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On Old Guys Blogging

OK, I'm 71, not the typical age for a blogger. Not exactly the right temperament either: I don't live and breathe computers. I've loved and hated blogging like I loved and hated computers when they came along and superceded everything I'd so painstakenly learned about book production. So I got into blogging mildly kicking and screaming. I liked what it did, but not the time it took me to do it. I already spend more time in front of a screen than I want to. I need my time at the beach and in the woods. But in the last few days I may have seen the way to post stuff more often. I'd like to, because it seems that in my peregrinations I'm constantly runnning across people and things that interest the heck out of me, and I have this compulsion to tell people about it. In fact more than once I've worried that I should be more "in the moment" wherever I am, rather than filtering what I'm seeing through my reporter's brain. How am I gonna tell people about this?
I think (at least tonight) I'll blog more often. For one thing, yesterday was the first time that I wrote within Blogger.com's template rather than writing stuff in Eudora and then copying it into Blogger. It was much quicker. And it's always a kick to see what you've just written come up on the web, nicely formatted: a unique immediacy. Like right now I'm about to hit "Publish Post," and in seconds it'll be worldwide. It occurs to me that coming from the Old World, as it were, makes all that's happening now (electronically, not politically) all the more wondrous. Hell, I still can't believe what a fax machine does, when I really think about it.

Inspired to Drop Out

Just the next day after writing about the feedback we've been getting from our building books (see previous day's blog), we got this email from a guy in Maryland. (I should point out that this is the first time in two years of blogging that I've written something two days in a row.)

Email to Shelter received June 3, 2006:
I am writing to thank you for being a huge influence in my life. Your book Shelter has altered the way that I look at house and home in profound ways. I first read Shelter at my friends farm in West Virginia about 18 years ago and ever since, my number one goal in life has been to drop out. I have been working diligently to gather the tools and funds to make my dream come true. Most Americans want a big house with a two story entry feature, big green expanse of grass, and three cars in the garage. Me, I want 40 acres and a mule. Eight years ago we bought an old farm house built in 1790, it was modernized in 1870 when a used timber frame house was attached to it. When we bought it the plan should have been to tear it down and have a huge bon fire, instead we poured too much love and sweat and and money into it. The pay off is that we have a home we love. We are now going to put on an addition of one bedroom and bathroom so that our old house will be more appealing to a future buyer. The real estate values are very high here in Maryland and our plan is to cash out in about five years. For what our house will sell for we could easily buy 200+ acres in New Mexico and still have something left over to build our forever house. Stay tuned for photos of our old house and soon to come mountain retreat. Between Shelter and Home Work I have been given so much inspiration... Thank you for doing what you do!
-Frank Yensan, Catonsville, MD

Dialing Back In

My Career: From Builders to Jocks Back to Builders


The first books I published (starting in 1970) were on building. I published two books on dome building and then, when I found out domes didn't work (as homes), I published. along with Bob Easton, Shelter in 1973, on building all kinds of homes, all over the world. The book sold over 250,000 copies and (from continual feedback) has provided guidance and inspiration to countless people. I did another building book, Shelter II, in 1978 and then, starting in 1980, by some quirk of karma, I ended up publishing fitness books for almost 20 years. See our website for the books we've published (about 26 in 30+ years): http://www.shelterpub.com/

About two years ago I felt I'd done all I wanted to in the fitness field and returned to my first love, which was hand-built housing. In this new phase we've published The Septic Systems Owners Manual, Home Work: Handmade Shelter, and most recently, Mongolian Cloud Houses, about building your own yurt.

The point of all this: something profound has started happening to us in the last year or so. We have been deluged with emails, letters, and phone calls from people telling us how Shelter changed their lives, or how Home Work is like nothing they've seen before. Even more wonderful is the fact that I seem to talk to people every day who love our building books.

Two things caused me to sit down this afternoon and write this:
1. We got a letter today from a couple, Eben and Aña Pyle, who had the first edition of Shelter in the '70s and ended up using it as inspiration to build cabins and homes in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. They concluded: "Aña and I want you to know that Shelter has been an important and enjoyable part of our lives and wish to thank you for the work you have done that has made our lives and the lives of others much richer."
I mean, wow! I know I'm walking the thin line of self-aggrandizement here, but hell, I want to tell you about this. We are getting a phenomenal amount of feedback like this, and it seems like we're on the right track. We're photographing people who do things for themselves, with their own hands, and it's inspiring others to do the same.

I mentioned all this to my wife Lesley today and she said "You've dialed back in." I'm back in touch with the building world and it's a new exciting phase for us. We've reestablished our network of builders, except this time around the internet has put us in touch with a much wider audience. It's great to be back in touch with builders and craftsmen.

Septic Systems 2006


I'm talking to a national magazine about writing an article on two aspects of septic systems in the US:
a) How small towns are being forced into overblown, overexpensive high-tech wastewater disposal systems by corrupt engineers and fat-fee-collecting bureaucratic officials.
b) What you can do if your septic system has failed. Simple relatively inexpensive fixes as opposed to engineer-mandated $30,000 fixes. Firstly, don't ask your local health officials what to do…

Micro Architecture


It looks like we will be publishing an English language edition of Micro Architecture, by Japanese publisher Kesaharu Imai of World Photo Press. Here's a review I wrote of it for Amazon a few years ago (the cover shown on Amazon doesn't do the book justice):
"Every architect should own this book. There is no other book like it. Be aware that most of the text is in Japanese, but It contains thousands of photos, as well as drawings, imaginative collages, and unique layout. It covers mostly small buildings - homes, barns, sheds, yurts, treehouses, tipis - and just about anything visual that caught the photographers' and editors' eyes. The layout is imaginative and stunning. The book makes the reader wonder how anyone could gather so much information, and then assemble it into a cohesive whole. In addition to architects, I'd recommend this book to builders, designers, artists, photographers, and anyone fascinated with the visual world. Unique and inspirational."
World Photo press has translated both Shelter and Home Work into Japanese and will do a Japanese version of Builders of the Northwest Coast when we get it done.

Barefoot Architect


We have just finalized plans to publish a wonderful book from Brazil, originally in Portuguese and just translated into English, called The Barefoot Architect, by Johan van Lengen. It reminds me of Ken Kern's ground-breaking do-it-yourself book of the '60s, The Owner-Built Home. It shows you how to do your own design, how to build, and has lots of stuff for "underdeveloped countries," as they say, or in other words how to build where there's no plywood or nail guns or double-insulated windows or building codes, where you'll be working with materials like adobe and bamboo. Drawings are clear and simple, great info on natural cooling, a great resource for building with low-cost (and natural) materials.