27 February 2010

Illiteracy and its remedies - or not


(via The New York Times - thanks to Paul Sahre and Jonas Beuchert)

Cathleen Schine's opinion piece in yesterday's NYTimes made me laugh, not only because my age popped up in the first 5 words of the article, but for its honest confession of feeling stupid to the point of illiteracy in the shadow of her friends' "culturedness" and her discovery of love through the investigation of her husband's bookcase. (Among other gems.)

Sometimes this has happened to me, most often in the academic architectural context, which - if any of you have ever listened to a conversation before - is chock filled to the brim with references to such-and-such 18th c. French philosopher and what we affectionately call "archispeak." Sometimes terms are simply invented, but often are common words (i.e. program, space, pedagogy, big box, elevation) that take on a use within the discipline that's incomprehensible to those outside. One of these days I will make a list of terms floating around in the heady air within buildings 3, 5, 7, and 9, but in the meantime, here's a funny Grasshopper script that randomly generates archispeak sentences like:
“Based upon interdisciplinary considerations the by-product of repetitive space articulation adds specific critical path events to the study of true fecundity in the state of the art.”
Thoughts on what that means? Or, who the idiot really is? (This is really the tip of a larger iceberg on accessibility, but that will wait for another day.)

- - -

Back to the topic at hand (books, not stupidity), one of my instinctive habits is to examine people's bookshelves, whether at their desks or in their apartments. It's a gravitational pull - I can't help but be drawn in and rotate around it, taking in the titles and constructing a mental portrait of the owner. What can I say - I'm nosy! (And I like organizing books, as my childhood hobby of writing out my own card catalog would reveal...) This sort of observation does serve as a good little personality and personal preference profile of my friends and acquaintances, along with acting as a superb way to jumpstart conversation and find potential reading materials.

Hands down, the best people to borrow books from have been Dianna/Ryan and Gautam, friends with overflowing shelves and equally overflowing generosity in lending me their volumes in bulk.