Friday, November 02, 2007

The Reading Shelf Returns

Well, I finished last time stating that I was so far enjoying Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I have since finished the book and it was quite enjoyable. The second part of the book strays from the religious and philosophical and enters the realm of survivalism. Trent Reznor was not involved. The book ends with an interesting hook that ties to the parts together nicely, making the reader question just what has happened and if it really matters. The point made is that the net effects are more important than the some ultimate version of the truth.

Gilgamesh translated by Stephen Mitchell

This seemed to be a decent translation for all I know. There were a few weird poetic devices; some worked while others may have lost something either in translation or in the sands of time. Apparently, repetition was a large part of literature X thousand years ago. It was fairly short and was interesting to glimpse into ancient society, but otherwise a bit dull. I guess I can't claim it was unoriginal since we have nothing older to compare it to, but after millenia of progress in writing, I wasn't too engrossed by the work.

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson

This is a collection of essays written for the astronomy section of Natural History magazine. It was a fascinating read and quite amusing at times. Of particular interest is Tyson's special care explaining how we know what we know. I didn't realize how important spectroscopy was. Probably the most interesting to me was the life cycle of stars and how they turn out to be the matter factories for the universe. There's plenty of the light weight elements like hydrogen and helium and even some lithium, but the heavier stuff, including all those particles you call your body, are made by the thermonuclear fusion in the heart of a star. The bits of you are here because a star fused those lighter elements and eventually exploded seeding the universe with raw material to make plants and mountains and spleens. Would recommend. Would read again. And that's saying something for nonfiction.

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem has a way with words. His metaphors and descriptive passages are marvelous. I saw the things described this book clearer than any other book I can recall. I think I may have smelled some things. The story follows a young white boy growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood in a not-the-best-but-not-the-worst part of New York City. He has all the usual childish and adolescent problems in addition to growing up in a hostile environment. He frequently escapes into reading or comics or friendships, but the theme of the book is of the things we as humans do to cope with the solitude that ultimately defines us. Even when others are around, we're still alone. The protagonist fights his battles, weathers bullies, befriends the son of a soul singer, is given a ring that lets him fly (!) and continues to find problems once he grows up and leaves his past behind. He still escapes into his fortress, but is working on breaking down the walls. The ring seemed a bit out of place given the general lack of fantasy in the book, but did work well with the theme of comic books and was ultimately just a plot device. Quite an interesting and delightful book that made me look at myself and the world just a bit differently.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Another Pratchett novel down. I enjoyed this one more than average and am just now realizing that I have a hard time explaining what I like about Pratchett. It was the usual satire, this time with an all new cast. Vetinari plays a bigger part than usual, which made me happy. The wording and situations that pop up really just make this quite a delight to read. A few parts read a bit slow, but overall an enjoyable read.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

An African novel that first looks into the way of life of a certain tribe in Africa and then delves into how those people were affected by what is essentially imperialism. The white man arrives bearing new gods-well one god-but slavery is never touched. The writing was a bit terse in places, probably due to the original language. In other places there are colorful and unexpected metaphors and expressions. If nothing else, it was worth the read just to peer into a vastly different culture and its variances and resemblances to my own.

God's Debris by Scott Adams

This was a very short read. This was a very excellent read. Parts are extraordinarily insightful and fascinating. Other parts fall to Adams' purposeful use of Occam's Razor to explain the mysteries of the universe. He explains many of the mysteries of the universe through the eyes of an all knowing sage. Nothing's safe: religion, science, ethics, truth, math. Sometimes it works extremely well, and other times it just doesn't quite cut it. He claims that part of the purpose is to find the mistakes, but part of me thinks he says this just to cover a few loose ends. The important parts are obviously false and the trickier ones don't really matter in the overall scheme of the book. Overall, it was beautiful and contains some mind-blowing tenets. A clue to the books title, if you'll excuse the slight possible spoiler (look away now if you're worried!): What caused the big bang?

Finally, I've just started Making Money by Terry Pratchett, the sequel to Going Postal. As usual, it's great. Vetinari is setting up the Postmaster from the previous novel, a one-time criminal as the head of the mint. At first he protests with "But I've robbed banks." Vetinari responds, "Capital! You're familiar with the concept then. The only trick is that the money stays in the bank." I'm sure it will be fun, but I may start The Religion War by Scott Adams (sequel to God's Debris) before finishing this one. I used to read multiple books in parallel (but not simultaneously) but have gotten out of the habit due to general time constraints. Stay tuned for the next episode due sometime in the next couple months.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Maybe Gilgamesh just needs the Robert Zemeckis treatment. This seems to be the year for fantasy, what with Stardust, Beowulf, the Golden Compass, the Secret, etc.

I've heard some interesting theories as to the nature of the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu; elaboration probably isn't necessary.