 10 minutes describing how beautifully written it was, how it had changed her perspective on European history in general, and more.  It was a very effective book-talk (as we call them in the library biz), and so I placed a hold on the book for myself. 

And she was right.  Despite the foreword by Harold Bloom (who I rather irrationally despise), the book delivers in a way that I did not expect.  Menocal provides a brief historical introduction at the beginning of the book, but the main bulk of the text is taken up with short essays about different people and the cultural impact they had.  These are arranged more or less chronologically, and in them Menocal discusses architecture and urban planning, poetry, philosophical and scientific literature, translations, libraries, multilingualism, political alliances and how they affected various aspects of culture, and religious agreements and disagreements.  Menocal also discusses some of of the ways that Andalusian culture has been viewed in the time between the eighth century and now, which is interesting as well. 

The text of the book is followed by an excellent bibliography, which is presented in a narrative style, rather than as a list.  Primary sources discussed in the main text are listed according to the page number on which they appeared (both commentaries and translations are included here).  There is a wide-ranging section of recommendations for other readings in literature, from The Arabian Nights to The Moor’s Last Sigh, one of histories, and one of reference books.

10 – fifteenth annual . . . african films
01.31.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: events, films

The fifteenth annual Cascade festival of African films : in celebration of Black History Month films].
[Portland Community College], 20 January 2005.

Just like it sounds, films from Africa — many that you’ll never have a chance to see otherwise, either on the big screen or the little one. The festival website includes descriptions of each movie, as well as information on lectures and appearances by directors.

Films are showing at several locations (mostly in North and Northeast Portland) February 3 through March 5, and they’re all free.

9 – a home in the world
01.26.2005, 12:06 am
Filed under: social sciences

A home in the world : houses and cultures / Martine and Caroline Laffon ; translated from the French by Lenora Ammon. (English-language edition; original title: Habitat du monde.)
New York : H.N. Abrams, 2004.
[MCL call number: 392.36 L163h 2004; two copies, no holds]

A picture book of houses, focusing on the vernacular house ways and styles of traditional cultures from around the world. The text isn’t worth much; the tone is somewhat patronizing, the explanations of how cultures and houses interact didn’t answer most of my questions, and much of the information that’s provided seems superfluous. The photographs focus on houses that are very different from house forms in the industrialized west, and the representation of people and their dwellings is somewhat exoticized. But, the pictures are lovely and fascinating, there is no doubt. And perhaps the text is only suffering from a poor translation. For a better book on a similar subject, keep reading until you get to Built by Hand.

9 – gardens of revelation
01.26.2005, 12:05 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Gardens of revelation : environments by visionary artists / John Beardsley ; principal photography by James Pierce.
New York : Abbeville Press, c1995.
[MCL call number: 709.04 B368g; two copies, no holds]

Gardens of Revelation is a beautiful book of photographs of houses and yards that have been built, decorated, and embellished by their residents in their own unique and creative ways.  All of the "environments" in the book include outdoor spaces — yards, grottoes, courtyards, and gardens — and although most are in the United States, environments in Belgium, France, India, and South Africa are described as well.  There is a short, useful essay about each environment and its creator, describing the genesis of the work, the artist's philosophy and perspective on their work (if known), and the condition of the environment at the time the book was written.  Grandma Prisbey's bottle village (mentioned in booklist number 8) is included, and there are some lovely photographs of it.

There aren't very many books about this specific topic — the environments that people create for themselves, on their own terms — and this is one of my favorites.  There has been a surge of interest in "outsider," "visionary," or "naive" artists in the last dozen years or so, but most of the books available put some emphasis on works on paper, sculpture, and other movable forms.

The main part of the book is followed by two appendices, one listing organizations dedicated to environments by "visionary artists," and one listing the locations of many of the environments in the book.  There is also an extensive bibliography and a decent index.

9 – built by hand
01.26.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Built by hand : vernacular buildings around the world / written by Athena Steen, Bill Steen, and Eiko Komatsu ; photographs by Yoshio Komatsu.
Salt Lake City : Gibbs Smith, c2003.
[MCL call number: 728 S814b 2003; three copies, no holds]

This big, heavy book that should probably not be put through a library book drop has more than 450 pages of photographs of dwelling places throughout the world. Each section deals with a different kind of building material — straw, mud, rocks, caves, wood, etc. — and though there is very little explanatory text, the photographs are so beautiful that it almost hurts to look at them.