Culture & Livability

Welcome to Our Book Club

Hi, I’m Alex. I’m curating Next American City’s monthly book club, which begins with this blog post.

I’m thrilled to be leading this discussion. In my day job, I work as a copy editor for Washington City Paper, the alternative weekly serving Washington, D.C. Most of my publication’s writing addresses, in some form or another, the built environment of the District.

Personally, I prefer to read books — fiction or non-fiction — that feature the city as a character. The only thing cooler than reading a book that reckons with a city is being able to talk about that book with people who find it just as worthy of conversation. I hope that our discussions here are compelling, enlightening, challenging, engaging and rewarding, and I’m looking to you to be smart readers with astute observations.

Here’s how the book club will work:

  • Each month, I’ll post here with the name of the book we’ll be reading and the date we’ll be discussing it, as well as ancillary links to information about the book and its author.
  • You obtain your own copy of the book. Most titles will be available on Amazon, but if you can support an independent retailer or visit your local library, that’s even better.
  • Read the book and make note of what you like and don’t like. While reading, look for parallels between city-specific issues like income inequality, gentrification, displacement, density, eminent domain and transportation, as well as intersections of more general topics like race, gender, sexuality, religion, age, class and ability.
  • One month after I announce the chosen title, I’ll post here with my thoughts and remarks on the book, in addition to some prompts and questions to stimulate chatter.
  • Come back here on the posted date and leave a comment on the aforementioned post with your thoughts. I’ll be in the comments, too, and will be encouraging discussion, not just one-off remarks.

The text I’ve selected for June, our first month, is architecture and design critic Alexandra Lange’s Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. It’s adapted from the criticism-writing courses Lange has taught at the School of Visual Arts and New York University. In addition to teaching, she blogs weekly at Design Observer and formerly wrote for New York magazine.

The New York Times’ Opinionator blog tackled Writing About Architecture in March, noting, “Lange recognizes the stakes inherent in the act of describing place. While she certainly is pushing writers, readers and her students to aim for clarity in criticism, Lange goes much further, arguing that architecture critics be invested intellectually and emotionally in the world that surrounds them.” Since this book club about urbanist texts will run on written comments posted online, I think Lange’s book an apt first read.

Meet me back here on June 27 with your thoughts on Writing About Architecture, and feel free to get in touch with me in the meantime. I can be reached at books@americancity.org, or you can follow me on Twitter at @alexbaca.

I can’t wait to read what you’ve got to say.

Tags: culture, washington, d.c., d.c., book club, design observer, writing about architecture