A grab-bag of brief notes on some nonfiction books I've read recently:
:: I've checked Infrastructure by Brian Hayes out of the library several times, because it's really very fascinating. Subtitled "A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape", the book is a guided tour through the man-made objects that dominate the landscape of our daily lives. Basically, if you've ever wondered things like why cell-phone transmission towers are triangular in shape, or how shipping ports are designed for maximum efficiency, or what all those objects attached to the power line pole actually are, or how raw materials are extracted from the earth, then this is the book to check out. It's a wonderfully produced "How Things Work" kind of book. (It's also a coffee table book, loaded with photographs illustrating its various points about the engineering that surrounds us in our world.
:: The View from the Bridge is a memoir by filmmaker Nicholas Meyer, who is best known for his work on the Star Trek franchise. He directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as partially writing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. While that was clearly my main area of interest in reading his book, Meyer has also done a great deal of other film and teevee work, such as the post-nuclear war teevee movie The Day After and the wonderfully entertaining time-travel film Time After Time (in which Jack the Ripper escapes capture in 19th century London to 1979 San Francisco by using a time machine invented by friend-who-doesn't-know-his-friend-is-a-serial-killer, H.G. Wells). Meyer tells many of the same kinds of stories we hear from other filmmakers who pen memoirs, describing the long efforts it took for him to break into the business and the friends and enemies he made along the way. Meyer is refreshingly candid about his own screw-ups, which is always nice to see in a book like this.
:: Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich is part-memoir and part-manifesto about one woman's desire to step back from modern technology and all its "improvements" of life, in many respects, and get back to a state of being where many of the things in her life are things she does for herself. Things like growing her own food, making her own clothes and music, and so on. It's a very engaging read – Woginrich has a very friendly writing style, and she brings a great deal of verve and enthusiasm into her project. She doesn't just evangelize for the "do it by hand" movement either, but she also describes the places she has screwed up along the way (such as failing to factor the presence of her dog into her decision to raise her own chickens from hatchlings). The book isn't full of technical details, although Woginrich does give lots of advice on how to get started in many areas and provides resources for further research. The main value in the book, I found, is in the way Woginrich is able to give insight into a "Made from Scratch" kind of lifestyle in a world of advanced technology. The book is not Luddite in its attitude; Woginrich is a web designer by trade and she maintains a blog, Cold Antler Farm, where she continues to write about the themes of her book.
Of particular interest to me is that she wrote the book while she lived in Sandpoint, ID, the little ski-resort town way up north in the Idaho panhandle which happens to be where my in-laws lived for many years (and where my brother-in-law still resides). While she no longer lives there, I can certainly attest that Sandpoint would be an ideal locale for anyone desiring the kind of lifestyle she writes about in her book.