Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language is one of the few books that has changed the way I see the world. Perhaps the best-selling architecture book of all time, it is a practical guide for building—not just one's home, but a neighborhood, city, world. I've never read a book that is so down to earth and yet madly ambitious.
Alexander, an emeritus professor of architecture at Berkeley, describes his project: “At the core is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets and communities. This idea comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.”
In opposition to the cult of expertise, he recommends a set of “patterns” that have been tested by time and common sense—things like “Zen Views,” “Tapestries of Light and Dark,” and “Open Shelves.” There's something simultaneously traditional and progressive about all this, something mystical, too. Alexander describes his project as a “timeless way of building,” with way meaning tao.
I'd always sensed a religious element in Alexander's work, but I'd never found a full expression of it. That is, until his wife and collaborator Maggie sent me an essay of his that will appear in our February issue. Titled “Making the Garden,” it expresses Alexander's belief that “successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God.” For this reason, we are called to “make each brick, each path, each baluster, each windowsill a reflection of God.”
After reading this beautiful summation of Alexander's life work, I couldn't help but return this week to A Pattern Language. It's the kind of book one gives away and buys again.
I recently re-read David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green (he’s the one who also wrote the much more popular Cloud Atlas). The book reminds me of the 2014 film Boyhood in its realism, gentle humor, and subtlety. It chronicles thirteen months in the life of the would-be-poet thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, who lives in a sleepy English town in 1982—it's told from his adolescent perspective, in his own British vernacular, at his own meandering pace. Though this is arguably Mitchell’s most plot-driven book, not that much really actually happens. It’s more a montage of moments and reflections—on girls, on his parents’ crumbling marriage, on the Falkland wars, on the cruel initiations of adolescence. Truly one of the clearest and most endearing narrative voices I have read.
Perhaps you have heard of this new film in theaters? It is called “Star Wars” and it is making a big splash. As Matthew Schmitz at the office excitedly explained to me, this “Star Wars” film is actually part of a series that began a while ago. Intrigued, I set out to learn more about “Star Wars,” and I discovered that the phenomenon dates all the way back to Elizabethan England, when William Shakespeare composed Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.
In order to best experience this “Star Wars” in its original, Shakespeare-penned form, I have decided to forgo seeing any of the cinematic adaptions until I read the play aloud, as intended by its author. Tonight, I am hosting a play-reading of William Shakespeare's Star Wars. I am excited to find out what strange adventures the Bard has penned for these characters named “Luke Skywalker” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” The Prologue certainly has me intrigued: “In time so long ago begins our play,/ In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.”
This semester I have been working on my senior thesis at the King's College. I focused my attention on Dostoyevsky's The Brother's Karamazov. So, in addition to the the Brothers K., I've been reading a number of scholars who focus on the brotherly affection in the novel. The most helpful source that I read was AA Berman's Siblings in The Brothers Karamazov. Berman reveals the importance of active love in the novel and shows where Alyosha, the hero, fails to achieve it. This piece helps put Brothers K into a transformative role for the reader: we should read The Brothers Karamazov in order to love others more acutely and actively.