My Favorite Book

August 30, 2011 — 34 Comments

When I sat down to write a post about my favorite book, the first step was to figure which book actually is my favorite. This turned out to be harder than I thought. I used to read a lot back when I had no problems sleeping; turning off my brain so that I could actually get to sleep wasn’t a problem. When you are a younger person it seems like reading a book was the quickest way to actually fall asleep – I don’t know when that changes but that doesn’t work on me anymore. Now I read mostly architecture books or biographies. Boorrrrring. There isn’t a book club that reads the books I want to read.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

“My Side of the Mountain”

written by Jean Craighead George

For my favorite book, I went back to one I first read in 4th grade. The book is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. In fact, I actually stole this book from the library because I enjoyed it so much. However, I did feel guilty and returned it only to learn that I had earned enough points in the Nancy Reagan program “Reading is Fundamental” that I got to choose a book to keep as a reward (and guess what book I choose). My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book, the American Library Association’s consideration award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children. As Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, “My Side of the Mountain has inspired countless children, as it did me, to take up ecological stewardship in their adult years.”

The story is basically about a boy who runs away from his home in New York City to live in the Catskills Mountains for a year. The book describes the process that main character goes through as he learns to survive in the wilderness – he catches a baby falcon and trains it to catch food for him, he lives in a tree he hollowed out using the same techniques that American Indians used for making canoes, uses clay from the river to make an oven, even makes acorn pancakes with wild blueberry jam. What I loved about this book was that the level of detail described not only what the boy did – but the process behind how he did it. Reading about how he built an oven from clay made me want to eat what I knew was going to be some nasty ass acorn pancakes. GIVE ME THOSE PANCAKES!!

Considering that this book is a classic, I can’t say it spoke to me in any unique manner – but I did connect to it in a way that is still relevant to what I do as an architect. I enjoyed the detailed and descriptive process that led to the results attained, a quality that is very much present today in how I design buildings. Many people who design see the process of building (construction) as a necessary step to get to the end results, but that process is not reflected in their work. I get the most satisfaction in the projects I do that allow me to express  – or at least acknowledge – the construction process. The picture of the exposed stainless steel circular stairway below could never have been designed if I didn’t think about the process of construction and the role it plays in the final product.

Circular Stair DetailStainless Steel Circular Stair - Dallas Architect Bob Borson

Circular Stair Detail


I avoided any architectural books here on purpose (you can go here for a list of books that architects should read). I chose a book that I still remember fondly reading as a child from a time when I read for pure pleasure. I had no idea at the time that this particular book would have such a lasting impact on me and I know that I will enjoy reading this book with my daughter.

Bob-AIA scale figure

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  • Art Good

    I must have read that book two or three times while on a family vacation in upper Northeastern Ohio as a child. Absolutely loved it.

    • Funny how we didn’t know it was a classic when we read it – a good book is a good book.

  • 13f

    Your book sounds similar to my favorite childhood book, and one that I recall relatively often… Island of the Blue Dolphins. Also written in 1960!

  • Louise Goddard

    I adored this book as a child growing up in NZ – I must have read it aged about 8 or 9 in the early 70’s. It is a book that had such beauty on each page in every description of the boys daily life, that it has stayed with me to this day. I also recently bought it to read with my 11 yr old daughter. I too studied Design -so – totally fascinated to see you making the connection between book & the detail in design processes.

  • 1irishdell

    What a treat this one was. Thank you! I will definitely recommend this book to my son in the coming year. And if it is camping you are looking for in Texas, the Piney Woods anytime Oct-May is wonderful (esp if it’s a little cool and rainy). We used to hit up Palestine before the gov’t took over our destination. But there are really so many places to choose from, just a little Google search will suffice. Once there, just hook up a hammock for your daughter’s reading place by the fire and she will fall in love. Good luck and cheers to you!

  • aaa


  • That sure sounds a wonderful book.

  • shtrum

    Hi Bob.  If you’re looking for fiction with an architectural bone, i’d suggest The City and the City by China Mieville.  Ignore the author’s better known steampunk/sci-fi background . . . it’s a comparison of two cities (loosely based in Budapest), where the inhabitants live along the same open border, even commingle in certain areas, but it’s illegal to acknowledge the other side.  A murder happens that involves both cities, and the result is a clever study in urban planning (a lightning read also).

    If it’s detail you like, The Thousand Autumns of Jacab de Zoet by David Mitchell (or anything by David Mitchell, for that matter).  Alan Furst is another good author pick for detail.  And if you’re looking for an intriguing biography, try Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between.

    • Another one with an architectural bone is “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet.  It deals with the building of a medieval cathedral, among other things.  It was published in 1989 and was my first time reading Follet, as I do not care for his normal genre of suspense.  This was wonderful historical fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Some years later he did a sequel, which I also read, but found very disappointing.

      • Joe,
        I will read a book more than once and have done so with Pillars of the Earth. It was an easy read but very enjoyable. As an architect, there where tons of fascinating little construction details that I found very interesting

    • That’s part of the problem with writing a post on books – people always have new books for you to read! I think I will look into the Mieville book – your description sounds very interesting – what a concept!

      Cheers and thanks for taking the time to comment

  • Paul


    That line drawing is gorgeous.  Are all your prints like that?  If so, sign me up to see more!  Also, I want to live in that house.

    I was a big fan of The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen at that age.  Ever read it?  I read all of them in that series because I loved that idea so much–very similar to this story.  I can still remember reading about the Canadian wilderness and eating raw turtle eggs…yuck.

    Anyway, great post!

    • Paul,

      I haven’t ever read ‘The Hatchlet’ but maybe that’s something I can read with my daughter (every night for 30 minutes since she was born, she is 7 years old now).

      Thanks for the compliment on the stair drawing – I’d like to think they all are like that – I have some more showing up tomorrow, I have a post on drawing like an architect and I show my sketches and than show that sketch as a CAD file. Might be interesting, might not – you never now with these things.


  • Richard

    Have you been looking at my fb profile Bob? “My side…” is one of three books I have in my library from my childhood. Now, if you also have “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” (Richard Bach) and “The old man and the sea” (Ernest Hemingway) then I’d know you were looking at my facebook profile! LOL

    • I love ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ – it was actually the first Hemingway book I read. Maybe I should go scour through your FB profile…

      • Richard

        …Save it for bedtime…You’ll be out cold in no time! LOL

    • The Seagull thing never did anything for me.  There was a HUGE splash when it came out, but… not for me!!!!  I liked “The Old Man and the Sea” a lot.  Another one by Hemingway that was throughly enjoyable was “A Moveable Feast.”  It’s a truly wonderful memoir of his time in Paris when he was writing in the 1920s.  Definitely one of my favorite ones by him.

  • James O’Connor

    I think what I love most about this post is how well the images you chose illustrate the links, not so much specifically-overt ones as ‘that’s just how design works’ between your design process and Sam Greebly’s… 

    I guess like a lot of us, I think so visually that the first thing I did on the post was to trackpad-scroll real quickly through the whole article. Seeing the section of your stair before the photo and passing it at high speed, my initial thought was ‘Oh cool, he decided to take the post in the direction of ‘I liked Sam’s treehouse as a kid; I wonder how I’d design living in a hollowed-out elm now that I’m an architect.’ 

    …No problem though that wasn’t the case; the dimensions, wall treatment, fenestration, everything about the tree, were generated not by Sam’s ego specifically, though personal choice creativity came into play along the way, but mainly by the process of hollowing the tree out with fire… from the sound and look of it, I really respect how you worked for the stair to come from the same place.

    I also grew up in Texas; this book also made me want to run away to the woods- (I LOVE the point someone made above that it might be Catcher in the Rye for architects)… but I came to architecture through Art History first… and I think what got me into Art History on my 8th birthday being given a hardback copy of E.L. Konigsburg’s ‘From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler’, about two kids from Greenwich who run away and move into the Met…. even back then though, my favorite part of the book was the full-spread reprint of the Museum’s 1960s map (and at the time, not yet having left Houston for NY that map then gave me the springboard to imagine the whole Museum as I saw fit).

    But my mom gave me the copy when we were visiting the MFA Houston, back when it was still just the original building and the two Mies expansions (she was making a desperate play to get me to like the art museum…it wouldn’t take for another 8 years or so, and then it came with that brand of pretension that only 16 year olds can pull off)… looking back I realize those Mies galleries, to me at least, perfectly combine these two great books about running away (from home; to architecture)…. 

    The open plan (and it’s tough to choose the right word for this, but anyone who’s been there probably knows what I’m trying to say), ‘sliding'(?) section had the freedom of the woods, and the gallery had the institutional shelter of ‘Art’. But most of all- the gauzy curtains, almost completely unique in all Mies’s work (compare to New National Gallery), which he only put up because functionally, even a North facing curtain glass wall has huge solar gain in Texas, created this wonderful feeling of time not suspended, but distorted…. As a kid, I remember always thinking, when inside, that it had started raining since we’d entered the museum. I still get that feeling now sometimes too when I’m back. Granted, sometimes it’s because it IS raining… it rains a lot in Houston (or used to, anyway). But really, it’s because  the curtains, glass + fabric, make this wonderful shelter, not so different to Sam’s deerskin door to the hemlock tree.

    The light gets distorted to gray, and the sound of cars passing below (the wing fronts 3 major streets) never goes away -in the Museum or in Houston- become something else. Coupled with the HVAC, located next to the fenestration & thus slightly animating the fabric, it’s not so far off from the sound of rain… and so it’s not just an aesthetic shelter, but a fully Houstonian dwelling, in the sense that it situates you to where you are and the social reality of the city you’re in. The lousier facts of life in Houston: bright sun, cars, air conditioning, get transformed into one of the most wonderful (and sorely missed) Houstonian phenomena… the restrained power of a prolonged Gulf Coast rainstorm, expecting the thunderstorm that will inevitably and periodically break out as hotter cells of air move through.

    Anyway, I didn’t expect this comment to go so long and really have to get back to work. Sorry about rambling (to anyone who’s made it this far and to my boss), but I really loved this post Bob. Thanks a lot. So that’s probably why I’m an architect… the children’s books I was exposed and drawn to (feel very vindicated, as can now go back to blaming my parents for everything!). If that’s the case though, maybe to the two books already mentioned, we could add Calvin and Hobbes to the list? It’s probably the best representation of an architect’s mental state….

    Like the fella said, Teach your Children Well.

    • Great response James – I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about how two facets of your life came together. It would have been clever of me to use the stairway as a metaphor for the tree but – I am not that clever.

      Cheers – and thanks for leaving a great comment!

      • Anonymous

        Cheers Bob- I’m meant to start a blog of my own sometime in the nearish future as part of a ‘transferable skills training course’; hopefully once that’s up and running instead of essays in your comments I’ll be able to keep it brief- pithy one liners and shameless plugs? I don’t know, I figure anything as literal as ‘stair = tree’ can probably only come from someone who didn’t have to generate/survive the process? I see a tree and you see arguments over joints? But I just looked into the project on BMA’s website- I’m not sure how much this is the type of thing you like to get into here, but I’m really curious about such a radical change so late in the project and how different it is from the initial- impressive adaptation, to the point that I can’t imagine it without that vert. drum, and would love to know what y’all had planned for it as a single story?

        • Anonymous

          Oh yeah- and I spotted your post about the project as well; the clients sound a lot like the best a project could want.

        • Anonymous

          Oh yeah- and I spotted your post about the project as well; the clients sound a lot like the best a project could want.

  • The great thing about having kids is you can revisit your childhood without anyone looking at you sideways… including reading books they read.. like the entire Harry Potter series. “Research… I read them so I had something to talk about in common with my kids.. ” Yup, that’s my story and sticking to it. 

    But it is getting really hard to explain iCarly and Wizards of Waverly Place now that they are 20 and 26 hmmmmm….

    • Why yes, my daughter loves Ben 10: Ultimate Alien.
      Uh-huh, all those recordings on the DVR are for her.
      What do you mean they don’t seem like a something a girl would watch.
      … (hopeful face…?) 

  • Man, this is a slick post!  I was already 15 by the time this book came out, so I naturally missed it.  One of my favorite childhood books, though, was a book I read in third grade, which was actually a social studies book for class!  What they did, though, was create an elderly couple (probably about my current age!) who took a cruise around the world and had an opportunity to see how other peoples lived.  I no longer remember any of the details of the book, except that from it I learned first hand the truth of that old saying, that books are like ships that will take you anyplace you like to go.

  • Anonymous

    I loved that book when I read it! I think it was 7th or 8th grade for me, and I desperately wanted to escape at that time, so My Side of the Mountain was perfect.

    • I think that’s a typical boy reaction. The idea of leaving and making our own way is programmed into our DNA I think

  • izzy darlow

    I read “My Side of the Mountain” when I was a wee cub-scout, in Michigan. I love that book. It certainly has contributed to my sense of self-sufficiency. It’s probably part of the reason I enjoy shows like “Survivorman” or “The Colony” as much as I do. These really do demonstrate an architectural way of thinking.

    Oh, and the stair – sweet!

    • thanks

      I have been trying to get my family to go camping while my daughter is still young enough to think it’s cool and a little bit scary. If this Texas heat would ever let up ….

      • Anonymous

        I hope you manage to! Enchanted Rock (can never remember, is it in or just outside Fredricksburg) is amazing in the fall, but best of all, if you can manage it get out to Guadalupe National Park in West TX… it’s so high elevation, that the shift from summer to not-summer happens really quickly (even right now, it’s really pleasant out there in the evenings). And it’s stunning. I guess with school-age kids the distance is tough during the fall, but do it if you can. Plus, best of all, it gets you really close to Marfa…and everyone who loves people who love architecture knows that any vacation comes with a hidden purpose and the inevitable architorture tour.

        ….No wife or kids yet, and it’s probably because I’ve lost more girlfriends that way than just about anything else.

  • Cdellinger

    I don’t know how many day dreams I had about running off into the woods because of this book. Thankfully, I never did it. I could never remember the title, but I feel like every detail you mentioned is so clearly engrained in my head.

    Is this some sort of “Catcher in the Rye” for architects? hmmmm…

    • maybe it has more to do with being a boy – haven’t heard any input from any women who connected with this book – or were even drawn to reading it in the first place.


  • Masterful. I loved that book more than I can say. One of my nephews (he’s ten) came to visit this summer and guess what he brought to read on the plane. I almost stole it from him before he left. Well, not really but I did read a couple of pages of it.

    • One of the side effects to having a child is the guilty pleasure that comes with doing activities that from an outsiders perspective might seem immature. Re-reading some of my favorite books again with my daughter has been a real treat.