Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

J.K. Rowling

Finished Reading: 12.2009

Largely hailed as the greatest thing going these days in children's literature, I can't confirm that the Harry Potter series lives up to the hype because this is the first volume I have read, and I have not recently read any other children's literature for comparison. The book is accessible to adults as well as children, which does make it rise above other kids stuff (theoretically, as far as I know) but it is hard to comment on a highly promoted extravaganza, for I am looking into it for too much.

This is all said, but not to say I do not like the book. Only that I know too much about it going in, for I have seen the films and by virtue of simply being alive, it isn't new to me. The suspense and surprise is gone (which I greatly enjoy in a book). A positive note on having seen the movies first is that I do approve of the pre-existing images formed in my head for each character and event, as they were appropriately created on film to reflect the book.

I like that the character names are not the regular names of the people I know, and I like the characters themselves, and the way they interact. Having all this wizardness happen in the midst of our real world is intriguing, which I enjoy more than if it had been in a separate dimension. Sometimes I forget these are just kids, as the dialogue is a lot more engaging than what was ever said in my childhood. Truthfully though, I am not really into witches and wizards, maybe preferring sagas where magic happens a little on the side (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) to the whole concept of a school for young wizards. But I will give it a try and read books two through seven.

The peripheral things fascinate me the most, like having the mail delivered by owls. That makes me laugh.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Exquisite Corpse

Writings On Buildings


Michael Sorkin

Finished Reading 12.2009

Unlike the previously reviewed collection of Sorkin ponderings entitled Some Assembly Required, which is rooted in the 1990's (a time which I remember), this volume spans from the late 1970's to the late 1980's and seems very unlike today. Presented chronologically, the book opens a few years before the days of Reagan, the content being the various published writings of the author. My first observation is not on the author Michael Sorkin, who writes most captivatingly, but on the Styles of the day which are emphatically postmodern and neo-classical; ideas which are now historical anomalies, short lived. This is a book about buildings and the people who design them. Many architects are described in their professional infancy who have since gone on to fame, and some are mentioned whom I haven't heard of. They are seen designing their sweet hearts away but never seen again. Many who were rising stars are now no more in this snapshot of architecture history.

Odd is the normalcy with which postmodern and neo-classical architecture is sewn into almost every project designed in the 80's. It seems like another world, and yet Sorkin was there then to say his choice words as he is now to say a few more. The perception of a newly built project completed in this decade feels strange. Finding ourselves now safely out of the 80's, I conclude, since we have more than survived, that Style is really a passing fancy and Sorkin heroically observed this fact in utero. These projects from thirty years ago seem to be more of Style and not at all of today's popular substance, green and sustainable. Both contemporary aggressors are missing from this now aging dialogue.

Aging is not to say unwanted or not useful, but different. We are simply on to other things. In all aspects of life, thirty years ago is like a blind spot in history. We remember events more recent and revere events long past, but thirty years ago follows us in every age as some kind of horrible dread.

Philip Johnson? Robert Venturi? Robert Stern? Paul Goldberger? Boo.

Michael Sorkin shoots from the hip. No preeminent architect, emerging style of the day or copied atrocity with windows inside of windows escapes the sharp keystroke of the author. These are the times when popular culture had turned its head away from the long heralded modernism, for it seemed so boring after so much time. But Sorkin does not think something so simple and which makes so much sense is boring, so he defends good design as he can. They went and made it worse by adding ornaments to the facades and tinsel to the balustrades, so Sorkin strips the garland off their naked forms, exposing nothing at all and everything. Postmodern architecture is like what the consumer Christmas holiday has become. Not over soon enough.

Though Michael Sorkin has plenty of good things to say about a number of projects, he is not a member of the Phillip Johnson fan club. I hadn't given Johnson much though before, but since he comes up so often in Exquisite Corpse as the essence of evil, I thought I would give him a few lines. Johnson is apparently a stealer of every good idea, who can't draw, was once a Nazi-sympathizer, jumped on every changing bandwagon, ruined as many cities as he could with his so-called architecture, and can't design his way out of a glass house. Just so you know.

Entertaining, funny, anti-Postmodern, anti-Phillip Johnson, culturally relevant, and blissfully engaging; Michael Sorkin's words are as important as the Architecture they chronicle.