Thursday, April 8, 2010

Daina Taimina

Daina Taimina is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Cornell University.

Her latest book, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, won the 2009 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. Philip Stone, The Bookseller’s charts editor and prize administrator, said:
I think what won it for Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes is that, very simply, the title is completely bonkers. On the one hand you have the typically feminine, gentle and wooly world of needlework and on the other, the exciting but incredibly un-wooly world of hyperbolic geometry and negative curvature. In Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes the two worlds collide—in a captivating and quite breathtaking way.
Recently, I asked Taimina what she was reading. Her reply:
I grew up with books. When I was a little girl we lived in an apartment which was shared with several families. My parents were working and I was left home with a neighbor who kindly agreed to keep an eye on me. He was retired professor and to keep me occupied he taught me how to read at the age of 4. Since then I always have piles of books around me. Right now I have about 15 books on my desk and many more on a bookshelf which I have mentally labeled as "must reads."

The book I recently finished was Gilles Deleuze's The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1992). The reason I found this book (requested through Interlibrary Loan) was that somebody looking at my crocheted fiber forms told that they reminded her of this book. I was surprised to find passages in this book that indeed express some of the ideas I have created in crochet forms. For example: "It is because the Fold is always between two folds, and because between-two-folds seems to move about everywhere." This is exactly what happens in my hyperbolic planes.

The other book I am reading now is Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them (2010). I choose this book because on a back cover it was suggested as "one of the funniest books ever written about Russian literature." I am not finding it exactly funny but it is quite entertaining reading about the author's experiences with Russian literature which was previously unknown to her. The other plus of this book is that it is really lightweight and it is easy to carry it with me and read on a bus, waiting for appointments etc.

Today I brought home from Cornell campus store Geometric Folding Algorithms: linkages, origami, polyhedra by Erik D. Demaine & Joseph O'Rourke. I choose this book because the authors talk about some topics I have also written about and they discuss problems about the curvature; I do it with crochet, Eric Demaine creates amazing origami constructions. I became familiar with curved origami constructions (developed by Eric's father Martin Demaine) when visiting with Gisela Baurman's architecture students studio in Princeton University last fall - her students had created some wonderful pieces. I already read a chapter about them in this book.

I like reading before falling asleep. There is a pile of books next to my bed, and some of them are quite big. The reason is that I love reading cookbooks, particularly the ones with stories about different people and cultures in them. My recent reading is Aromas of Alepo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck. I like reading about traditions and what is served on each occasion. Sometimes recipes make me so hungry that I almost want to get out of bed and go to the kitchen to try the recipes out - wouldn't you want to try Date-filled Crescents or Candied Apricots with Pistachios? Cookbooks inspire not only my cooking: actually from these lavishly illustrated cookbooks I had an idea about my own book to be so richly illustrated.
Visit Daina Taimina's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue