Just Enough Research
Hall’s contribution to the unstoppable (yes, I’m biased) A Book Apart list is both an instructive reference and a critical corrective. Dispelling the myths around research (It’s too hard! It will take too long! It’s expensive!), Hall proceeds to quickly present the many tactics in the researcher’s toolbox in a way that’s immediately powerful. I find myself referring back to it almost daily.
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember
Newitz first dives into the history of evolution and extinction, looking at how past species have survived (or not) and what we can learn from them; then she projects a fascinating and divergent vision of humanity millions of years from now. Hers is an optimistic future, though she acknowledges the path will not be easy. But I found her optimism infectious. My daydreams of late have been of cyborgs and space elevators, terraforming and bioplastics. I hope I can maintain something of that long-term perspective.
Mumbai New York Scranton
Shopsin writes in short, present-tense sentences. Frequent paragraph breaks are separated by empty lines. Many pages stop short. In the hands of someone less genuine, the effect would be gimmicky, but Shopsin is as real as it gets. One of my favorite books of late.
Keizer’s small book looks at privacy today and in years past, in both the personal and public spheres. His approach to the topic is more philosophical than policy: you won’t find solutions to the problems of data mining or warrantless wiretaps within, but you will be prompted to think hard about privacy and its many contexts. Much of the book was written in anger, and the anger is infectious; but then, sometimes anger is the best path to change.
The Chairs Are Where the People Go
Misha Glouberman, Sheila Heti
A unique collaboration between Misha Glouberman—a performer and artist—and his friend—the writer Sheila Heti—results in this charming and instructive collection of parables. Heti transcribed and organized Glouberman’s far-ranging and fascinating monologues on topics as diverse as going to the gym, “nimbyism,” charades, impostor syndrome, and more. A lovely book to dip in and out of when the mood strikes.
In the Blink of an Eye
Murch’s brief collection of essays (they were originally lectures) was first published in 1995, and refreshed in 2001 with new attention to digital editing. The latter, just over a decade later, already feels quaint. But it’s Murch’s tales of the less mechanical elements of editing—the storytelling and workflow—that really beguile. The relationship between editing film and other mediums (notably, words) is clear.
What Is Reading for?
Bringhurst’s small pamphlets (always lovingly designed and printed) are among my favorite things. This one is, unsurprisingly, a full-throated defense of the book. It veers slightly into the uncanny valley in suggesting that oral traditions are comparable to written ones (the phrase “oral book” is apparently used without sarcasm), and succumbs to ignorance in its assertion that words on the screen can never be as meaningful as those in ink. But its assertiveness is a good reminder of how deep the love for books can go, and despite the author’s luddite leanings, how much that love can persist well past when the ink wells run dry.
N. Katherine Hayles
This short book, a collaboration between literary critic Katherine Hayles and designer Anne Burdick, has a lot not to like: Hayles’ insistence on manufacturing vocabulary can obscure rather than clarify, and many of the design decisions are superfluous. But even ten years after publication, the book’s exploration of the material nature of writing is interesting and as yet incomplete. Calling the book an experiment, Hayles writes: “If Anne and I open a path or two that others may find profitable to pursue, we will in our own terms have succeeded. As is so often the case with hypertext, the rest is up to you.”
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
I’ve been a fan of Smitten Kitchen for years, so it’s delightful to see her recipes and photography pulled together into such a lovely package. Perelman’s style is enthusiastic and never fussy; the recipes are simple but attentive to just the right details. The cover photo—shortcakes with whipped goat cheese and tomato salad—is on my to-do list the moment tomatoes return to the local market.
A. Scott Berg
Perkins was, as the title suggests, the editor of many geniuses—notably, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and Hemingway. Berg’s biography delves into his personal life, but I think the book is most compelling for its insight into Perkins’ working relationship with his authors. A confidant and coach, he recognized when it was his job to motivate and when he needed to simply get out of the way.
The Shape of Design
Chimero’s meditation on design is thoughtful and lovely, a welcome refresher from the more logistical ethos that has been ascendent in recent years. His characterization of design as a response—rather than a problem to be solved—changed the way I think about my own work, and the work of others. (Disclaimer: the book was edited by yours truly, but credit for its art goes entirely to Frank.)
Perhaps my favorite novel in recent years. Part noir, part old-school Bond thriller, part apocalyptic science fiction tale, and completely magnificent. The only thing better than the masterful storytelling is the equally skilled language, with sentences so lovely the book practically begs to be read aloud. (It took serious willpower not to underline every damn word.) Currently reading it for the second (and not the last) time.
Content Strategy for Mobile
The eighth book in the now very successful A Book Apart series reflects back on previous titles while also looking ahead. Mobile best practices meets content strategy head on, in a short book that’s packed with good advice. Just as importantly, Karen’s book fills the gap left by Mobile First and Responsive Web Design—namely, the need for our content to be as adaptive as our designs. Required reading.
Design Is a Job
Mike Monteiro’s writing is as ruthless as it is wise. A love letter to web designers everywhere, Design Is a Job catalogs the many and varied mistakes one can make on the path to being successful, and generously warns you away from them. The result is a book that is personal and profound, and which you’ll be waving around to friends and colleagues before you even complete it. “So I wrote you a book,” Mike says. “It has a spine and by the time you’re done reading so will you.”
Love, An Index
When a friend publishes a book, it is cause for celebration. When the topic is the loss of the man she loved, the celebration is heartbreaking. Rebecca’s words touch on darker days, but the form and style are extraordinary even if held apart from the event that triggered them.
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual
Frank Castronovo, Frank Falcinelli, Peter Meehan
From one of my favorite local restaurants comes a lovely and instructive manual. An entire chapter is devoted to making Sunday sauce, complete with a timeline for the day. Do make the braciola.
How to Fix Copyright
Patry is senior copyright counsel at Google, and despite the upfront disclaimer, this book defines a vision of copyright that clearly benefits the world’s biggest search engine. That bias aside, the vision is clear-headed, practical, and scientific—quite refreshing in light of the current SOPA/PIPA frothing-at-the-mouth coming from other corners. A solid complement to Hyde’s Common as Air.
Books as History
If you can get past the absolutely reprehensible cover design, Books as History is a smart study of books’ physical form, and a defense of its value independent of the words on the page. Whether or not the printed book “survives” is a less interesting question to me than what we can learn from books as they have been and are now becoming, and Pearson’s text is a succinct tale of the former. As for the latter, we’ll all know in time.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
As a novel, The Lifecycle of Software Objects suffers from expository writing, flat characters, and uninspired prose. But as a thought experiment, it’s surprisingly (if incompletely) compelling. Chiang explores how we might teach an artificial intelligence, and what happens when (or if) it grows up. The ideas outshine the story.
Community and Privacy
Christopher Alexander, Serge Chermayeff
A precursor to Alexander’s A Pattern Language, in which he and Chermayeff define what’s wrong with the design of the suburbs, and outline the principles behind a more human (and urban) environment. As interesting for its approach to the problem as it is for any of the proposed solutions.