Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book twenty-eight: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

If you like literary characters who are young, smart, and stupid all at the same time then Jeffrey Eugenides latest novel is definitely for you.  The Marriage Plot is set in the 1980s and follows the lives of three college students: Madeleine Hanna, Mitchell Grammaticus, and Leonard Bankhead.  As the three graduate from college and begin their lives, their relationships become more (and less personal) and true love seems to fall in just the wrong places.

I can't go much farther in this review without talking about Eugenides' writing; it's flawless.  Seldom do I read a book where the writing never gets in the way.  Even in the most well written books, it seems I'm occasionally shaken from the story and forced to nit pick the writing.  Not in this book.  The words are so seamless, so effortless, that I got lost in the story and never had to come up for writing air.  I also loved the way Eugenides weaves the story from character to character, allowing us to see what's really happening and what's perceived to be happening.  And he does this without ever making me feel like I've been subjected to a jolting flashback.

Eugenides' brilliant writing allows us to become engrossed in the lives of the three core characters. And they are characters that make some bad choices. It would be easy for me to not like these characters.  That is if they didn't remind me so damn much of friends I like and interact with.  And just like the frustration I experience when some of my friends repeatedly do stupid things, these characters can be infuriating.  But in the end, just like in my interactions with other, you end up focusing on the good and trying to ignore the bad.

I recently told a friend I like the fact that this book has a happy ending.  She corrected me suggesting that this book offers the hope of a happy ending.  I have to concede she's right.  But I'm good with just the hope.  Maybe that's because I hold out hope that all my crazy friends' lives will somehow end in happiness.  Maybe that's why I liked this book.  Because rather than giving me the perfect ending, it gave me hope that things just might turn out all right.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is it design or is it art?

Yes, my museum dash to SFMoMA was organized to see Jim Campbell's Exploded View. But they have other stuff at the museum that I just couldn't resist.  Stuff like a whole exhibition dedicated to the design genius of Dieter Rams.  More and Less: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams features brilliant designs created by Rams as well as other products influenced by him.  And certainly you can see his influence even in today's most popular products like those created by Apple.

There's a lot to enjoy at this show, particularly some of the designs from the 70s.  Take this Design Model for the Mobilis HiFi System.  Rams was an early champion of making quick design models to help refine products.  It's a practice that is now standard in most industrial design studios.

I also liked these iconic Braun hairdryers (1970).  In fact, if you're a fan of Braun's best product designs, this is a must-see show.

I have to give a nod to the show's curators.  One of the best parts of the exhibit are the Dieter Rams quotes artfully applied to the walls.  These quotes would be an inspiration on any wall.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An explosion of lights at SFMoMA.

Business trips can be tedious.  Mostly because you fly into a city, have a bunch of meetings and then you fly out.  I recently had to go to San Francisco with just such an itinerary.  But there was an installation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that I really wanted to see.  So I carved out just one short hour to pay a visit to the museum.  It was a classic example of the museum dash.

I went to see an installation in the atrium of SFMoMA.  I've come to love the impressive installations in the lobby of the museum.  I think my respect for the curators that choose the lobby installations started when SFMoMA let loose a common household electric fan dangling from the ceiling.  It was part of the museum's show featuring works by Olafur Eliasson.

Since then, the museum has been willing to go to extreme lengths to display brilliant works of art that dazzle visitors the moment they walk into the space.  None of those works is more dazzling than Exploded Views (2011, 2,880 LED lights and custom electronics) by Jim Campbell.

To prove my point I'm posting several videos and photos that will in no way demonstrate the magic of this work of art.  I'll start with two really cool videos taken from the museum's first landing, probably the best place to experience this mesmerizing work.

What these videos don't express is that this is not some strange video projected on an LED screen.  It's actually a cloud of LED lights suspended from the ceiling.  It's amazing how different this piece is in person than it is on video.  In hopes of demonstrating that difference, here is a video and some photos to show what the work is really like.

I love this work.  Maybe it's the contemporary dance elements of the video (or whatever you call the imagery). Maybe it's the hypnotizing quality of the piece.  Or maybe it's the spectacular technology.  Whatever it is, it's strangely pleasurable.  Thanks SFMoMA for another inspiring experience.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The shrine next door.

Yes it's been over a month since we returned from Japan.  But as you've noticed I'm still writing about the trip.  That's because as I catalog all of my photos and mementos from our visit to Asia, I'm realizing how many things I didn't have time to write about while I was there. So there may be a few more posts about Japan.  Posts like this noting that in Kyoto, you can't walk very far without running into a shrine.  In fact, as you stepped outside the entrance to our Ryokan, you just had to turn right and you ran into this, the Yasaka Shrine: