By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Tue, October 30 2007 - 7:48 am
March 16, 2008
It has occurred to me that maybe I was too hard on Sheri S. Tepper's Gate to Women's Country because if creepy was what she was trying to be, she certainly succeeded. I guess part of the reason I had a little trouble with it is that if it is going to be about a situation with no growth or change, I would like it to be SHORTER, like 1984 and Animal Farm. And I guess one thing that spooks me about that kind of literature is that I am beginning to believe that people read it and actually think, "Wow! Way cool! What a great idea! So that's how we can...."
After all, Nicholas Freeling said a decade ago (at least!) that 1984 was already here! (Gee, now I'm thinking maybe he must have said that before 1984?!?)
But, gotta confess, Gate to Women's Country is thought provoking. And that is good for something, in my introspective book!
A book that I am really enthusiastic about is The Potting-Shed Papers by Charles Elliott. I read another plant book a year or so ago that drew heavily on these essays by Charles Elliott, so it almost feels like a reread. Well, maybe my memory is faulty and it is! (One reason I write these pages - now I have a book-list!)
Anyway, his essays range from the intensely personal (well, I mean in a gardening sort of way, like his essay about machines) to ones with real historical value. How can anyone not want to know about the attempts of Westerners to grow the tree that produces quinine (cure for malaria), which really illustrates why the efficacy of even genuine medications was uneven and could give rise to so many denunciations of quackery?
Only one note of self-revelation makes you wonder about the humor and humanity of this author, who writes so wittily and knowledgably about the plant kingdom. What is it? I won't tell - you'll have to read the book!
March 8, 2008
Sheri S. Tepper's Gate to Women's Country is a book I got for Christmas that, quite frankly, I didn't much want to read. Sexism, maybe? Against my own sex?
Well, having read it may have made me more so. It is an interesting book, and I guess reading it was probably good for my mind. I tend to steer away from fantasies and fantasy culture books. The cultures described in this book are certainly full of challenging ideas and arrangements, but I'm not sure they are worth spending so much time on.
The women in this book are the ones in control, and in spite of their lip service to humanity and life values their society is a sick one, based on lies and secrets and control of the bodies' basic functions unimaginable (thank the founding fathers!) in our country today.
At one point I had hope for the message of the book, thinking that the men and women in it, might, through the heroine and her lover, manage to create a more open and healthy society. It was not to be.
I tremble at the effect of this book on men already paranoid about and angry with women, because it could make them more so, (if they take it seriously at all!)
But we are safe from that, because I don't think many men would pick it up at all.
Interesting, but thumbs down. Creepy.
March 1, 2008
When I took Pig Boy's Wicked Bird by Doug Crandell home from the Valparaiso Book Sale Room I'd never heard of it. I thought it was fiction and expected it would be kind of surrealistic.
Well, it is, really, even though it is a memoir. Supposedly, although after he tells about the yarns he spins to strangers about his earless hog my tongue has gotten stuck between my teeth (in my cheek, that is.)
I also didn't realize when I took it home that it was about North-eastern Indiana, the other side of the state from Valpo, which is an hour from Chicago.
But it rings true, even though I am a small-town girl, not a farm girl, and I left for thirty years three years before this book takes place in 1976.
It took me a while to get into it. The first 100 pages were fleshy and earthy and bizarre. Reminded me a lot about how I felt in the tub with all three of my under-six offspring. Kind of buried under the reality of reproduction.
You may learn more about pigs than you want to. Especially about the unpleasant things a pig farmer has to put them through. But after reading successful (ultimately, like after twenty years of backbreaking dawn to dusk work!) farm stories about the nineteenth century it is good to get an up-close-and-personal picture of what farmers have had to go through in the last part of the twentieth century. Crandell's descriptions of other de-farmed young men universalize his experience and help give this small town girl some insight into what the few farm kids I was acquainted with were living through.
It is on the whole well-written. It is self-deprecating, humorous, and grindingly depressing at times. Oh, and did I forget to mention that this family is disfunctional? Well, he explains partly why, but....
If you want a nice farm story to give your kids - one in which the dog is nice and so is everyone else - give them something else to read!
The book is interesting, and very real. I like it, mostly. Why do I feel like there is something missing? Maybe more time spent describing the beauty of the life he claims to to be sorry he lost?
The use of the "wicked bird" in the title is a little misleading. Crandell should have used it more in the book. Or maybe should have flipped it at us in a photo!
(I just found out it is National Pig Day! Isn't that appropriate!)
February 28, 2008
Last time I went to the public library I got two novels by Jane Haddom. I was really quite enthusiastic about Glass Houses, but I'm a little less so about this one, Hardscrabble Road. Do her characters always rant so much (internally)? It just seems more strident and voluminous in this mystery than usual, if they do. Maybe reading two of her books almost back to back has sensitized me. Maybe because this novel is more politically oriented than some, since its main trouble-maker is a celebrity shock-jock, a professional ranter. Maybe rants breed rants.
The book is interesting. It has some interesting ideas, which of course appeal to me. Tell them to you? No, I think that it is worth reading. Very colorful, as usual. (Although maybe she is just a little deceitful in her setting out of red herrings. Oh well, we fiction readers are fair game!)
I just think - well, too bad the almost-loss of the novel Jane Haddam described in the acknowledgement didn't result in a little selective deletion. A little beneficial starvation. So the mytery plot doesn't almost get lost in all the rhetoric.
February 24, 2008
Ever read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (published in 1925)? I read it in high school and never forgot it. Take that moral dilemma and transport it to the boundary between the Hopi and Najavo Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Give it a different slant or two (at least!) and you have a completely new story that is based on something way less hackneyed than love gone askew (although that is present, too.)
I think I read The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman years ago. I'm sure I thought it was good, but I must have been distracted by work, new living arrangements, coming-and-going, who knows what, because I didn't put a flag in my brain, waving, "Good one! Good one!" Maybe I was just doing some escape reading.
This one is not good escape reading. It requires too much attention for that, and deals too much with difficult moral dilemmas and difficult cultural clashes. Maybe I had enough trouble following some of the details, being distracted, that I was confused, so I forgot about it.
(General Rumillumination advice. When confused, do not forget about it! Track it down! Well, but carefully!)
This time around I have my flag waving in the cerebral winds rushing from one ear to the other, "Good one! Good one! Maybe even Great one! Great one!"
Read it! Fits cozy rules, I think, but NOT a cosy! (About as coszy, maybe, as two spellings for cozsy in the same sentence! Talk about cultural clashes!)
Everything that makes every good mystery good for men or women, plus good sere desert atmosphere!
C'mon, read it! Or go visit Black Mesa and Window Rock, and then read it! Remember to take your binoculars!
February 21, 2008
Well, I have just read a mystery by Gyles Brandreth (cool name - if it's real!) who is a really good-looking and (I am sure) erudite man. His picture makes him look sensitive, and perhaps, easily hurt. So I hate to give him a tepid review.
But there it is. All the hype and high praise on the covers notwithstanding, I just really was not that gripped by it.
Maybe it was the power of the quote by Wordsworth on the first page of the text. (See my Rumillumination for today for that!) That knocked my socks off. Maybe any text would have trouble living up to the drama of those words.
Maybe it would have been nice to feel that Bandreth tried. If I could feel that he even tried to evoke the feelings that those three lines evoked in me, I could summon up more enthusiasm.
I thought I recognized many of Oscar Wilde's words. I enjoyed the witticisms. I realize from reading the end of this book that a good deal of historical research went into writing it.
But it felt, pretty much all the way through, like a pastiche. One kind of on the order of a parfait.
Lots of yummy layers, but Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance promises much more than it delivers.
February 18, 2008
I'm whiling away pretty much the rest of February with escape fiction, I think. Just finished Jane Haddam's (Orania Papazoglou's) Glass Houses and I'm enjoying, I guess, the masochistic pleasure of reading about a horrid (everybody's instincts tell them to dislike her on sight!) British journalist who goes on and on about how stupid all we Americans are; an investigator, Gregor Demarkian, who tries never to indulge in introspection (those of you who read my Rumilluminations realize this is tantamount to denying that my Queendom is worth visiting!); and his love, Bennis, a fantasy writer who seems self-indulgent to a point incomprehensible and maddening to us average citizens who have to go to work every day. (Well, I used to!)
It is a great book though, full of vivid characterizations and descriptions of Philadelphia neighborhoods. There is a mess of murders in the city being "investigated" by a couple of disfunctional detectives and.... well, I don't want to ruin it for you!
In a way, the whole book is a study in psychological disfunction! Really interesting, actually. (Well, to me, the Queen of Introspection!)
Why hasn't anybody put Gregor Devorkian and Bennis onto film? (Or have they?) This one would make a great movie!
(Possibly a confusing one, though!)
February 16, 2008
When I visited my son at Christmas he put Conrad Hilton's autobiography Be My Guest into my hands.
I was inclined to read it because Hilton looks so genial in the picture on the cover. And I love to be his guest! If only I didn't have to pay!
The book is a real treat. For one thing, Hilton was born in New Mexico Territory and grew up there and in New Mexico State (same place), learning the retail trade from his father. He describes his dealings with the Spanish hacienda owners as being the height of graciousness and hospitality, and those experiences must have stood him in good stead when he was going into the hotel business.
Of course, since I am an American, I love a success story, and this is a great one!
But furthermore, it is positively eery to read the end of this book. Although this part of the book is too lengthy and sententious, Hilton's words must have been oft-repeated, because some of them have wound their way into my Rumilluminations. I thought they were my ideas! So of course I think they are great!
Oh well, they are great and worth repeating. Too bad spree killers haven't read them or taken heart from reading that kind of stuff. (Not to mention anyone who decides to take a violently negative path in life!)
Hilton took enough financial risks to get anyone's heart pumping. This book is, unlikely as it seems, a thriller! Yet he always had a positive goal in mind.
The beginning of the book has a wonderful story about an occurrence that happens to his father that I swear I have seen on film. Not at all unlikely! (Am I imaging that he says a film character or two was modelled after his father? Maybe after stories he told about his father! Oh well, I have been reading the book for the past two months, so I'm already unsure of my memory.)
It doesn't matter! If that story isn't in a movie, it ought to be! Make a movie about Hilton! Put that scene in it! Or make it about his dad! (Has it already been done?)
Read the book! Many of his achievements now appear as mixed blessings to us fifty years later, but it is very lively and inspiring! He falls at times into the patronizing attitudes he tries to deplore, but he is obviously a generous and ecumenical soul.
Hilton lived through the Great Depression and managed to survive it and regain a firm financial footing. His relationship with his mother is sweet!
I hope that is why my son gave me the book!
February 14, 2008
Fed up with February grays I went to the library a few days ago and relapsed into light-reading mystery mode.
I looked to see if there was a later Janet Evanovich novel than I have already read, though I knew it was an exercise in futility. A later one wouldn't be on the shelf! It would still be on hold by one hundred people!
I did find an in-between-the numbers Stephanie Plum book called, appropriately, Plum Lovin' so I took a chance on it. It was about Valentine's Day and everything! (Of course, Stephanie had to work, and part of her chores included playing cupid!)
I was a little put off by yet another wanna-be lover who could appear and disappear at will (kinda) and I got the feeling she was too. But I got over it (kinda). It is a fast, easy read and funny of course!
Averse to eating sweets today because of a New Year's Resolution to diet? Didn't get any chocolates for yourself and were overly optimistic about your chances of getting some from someone else?
Pick up this book! It's fluffy and entertaining and reading it lasts way longer than eating a bonbon! (Not one calorie and the laughs are good for your abs!)
February 13, 2008
I finally finished The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. Can we figure out a way to make certain books required reading for everyone? As far as I am concerned, even with my limited comprehension about what he is saying, I feel that I at least have been exposed to what is going on in physics.
I'm trying not to beat myself up for not having a more crystalline understanding of what, by the end of the book, Greene was calling "string/M-theory." I understand enough to be convinced that anyone who really wants to know the nature of our physical reality matrix wants to know this stuff!
Thank, you! Thank you! I don't believe this stuff could be any more understandable to "the man on the street" than Greene has made it. This is one book I intend to read again, and maybe next time I'll actually read all the notes!
February 10, 2008
I have been thinking about Brian Greene's analogy about different men thinking they have different substances. One of them has a hard, cold translucent substance that you can chip. Another has a liquid, clear one that can be poured. But it turns out that both of them are the same stuff - that is, H20, of course.
We acknowledge one non-spatial dimension, time. Why don't we consider temperature a dimension? Just as a plant evolves through time, it responds differently at different temperatures. So why don't we consider temperature a dimension?
For me, personally, temperature is of more immediate importance to me than time! In fact, Einstein himself used sitting on a hot stove as one element in a very vivid description of the theory of relativity! He gave temperature the power to make time almost stand still! If we freeze to death, it certainly does for us! (As far as life and organism as we normally experience it.)
So what about temperature? Doesn't it deserve dimensionality?
I had already started wondering about this when Greene actually mentioned temperature, in his discussion about black holes. How exciting! Where is he taking us in his book, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory ?
February 9, 2008
Just for the record, I just finished Chapter 12 of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. Turns out, our universe has ten spatial dimensions and one time dimension. Okay!
Oh, and by the way, string theory isn't really a good name anymore because it turns out that our ultimate physical entities can be "membranes" of any number of other dimensions (including p-branes - who says physicists don't have a sense of humor?)
There is a new over-arching M-theory that takes care of all the former string theories, supergravity, and I don't remember what all! It is really exciting, isn't it?
Too bad my puny little three-dimensional (four counting the very long time it seems to take me to try to process this stuff) has so much trouble grappling with Greene's ideas! I so like to (blush) visualize!
But Greene does his best to give us imaginable analogies, and I think he does a pretty good job!
I love the way science is always resolving and reconciling formerly opposite points of view. Newton and Hook, proponents of various string (er, brane theories to be more "democratic" if possibly scientifically anachronistic about it) relax! You were all right! Stop the fighting, already!
Greene has fun speculating exactly where on the M-theory figure we reside. Here's my hypothesis! The Church and Science of the Middle Ages were right! We are precisely in the middle of the universe, just like they thought!
Especially me. I think the universe revolves, so to speak, around me. Or, at least, that's sure what it looks like from my point of view!
February 5, 2008
Just finished Chapter 10 of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. Pant, pant, gasp, gasp!
Finally Greene enters the story with discoveries of his own (and fellow physicists'.) Actually I say finally but I really did not necessarily expect this. This has been rough reading for me and I fairly lunged at the paragraph that begins, "In the fall of l987, I joined the physics department at Harvard...." Finally, something I could easily understand!
But not for long. Greene's et al.'s discovery has to do with the circular dimensional models of string theory. Their idea was that models with the same number of holes could act physically identically. So some models are more mathematically accessible than their symmetrical counterparts. He gives an arithmetical analogy.
I thought of a good visual analogy for this, I think. I like it because it also contains symmetry. Imagine yourself in front of a mirror. Now imagine yourself trying to brush your hair using the mirror image. Impossible. But brushing your own hair - why that is do-able! I guess the difference between trying to use mathematics with relation to the two different versions of one Calabi-Yau is like that. One - effectively impossible - the other relatively easy! Pretty cool, huh? A great discovery!
Now, if only I could understand it!
January 31, 2008
To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession, by Dan Koeppel is appealing to me for many reasons. My daughter gave it to me for Christmas because she knows I used to go bird-watching a lot. (I kind of gave it up with children, because having a baby in the backpack does not make for good focus! And later on the binoculars got broken.)
My mother first brought my attention to birds and named them for us kids. I started watching birds using an identification guide in college, when I saw a ruby-crowned kinglet in a conifer outside the window of my third-floor dorm room. He was so charming I immediately went to my college bookstore to see if they had a book about birds. They did, and I was hooked.
This book reminds me of the joys of bird-watching. I did a little listing during and after I took an ornithology class, but not with any seriousness. Reading about people who have a true obsession with listing birds was really fascinating! The descriptions of the birds are lively and evoke some memories of my own. A brown thrasher, although not my introductory bird, was definitely an exciting thing to see even though I only got a partial view! I am definitely inspired by this book to start bird-watching again. Maybe even listing - a little.
But To See Every Bird on Earth has other charms. It is a personal memoir as well as a story about the author's father. Dan Koeppel talks candidly and humanly about parental problems and failures, giving his and his father's story a relevance to all humans that it might not attain through birds alone.
He relates the "lumpers and splitters" dichotomy as if it originated in the bird world, although that is not my memory of it when I first heard the terms in 1965 or so in college. Maybe that is where it first arose. Being more of a lumper (I think in compensation for being so much a splitter that there ends up being only one item in each of my categories! I end up going, "Oh well," and throwing everything back in one pile!) than a splitter, all that increasingly overwhelming technical stuff would turn me off listing in a big way.
But it's a great book. Congratulations, Dan Koeppel! Now to go find my dad's binoculars....
January 29, 2008
It turns out that the "super" in superstring theory comes from the concept of supersymmetry, which wasn't incorporated into string theory until after Veneziano formulated it for the simple reason that it hadn't been invented yet. (If these theories are correct, wouldn't the correct word be "perceived?" Or is all this so far beyond our ordinary perceptions that we can't even use the word any more? Even for indirect observations?)
Yes, you've guessed it, I'm still reading The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene.
To tell the truth, once I've finished one chapter and begun the next, it is hard for me to remember the coolest things in the last one! But the idea of supersymmetry is pretty cool, because it really states that the universe does have a kind of physical and aesthetic symmetry to it. It is just a matter of discovering it. Of course, some of us like asymmetry, so in this case we would have been the losers. But I'll have to read the book again to remind myself of all the tachyonic elements involved. Ha ha!
This book may have been a best-seller, but it is one thing to buy a book and quite something else to read it! I wonder how many people really have?
At any rate, through the charged sub-ultra-electronmicroscopic fog surrounding the strings of my brain, I'm enjoying it!
Chapter 8 deals with other dimensions and my enthusiasm for the idea is somewhat quashed by the knowledge that they are very, very tiny curled-up ones. This is not so far-out an idea as it seems. Evidently the year my parents were born, a scientist named Kaluza did some of Einstein's equations postulating another dimension in addition to the three space and one time dimensions Newtonian physics deals with, and came up with the same formulas that Maxwell had used in the 1880's to describe the electromagnetic force!
Nothing makes you feel so up-to-date as reading a theory put forth two life-times ago as something new! I comfort myself, however, with the knowledge that it took even Einstein a couple of years to appreciate Kaluza's ideas! His ideas could not really take hold at the time because everybody was busy pursuing quantum theory, and it wasn't until they had learned bunches about subatomic particles that they could begin to even evaluate the possible reality of his assertions.
As it turns out, Kaluza was too modest. There really have to be nine or ten dimensions! And some of them might be dimensions of time! I mean, if supersymmetry exists, shouldn't there be five of each? (Just a smart-alec guess!)
Too exciting for words!
If I have mis-paraphrased Greene's words (definitely a possibility) the responsibility is totally mine. And if you think that I'm really off base here, well read the book yourself!
I dare you!
January 27, 2008
I'm enjoying the pleasant mental sensation of beating my head against the wall induced by The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. Why, I haven't felt like this since I tried to take biochemistry without having taken calculus!
But really, if you enjoy a challenge, try reading this book. The author really has tried to make physics comprehensible, in a very Einsteinian story-telling example-giving kind of way.
I have just finished Chapter Six, which, I am delighted to report, makes the chaotic consequences of Max Plank's Quantum Theory at very small scales moot! Thank the elegant universe, because the distortions called for would have resulted in infinite values for something-or-other and we all know that couldn't be, because we exist! (Or some such.)
But really, string theory smooths out the existence of such small scales because even one-dimensional strings (well, they don't always have to be one-dimensional - more about that in Chapters 12 and 13, we're told (a little carrot!)) basic building blocks of the universe are not small enough to give us information (by bouncing off stuff at that level) that those levels of quantum "reality" even exist.
The story of why this is true is very interesting and convincing, but since it took Greene pages to explain it, I'm not going to try to do it here! All I can say is it kind of reminds me of water, which contracts smaller and smaller as it gets closer to freezing, and then voila! reverses itself and expands.
(This seems to be something that happens often in nature - makes the study of limits very enticing. Reminds me also of the straw that broke the camel's back (psychologically speaking) and yin/yang symbolism and asymptotes! Stuff like that!
Like to get your mind blown? No illegal drugs involved! Read the book! It should be required reading for citizens of the world! (Why should I suffer alone? "Everybody must get stoned!") (Boy, this really is taking me back to my college days....
January 25, 2008
The problem with Newton's worldview and physics is that they didn't describe the behavior of very small particles accurately. The problem with the equations of quantum mechanics, if I understand correctly, is that they didn't really have a place for gravity.
Me neither. The older I get, the less place and/or understanding I have for gravity, ha! ha!
Who needs it? But Einstein, though not a completely grave man, spent the second part of his life beating his head against the wall trying to find a unifying theory that would explain both Newtonian and quantum physics.
Now that I have reached Chapter 6 of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene I am happy to report that the physicists can now explain (kind of) the behavior of gravitons, those little particles that are responsible for gravity.
Greene talks about the discoveries of two late-twentieth century physicists "trickling down to first-year graduate students." What about the rest of us? The more I read this book, the more disappointed I am in our educational system here in the U.S.
I realize that the mathematics involved in these physical calculations must be beyond-belief esoteric and difficult. I also understand that the mathematics inform the hypotheses, and vice-versa.
What I can't understand is, why weren't we as students (my generation, I'm talking about - I don't know what they are doing now) started learning about ordinary normal Newtonian physics when we were in grade school? After all, we knew how to play catch, for goodness' sake! A little exposure to the word "velocity" wouldn't have hurt!
Margaret Meade believed that teaching arithmetic was injurious to young minds - they ought to start with algebra. Maybe she was right! And I think maybe high school is way too late to start teaching physics!
There is really no reason why all this ancient history of the theory of relativity and such should seem so new and incomprehensible! Could it be the resistance of the Christian right to all this science? If so, what about the separation of church and state? Are whole generations of us doomed to be physical idiots (you get what I mean!) because some people believe that the science that informs the technology that we have become downright dependent on threatens their faith?
Oops, I have slid right into Rumilluminations mode! Sorry! Read this book so I'll have someone to talk to about it!
January 24, 2008
More wonderments and disillusionments from The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene.
I remember reading at Shimer College about Newton's particulate theory of light, and Hooke's wave theory. Then we learned (ta-da!) about the Schroedinger equation, which combines the two theories. Well, I thought that was just wonderful! They were both right!
I might even think that his wonderful discovery is the basis for my both/and philosophy, but my choosing four desserts at that San Francisco cafeteria when I was five years old might tend to undermine that theory!
So they were both right - Newton and Hooke. Light has characteristics of both particles and waves, and Schroedinger's equation correctly describes (and predicts) much about small particles. It turns out, though, that before I was even born physicists knew that it didn't cover all circumstances.
Well, I do remember learning something in college about physics dealing mainly in probabilities (even had fun writing a paper about it. Only got a C on it, though. I heard that my teacher said I still hadn't lost my innocence (along with everyone else in 1927, presumably, years before I (or my teacher, for that matter) was born.))
One cool thing that Greene talks about in this book is that nothing in nature handles constriction in space very well. Even a small particle, if put in a restricted space, gets a little crazy.
Cool, huh? Claustrophobia is normal! Nothing likes to be cornered!
Gee, I guess if you want a more technical or descriptive explanation of that fact you'll have to read the book!
January 23, 2008
I picked up The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor to read as fast as I could for our Valparaiso Library Book Club. When all I heard was the title, I thought it might be some interesting cultural feng shui thing.
When I learned it was about Alice and Wonderland, I was a little disappointed. Wonderland is old stomping grounds compared to China.
Then I started to read it. A juvenile book for an adult book club! I was irritated, and could barely get through the first thirty-six pages or so, although I was amused by General Doppelganger. Then there was enough drama and adventure and interesting travel techniques to keep me reading, although I am far from saying it had me hooked.
For children? I guess it is okay reading. But it talks a lot about Black Imagination and White Imagination, and if imagination about how to get more power and have more creative war instruments and weapons is Black Imagination, then I am afraid this book is more about Black Imagination than White Imagination. Black Imagination paying lip service to White imagination, if you will.
The book is very imaginative, though! It is the first of a trilogy and I'm interested in seeing what happens with the Heart Crystal since the Queen - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you even if it is a book for juveniles.
As for values and dealing with the problems of life, I would like to say to Mr. Beddor that there are times when your real life feels like a construct and you can put a fake self in there to live it, but people know! They can feel it! And so I'm kind of wondering where you are going with that. I'm wondering if you will have to deal with that kind of issue in your next volumes.
So maybe I am, reluctantly and under protest, hooked.
January 22, 2008
Months ago I started reading The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene.
It was tough going for me, whose least favorite course in high school was probably physics. Now I'm kind of mad at my high school physics teacher. Maybe he gave us the caveat that high school physics is all Newtonian physics and that all kinds of stuff had happened since then, but I sure don't remember hearing about it! I remember calculations about speed and velocity and other things that held no interest for me.
We could have been having so much fun! And maybe, had they taught us something about the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics when I was in high school, I might have been a lot more interested in space and time when I was in college.
Okay, maybe they tried and I just didn't have ears to hear. But I don't think so! For me, when I was exposed to the equation about mass and energy it just hovered on the board in front of me in a vacuum. The teacher must have talked about it, but somehow I didn't get the background I needed for even a rudimentary understanding. (I strongly suspect the teacher didn't understand it either!)
I remember hearing people all over talking about time as "another dimension" but I never got it that they meant it literally! That is, not in a way you can see, but physically! I don't remember hearing that "Einstein proclaimed that all objects in the universe are always traveling through spacetime at one fixed speed - that of light."
That I don't remember hearing. I think I would have remembered that! Greene says here, "We are presently talking about an object's combined speed through all four dimensions - three space and one time - and it is the object's speed in this generalized sense that is equal to that of light."
I also don't remember hearing anything about space and time warping each other. That would have been so cool!
So I'm mad at my high school physics teacher.
More later! That was only on page 50 and now I'm on page 116, with more to say about stuff in between!
January 19, 2008
The other day I encountered a slim volume by N. Scott Momaday that I don't remember bringing into my room. It is The Way to Rainy Mountain, illustrated by his son Al. I read House Made of Dawn years ago and liked it quite a bit, but I don't ever remember seeing another novel by Momaday. (Truth to tell I don't remember much about the one I did read. May be worth a revisit!)
This little book is a rather strange hodgepodge. It talks about a sort of pilgrimage, but deals not at all with the mechanics of the trip. I assume Momaday drove, and maybe he does not want to dilute the experience of history and nature with modern day technology.
It really is more a book of poetry than anything else, even though most of it isn't in poetic form. It is comprised of family narrative, legend, tribal myth and a little natural science.
A sometimes bizarre (the more I think about it, the more I think it is one of the most bizarre little books I have ever read!) sometimes charming and affecting collection.
January 17, 2008
While on vacation I started Jane Haddam's Fountain of Death, not the first of her mysteries I have read. I think I got out of the habit of looking for her stuff, maybe because the library did not have much, maybe because Gregor's stuff got to me. But this one reminds me of why I like Jane Haddam.
When my kids were in school there were "just say no" (to drugs) clubs and I did not think they were smart because they put too much focus on something that should be at the periphery of a healthy life. (I mean, outside the periphery!) Emphasizing the negative just begs for argument. One paragraph in this book debunks the drug wars pretty effectively. (Including the preventive war of school clubs.)
Haddam's characters are lively and colorful. If the plot is improbable, who cares?
Does she ever dislike New Year's! This title has a double meaning beyond the obvious pun, I think.
January 12, 2008
Over and since the holidays I have read some books I just came across, including the Martha Grimes mystery The Five Bells and Bladebone that I have already read.
It is as entertaining as all her others. Melrose Plant is in fine form. The only problem I have with this one is one I have with all impersonation (in this case, possible impersonation) tales. I just can't believe them. Oh, I can believe that someone can successfully impersonate a person missing for thirty years from the age of three.
But an adult impersonating another adult almost immediately with living and intimate relatives nearby?
No. And not because of mannerisms or speech style, but because of the overall "feel" of the person (which may be made up from such details, but too many to fake - including physical ways of moving). I believe that the instant response of a person confronted with a doppelganger, if he/she ever really knew them, would be "no."
But hey, it's a mystery, and a Martha Grimes one! A Richard Jury one!
(It seems to me that it might have been a Richard Jury mystery in which he and a mother encounter her child and it's kidnapper on a beach. Can anyone tell me which mystery that is, or if they recognize it but it is by another author? I would like to read that one again, too!)
January 9, 2008
A book I read while at my sister's house was a mystery set in Japan by James Melville called Go Gently, Gaijin. I don't have the book with me to refer to now, but it was set in the city of Kobe and nearby communities. The book itself is pretty gentle, considering it is about solving violent deaths. A Japanese cozy, if you will, written by a person whom (I get the impression) has resided for years in Japan.
One organization mentioned in the book, the Takarazuka All-Girl Revue Company, puts on performances in which some of the women play males (a nice contrast to Elizabethan England when males played the female roles!) This organization exists in the real world and really puts on performances. A bit of local color I would like to see! I'm going to be on the lookout for more of Melville's novels!
P.S. "Gaijin" means "foreigner."
January 8, 2008
A couple of months ago I started a seemingly skinny Graham Greene book. Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party. Although I have always found his work interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining (and pleasantly stimulating to my wilder side) I really did not have high expectations of this one. The title sounds so political.
It's not. The time it has taken me to finish it notwithstanding, this is really a good book. (It was not lack of interest that made me put it down, but more pressing reading of books for book clubs and library due dates.)
Perhaps I put it down partly because it is so dark. This is definitely not a cozy book to comfort you on a cold rainy day. It is a book to depress you even if the weather is bright and balmy! It is about greed, and although I don't want to ruin it for you, creates a lot of its suspense by foreshadowing and warnings, well hell even outright telling of bad things to come.
It is darkly vivid. I think I'll keep it!
January 6, 2008
I cannot believe that it has been a month since I have written about a book! Any book!
Well, I went on vacation and really vacated, only finishing Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes after I got back.
This is another really interesting book about electricity and some of the electrical giants that made it possible for me to sit here on a gray day in a bright room and write this stuff to be seen by you!
The differences in the talents of these three men are emphasized in this book. They were all inventors, but had very different foci and styles of operating. It is a fascinating story.
The fact that comes out in this book, (as in the others I wrote about last year!) that electricity, wireless, motion pictures, and other more recent developments in our technology have come about because of the efforts of THOUSANDS (at this point I should probably say MILLIONS!) of people!
All three of these wonder-men had trouble at one time or another getting the money they needed (wanted?) to develop their businesses and inventions. Who knows what other entertainments, study tools, and occupations we would have today if they had been given more support?
Not to mention those people today whose names we do not know because they can't find supporters!
At any rate, if you are interested in how our lives differ from those who lived 100 or 200 years before us, read this book! If you are interested in inspiration and genius, read this book! If you are interested in self-interest and altruism, read this book! If you are interested in electricity and interested in the magic of what has now become so mundane to us.... to echo a thought of the author's, have you ever really experienced night?
(Oh, by the way, judging from Jonnes' acknowledgments I am beginning to think that to write a non-fiction book these days takes as much cooperation from others as the development of an electric grid!)
(Lots of references to other biographies and picture and history books at the end, too!)
December 5, 2007
I have read every one of Janet Evanovitch's numbered Stephanie Plum novels. I have also read one or two of the others - one had only a paragraph or two of the humor which inspires these. The other I don't remember.
Truth to tell, the numbers one through twelve tend to run together in my mind. I could probably read them all with the same pleasure that I experienced the first time around.
Not this one - Lean Mean Thirteen. Don't get me wrong - I could read it over and over with pleasure. It is so funny.
But I don't think I could possibly ever forget this one - not this one with the taxidermist. It makes me want to go back and read the whole series over again. Why not? Jay Leno is all reruns these days and it is nice to go to bed chuckling about something!
I probably have plenty of time. I am one of those readers that make writers hate libraries. When I got on the waiting list to read this one, I think I was number 152 or something. On top of that, I had to go out of town and my mother and maybe my sister read it before I could get my hands on it!
In fact, why am I even writing about this book? The whole country should already have read it by now.
I hope Evanovich is planning to keep writing, because I think a Stephanie Plum novel every year or so has become a necessity for survival in the modern world! From descriptions of gun-toting grannies to laments about the cable company ("those fuckers!") Evanovich seems far-out, but maybe isn't!
(Just wait until you read about Coglin's "performance pieces!")
One caveat: my mother doesn't think this book is funny, so maybe someone over 85 might think twice before picking it up. (Honestly, I just think Mom's just jealous 'cause Stephanie's granny has so much fun!)
I'd better rush this copy back to the library. I wonder how many people are on the list now? I'll tell you in a P.S.!
November 28, 2007
The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos translated from the French by Pamela Morris is an incredibly introspective work. With all its soul-searchings, it reminds me of stuff I read long, long ago, and I confess I did not read it entirely without impatience.
It is gripping, though. The young priest's very passion, introspection, and sometimes very low opinion of himself do convince you that there is a real person here, even though this book is a novel.
I was tempted to think that some aspects of it were autobiographical (I bet to myself the author had been a soldier, and I was right.) Parts of it are very political, and though a character speaks of "these world wars" it was published in 1937. I guess the writing was on the wall already - Bernanos left France to live in South America in 1938.
Full of monologue, philosophy, and religion, this book still manages to be very touching. There are moments of high drama. No wonder it was made into a movie in 1955! I would love to see it.
The priest himself is a kind of person that drives me loopy. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I don't understand people who know so little how to take care of themselves in such basic ways. Still, certain observations he makes about his choice to be silent does resonate with experiences I have had. Not that he says there is anything wrong with behaving differently from him, but he does make a point or two that ring very true.
The ending is truly lovely. This is a wonderful book - why have I not heard of it before? Or the author?
It contained one literary touchstone for me besides the Bible - it mentions "Right You Are if You Think You Are" by, of all people, Pirandello. Not so amazing, I guess. They were European contemporaries.
November 22, 2007
Last night I finished our next Valparaiso Public Library book club selection, Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, the same author who wrote Devil in the White City.
This is written very much the same way. Larson juxtaposes the technological advancement of wireless (in particular, the experience of Marconi) and the crime and (well, I don't want to ruin it for you, lets just say a crime). For the first two-thirds of the book I found the jerking back and forth between the two stories wrenching (shows how well he writes, I guess!) partly because they seem so tenuously connected.
As the book progresses, however, the reader discovers there is much more connection and influence, the one upon the other (synergistically) than even we, with our knowledge of present-day media, could really expect!
Good book - it's hard to say which is more exciting, Marconi's struggles to build a business out of scientific discovery or a mystery which is really unfathomable!
I venture to guess both of these stories will stay with you.
November 13, 2007
I picked up Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy because my mother wanted to read it. I was mildly curious because I thought this book, which was about a crime perpetrated by an outsider against the Amish, was about a crime within the Amish community. I wanted to see how the community dealt with it, and how it was that such a crime from the "outer world" came to happen in the Amish community.
Well, as it turned out, the crime was perpetrated by an outsider to the community, so it didn't have the sociological implications I was interested in exploring. I am happy for the Amish for that.
The book is also about the subject of forgiveness, which I spend a lot of time pondering, partly because of the limits of my own powers to forgive. I expected to find it serious, and perhaps not my favorite kind of reading.
In actuality, I found it depressing.
I don't think authors Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher picked the best crime with which to illustrate the Amish power of forgiveness. The perpetrator was mentally unbalanced and committed suicide before he could be apprehended. It seems to me much harder to forgive someone who still lives and shows no remorse than someone who has just paid the ultimate price for his behavior.
The "forgiveness" extended by the towards the perpetrator's family, though explained away by the authors as an expression of "feeling sorry" for them and a reassurance that they would not seek vengeance, seems to me completely off the wall. It was not the perpetrator's family's fault that he did what he did. They had done nothing to forgive.
The authors' assumption that all the rest of the Christians of the country are more vengeful than the Amish also offends me. When Amy Biehl was killed in Africa, her parents traveled there on a mission of peace and forgiveness for the perpetrators. I personally have been shocked and dismayed by the words of bitterness and desire for vengeance coming out of the mouths of victims' families captured on news reports. I do not think these necessarily reflect the average citizen's feelings in the wake of violent crime. In fact, to me most interviews with victims' families sound more like the comments of the Amish.
I'm not trying to take away from the spirituality of the Amish. They are obviously very dedicated to a different way of life from mainstream America. I guess I just think more highly of the rest of us than the authors of this book do.
What I found particularly depressing about this book is the implicit oppression at the hands of the church of the people in these communities. I feel for the women who must submit to their husbands as the religious authorities in the home. (There might be something to that, maybe being the "leader" in that respect will lead them to behave better! But I don't really believe that).
I'm sure that the Amish life can be very beautiful, very spiritual, and very simple. I would not dream of trying to take it away from them, or urging them to leave it.
But the heaviness of that kind of spirituality depresses the hell out of me. (And I haven't even gotten to the problems that sometimes exist with abuse within the home and how the church deals (or fails to deal) with it! These were mentioned by the authors in passing.)
Having said all that, the discussions of forgiveness itself were interesting. What does forgiveness entail? How does forgiveness differ from pardon? What does it mean to forgive "seventy-times seven?" (I always have had problems with that one! I try not to hang around long enough to give anyone a chance to offend that many times!)
The value of a lot of forgiveness hinges on relationship and community. If the most important things are your already existing relationships and community, that kind of continuing forgiveness is very important. But I kind of think sanity and survival are sometimes more important than that kind of community.
Oh, and guys (I am addressing the authors) you don't have to be Amish to know about submitting to God's will and the good of the larger community.
But if you have to suppress yourself so much that you aren't even supposed to express opinions -
Well, that depresses the hell out of me.
(Damn! I think I was just in Rumilluminations mode!)
November 9, 2007
Our library book club selection for this coming week is AC/DC by Tom McNichol. It is only 189 pages but seems longer because the descriptions of the electrocutions of animals (and one human) make it really hard to pick up for a while.
In fact, I was so horrified by what I read of death by electrocution that I kind of regretted my nano story inspired by the description of Ben Franklin's "pleasure party" I read in this book. I am relieved now to know that there is only one state in the Union that electrocutes people without an alternative choice (death by injection). That state is Nebraska. From what I have read, I would rather be hanged. (Actually I am opposed to the death penalty and really upset that so many states still practice it!) The whole mess really makes me much more afraid of the people in power who decide these things!
But enough about electrocution. It unfortunately played a part in the AC/DC wars, but it is not the whole story by any means. There is more about human ingenuity and the varied personalities of the inventors involved in electricity, and it is a wonderful tale! I love especially that there is a place in the world for both AC and DC, which really makes these all-out battles seem silly.
As an epilogue, McNichol writes about other standards wars, and really tries (it seems to me) to persuade us that it really never is going to be a fight to the death. (Maybe seemingly, apparently, and temporarily, but not eternally!)
It was fun learning more about the enigmatic Tesla and his genius design. Westinghouse, a name I associated only with the company, is lauded for his own set of useful inventions. And Edison? What a character! But he really takes the cake when it comes to invention!
(I wonder, are films and the phonograph record examples of fractiles? Did Edison for some reason have some intuitive understanding of fractiles? And it is amazing to me that the phonograph preceded and partly inspired the movie camera! For me it seems like the ultimate mystery and magic! I get it, a little more than I used to, and yet...!)
November 4, 2007
Short Stories by Luigi Pirandello translated from the Italian by Lily Duplaix.
This is beautiful work. I have owned this book for probably thirty years. I don't know if I have hauled it around with me for all that time or left it at my parents' house.
It has resurfaced, and at first I thought I had never gotten around to reading it. The first story is so dark and difficult to read that I figured I just never got through the book.
As I progressed through the stories, however, some of them rang a bell. Others didn't ring a bell, exactly, just provided me with examples of the generosity of spirit and the folly of obsession that perhaps, even in the throes of my own obsessions and troubled times might (at some deep unconscious forgetful level) have helped keep me from drowning in them.
My first memories of exposure to Pirandello's work are of Six Characters in Search of an Author and Henry IV, two plays. They are really magical works, in a class by themselves. From them I would have put Pirandello in a much later timeframe than his actual one. He was born in 1865! He died in 1939! Incredible! He seems much more contemporary than that.
These stories are different. The Preface calls them naturalistic, I believe. Whatever they are, they evoke a whole world - even the possible sources and origins of the Italian mafia style of doing business! They are very simply and directly told. They are just beautiful, even the rough, harsh, cruel ones.
There are twenty-some stories in this book. Evidently Pirandello wrote hundreds. Wouldn't a complete set of Pirandello's work in English translation be a wonderful thing to see published! This book of mine is foxed and kind of nasty-looking. You are almost afraid to touch it. But like his stories and life itself, if you refrain from experiencing them out of fastidiousness, well, you deserve the boring life you've got!
(All jokes aside, though, you can get cleaner copies of this same paperback published in 1959 (the third printing in 1965) for $5.00. Such a deal for a work that will inform your whole life!)
October 30, 2007
Well, I let the book-chomping bookworm have the last word in my last Book-Butterfly section.
Lest you think I have not been reading, well I have been, a little, in between trying to suck up the last gorgeous beautiful days before winter sets in and my regression to bookwormdom.
And I am worried about our libraries. At a recent booksale at the Valparaiso Public Library I got a paper shopping-bag full of books for one dollar.
Three I have read so far are ex-library books.
Two were officially "mysteries."
One, Iced by Julie Robitaille is a pretty good read. The protagonist is at least a likeable someone who more or less lives in the real world. (Maybe too much, is art echoing life or vice versa in this book?) There are some fun twists and turns in the plot, here. Better book than many on the shelves right now.
Another, Wiseguys in Love by C. Clark Criscuolo really is not a mystery at all. It is very, very funny though. Why did no one read it for a whole year? (I am told that is what constitutes cause for dismissal from the status of book-in-residence on the library's shelves.)
Maybe these writers' names are just too difficult for us deadheads to remember easily. Maybe Julie Robitaille should call herself Julie Robb. And Criscuolo should call herself Three Cees! What's in a name? I don't know, but I do know that "rose" is one syllable! (Okay, in Italian, two. Same difference.)
The book that really fries me to see kicked out of the library bookshelves, though, is John Barth's On with the Story. I was introduced to John Barth when I read The End of the Road. Though very powerful, memorable, and sometimes funny, it was very sad and heavy for a young woman in her early twenties, and I did not look to read more by John Barth - for a while.
Then, when I was in Mexico on my honeymoon, I went to a bookstore and picked up The Sot-Weed Factor. It passed my open-the-book-and-read-a-random-paragraph don't-bore-me test, and I have read Barth ever since. Not faithfully or promptly, not always approvingly, but for the most part very interestedly.
(Re my don't-bore-me test - obviously I have been a little too slack in applying it since starting "Book Butterflies"! Too much addiction to genre instead of quality, maybe.)
On with the Story should have been a keeper. It is witty, beyond bright and often beyond me, which is a very delectable-at-all-times mystery! (Must date from those days sitting against a sunny wall trying to read Nancy Drew mysteries before I knew how to read!) The author/narrator/subject/whatever does come off as an awful snob, but then most writers have to be to keep their spirits up in a world that thinks it doesn't really need them!
At any rate, if you can't afford new books, go to your local library book sales! Your purchases there could become your good reading for the future and your "saves" could become the basis of a really high-quality lending library!
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