July Book Log

July 31, 2010

Reading is the one thing I managed to do to my own satisfaction this month. A lot of short books, but still a pretty good month with some interesting material. It also looks like I’ll knock out my queue without much problem.

1. A Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser (5/5) – This book changed how I view the world. I believe that is the primary requirement for a great book, especially a great science book. I found his ideas and arguments so compelling that they are forcing me to revise substantial portions of my book (Lonely Human Atoms). Basically, he points out in very simple ways, how a lot of theoretical physics is making assumptions that aren’t based on much fact. I think everyone should at least read the first and last sections of this book.

2. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (5/5) – I haven’t rated this book as a five before. Certainly, there are flaws, but reading it this time, it struck me how very careful all the construction was and how real all the characters are. And the ending is so wonderful. It all unravels so believably. It feels like life.

3. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat (4/5) – Very wonderful stories. A few lack depth and a few hit the same note a little too often, but there is great writing here. I’m excited to read other things by her.

4. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender (3.5/5) – You know how sometimes a good band puts out a meh record and you can tell they were trying to be different for the sake of being different. That’s what a lot of these stories felt like. Some were really, really good and interesting and strange and beautiful and some were really, really neat. Sadly, some of the stories are just weird without having anything to say.

5. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (5/5) – Fuck. This book is wonderful. My favorite Hemingway so far. Fantastically honest. I don’t know what else. Go read it.

6. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (3/5) – This is the summer read for the school where I teach. Not my thing really, but okay as squishy memoirs go. The sentences are almost unfailingly simple and I think the writer thinks a little to much of himself, but he’s had an interesting life that was interesting to read about.

7. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell (4.5/5) – This was an impulse read. I read a few pages in a book store, didn’t buy it, but couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I got it out of the library. It was very good. The only reason I’m not giving it a five is that I wanted just a little more at the end. This is almost at the William Maxwell level in terms of telling a very complicated story with lots of characters very quickly while making sure that almost all the characters are still well-developed and interesting. A really neat book. I’m probably going to read everything else she has written.

Summer Book Queue Update:

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
A Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser
Pandora’s Seed: The Unforseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A World Lost by Wendell Berry
Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

On Being Overwhelmed

July 31, 2010

This summer has been insane. Here it is the 31st already and I have had two posts this month. There are a lot of things I want to write about, however, this month I have been focused on Lonely Human Atoms because, you know, I want to actually publish that. So that’s where pretty much all my writing has been.

At the moment, I just feel generally swamped. We’ve been painting, and there are various home maintenance/improvement jobs I need to tackle that I just haven’t gotten to. Also, school is starting in a few weeks.

Anyhoo, I keep promising there will be more, and I’m sure there will be, I just don’t know when. I will say that there will be a post about science literacy and probably one about writing and probably one about turning 30, but I don’t know when those will be.

I will say this, I am not really excited about the upcoming school year. Education is such a negative environment right now. I like teaching, but the curriculum is so handcuffing and your constantly told that test scores are all the matter, and it’s just all gotten to be a bit much. I can see this being the year when I decide if teaching is really something I want to do for the long haul. A lot depends on my writing classes.

Okay, I have book log to write. I suppose I’ll go do that. Two posts in one day would be quite a change.

I have had a realization recently: It is going to be a long time before I have a normal day again. You see, there was a time not so long ago when I did not have child. Even more recently, I had a child that slept 18 hours a day. Currently, however, I have a child who is mobile and awake for most of the same time as I am. This is a different ballgame.

In the time before, it was possible to have slow days. I could drink tea and peruse National Geographic on a Sunday morning. Weekdays, weekends, vacations, had a way of falling into a nice steady rhythm. Now, everything is fast and ever changing.

You are aware, when you become a parent that a lot of changes are going to happen very quickly. In this case, however, I think knowledge is very different from understanding. My daughter changes daily. One day she doesn’t understand anything, the next she knows the names of all her toys and clearly understands much more. It’s frightening.

It’s not a bad thing though. Not really. Sometimes it feels like a bad thing because all you want to do is read a book, but your child wants to play or is fussy or whatever and you tend to her and then it’s 11:30 and it’s like, “Jesus, where did the night go.” I’m not denying that part of the equation. Overall, however, it’s really very cool. As I type this, I have this little person running around. She is playing with a small tin. She communicates with me. She asks for things. She brings me things. She has likes and dislikes. And she’s only going to get more complicated and more interesting. Tomorrow, she will understand something that she does not understand today. Neat.

What I’m just figuring out, and what, I think, the last six months or so have been about figuring out, is that I am not going to be able to set a schedule like I did before. I’m going to have to take time as it comes. I can’t think, “Tonight, I am going to blog and then read.” Rather, I have to be aware of when time makes itself available. Because it is still important to be an actual person beyond my daughter. Because I am a better, happier person when I have had time to read books and work on my book and talk to my wife and watch movies on the couch with her.

I can do all these things, I just can’t do them on a schedule. Simone has serious and important needs right now, she has a lot of things she’s doing and even more that she wants to do. And she, does not work on a schedule.

June Book Log

July 1, 2010

Well, apparently, I was being overly optimistic in thinking that June would be a big reading month. A week of professional development (which was very useful for a change), buying a house, packing, and unpacking turned out to be quite the time suck. Anyway, I’m expecting big things for July, but we’ll see. Lately, things have a way of happening. I am hoping that, for the next six weeks, they don’t.

1. One of Ours by Willa Cather (4.5/5) – This won the Pulitzer about a million years ago, and I understand why. It has a lot to say, especially about religion. Some of it pretty controversial for today, much less 90 years ago. The book gets away with it because it says it so quietly, and perhaps because it can pass as a war novel. I had never read a book set around WWI and found that aspect very interesting in contrast with books I’d read set around WWII and Vietnam. Despite the wartime setting, this is not a compelling book. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, though. It’s a book that takes its time. Like floating down a stream.

2. A World Lost by Wendell Berry (5/5) – This is one of my new author books for the summer. I hadn’t read any Berry and I thought I probably should. I have been missing out. I love the way certain Southern writers (this reminded me in places of All the King’s Men) don’t seem in any kind of hurry at all. The way Berry patches together the experience of knowing and then grieving for a person – the way he shows that those things often overlap significantly – is masterful. A wonderful short book. I’ll be reading more.

3. They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell (5/5) – I continue to be knocked over by everything of Maxwell’s that I read. This book tells the story of a mother dying by giving a section to perspective of her husband and each of her two children. Parts of it, I know, are autobiographical, but no background is necessary to understand how wonderful this book is. The switching of perspectives while staying the third person was a unique way to tell a story and lent itself to a feeling of the family as a single entity, thus making the loss all the more noticeable and painful. Enormously well done. I keep saying it, and I’m going to again: if you haven’t read Maxwell, go do it now.

4. Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane (4/5) – This was my dense, nonfiction for the month. It was very interesting and I learned an enormous amount about evolution. It was rather thick, though. I think he could have made more use of analogy and metaphor for explaining some of the more technical bits (this is a book targeted at the layperson, after all), but overall, it was a good book that kept me interested until the end. A good primer on evolution.

Summer Book Queue Update:

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
A Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser
Pandora’s Seed: The Unforseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A World Lost by Wendell Berry
Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender