This was a stressful month for reading. School has been crazy as we’ve been in the midst of standardized testing and students become frazzled anytime something out of the ordinary happens. Also, the kid has been high maintenance, and, in general, it’s just been busy. May should be laid back as school winds to a close. I’d like to read a bunch in the upcoming month. We’ll see.
1. Origins by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith (4.5/5) – Somehow, I recently developed a Tyson fixation. He’s an excellent writer, especially for a scientist, and very good at making complex concepts accessible. My only real beef with this book is that I already knew a lot of what they talked about because of my research for Lonely Human Atoms. That’s not a failing on the part of the authors, but it did leave me slightly bored during parts. I think, though, that this is just about the best book you can read for an intro into what we currently know about how we got here. A very nice book.
2. Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson (5.0/5) – I told you about the Tyson fixation. This book was really excellent, though. It is a collection of (slightly revised) columns he wrote for Nature arranged by subject matter into more-or-less coherent sections. I especially recommend the one on intelligent design vs. stupid design. I cannot recall reading a better or more amusing take down of creationism.
3. Home by Marilynne Robinson (5.0/5) – Wonderful book. So little happens, but it happens in such an interesting way. It’s impossible not to feel that we are getting to know the characters exactly as they get to know each other. It does a reasonably good job of illustrating how I felt growing up in a small town, something rare in my reading experience. Additionally, this is a book utterly free of irony when irony has become a too common substitute for genuine insight in current fiction. A really beautiful book.
4. Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates (2.0/5) – I did NOT like this book even a little bit. I finished it only because it was so short. If I have not yet made clear my disdain for the type of post-modern literature that utterly disregards the reader, let me do so now. This is a book filled with inhuman characters and told my a narrator constantly explaining why this book is not very good or interesting (I feel compelled to digress because I am not ready for the story to end yet!). The moment where Oates completely lost me was when the narrator imagines the reviews the book he is currently writing will get. This book gets a 2 only because I have no doubt that Oates did exactly what she wanted to do. If this is your thing, read it. If not, stay far, far away.
5. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (4.0/5) – This book is a wonderful masterpiece, but the world is so dark and I was so glad to escape from it, that I can’t give it a 5. I feel contempt (not hatred) for all the characters in this book. They seem mostly to believe they have either no control or complete control. The central character somehow manages to believe both at once. That is, he takes no action, but believes everything is his fault. Still, Updike is a master and this is an accurate reflection of the worst parts of being human. Stuff that most of us try to ignore. It is this that makes it all feel so uncomfortable.
Winter/Spring Book Queue Update:
America America by Ethan Canin The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic Rabbit, Redux by John Updike Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku Great Plains by Ian Frazier So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Dune by Frank Herbert
One of Ours by Willa Cather