What are you reading the week of October 6, 2018?
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I had a busy week, but I'm almost finished with How to Think About Analysis. It's been almost 30 years since I studied analysis in school, and this has unlocked a lot of old memories of how to do proof based mathematics. It's also reminding me of how much I've forgotten over the years. I may dig out the box of old lecture notes from the back of my closet. Once I finish this, I'll return to Labyrinth of the Spirits.
I'm reading Strange Sight: An Essex Witch Museum Mystery by Syd Moore. I got the first book as an Early Reviewer last year and liked it so much I have to continue the series.
Greetings, all! I'm about a third of the way through The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin. It's one of those books for which I have to just roll along without trying to understand every scientific concept as I go. Instead, I just sort of let the ideas collect in my consciousness while the overall pattern forms. Happily, on the sentence level, Smolin is a nicely clear writer. The book was published in 2007, however, so when I'm done I'll have to go online to try to figure out where these theories stand today.
Hello! This week I have been reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. It is not a book I would have read ordinarily, but my twenty-year old daughter was over the moon about it, and so of course I gave it a look. I am mystified at her excitement. I was lukewarm about the entire book.
Thursday night I booked flights and accommodations for one of my dream locations - Iceland - I'm going in March and am bubbling with excitement. So of course I have chosen to read an Icelandic crime novel - Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson, the sequel to Snowblind, which I read some months back. It's dark and gloomy and beautifully written.
Educated: A Memoir – Tara Westover
Book on CD performed by Julia Whelan
In this memoir, Westover recalls her childhood and personal journey to become an educated, independent woman. Raised on the family’s land in a small community in Idaho, she had little to no formal education. Her father held strong beliefs about religion, the government, the education system, and his family. Tara’s mother was an herbalist and became a midwife at her husband’s insistence. They family preserved food, stockpiled water, fuel, guns and ammunition all in the belief that someday the authorities would come for them. Tara and her siblings learned to read from religious texts, and enough math to help their father in his construction business. In addition, one brother had violent tendencies, and parents who were in complete denial about the danger he posed to his siblings (and himself).
It’s amazing that Westover survived some of the episodes she relates; it’s a testament to her inner strength and determination that she managed to prosper, getting not only a college degree at Brigham Young University, but pursuing graduate studies at Cambridge and Harvard. Her story is fascinating, compelling and inspiring, but there are scenes that left me shaking my head or cringing in fear.
Julia Whelan does a marvelous job of voicing the audiobook. She made me believe that I was listening to a someone tell her own story.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
Travel editor/writer Mark Adams who along with John Leivers, who had explored the Andes before, take off on a unique trip to Peru exploring the region, following the travels of Harvey Bingham’s (an early explorer of Peru who claimed to have discovered Machu Picchu). He also discusses the history of Peru. I found it very interesting and informative especially the information on Bingham.
I'm still working on The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman and started (and will likely soon finish) A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong in the very near future. I'm participating in an informal lecture series of psychiatry so I figure that would be pretty good background reading. After having The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham last week, I'll probably look for something nice and light next.
The Trouble With Goats And Sheep – Joanna Cannon
In the summer of 1976, in a particular neighbor in England, two young girls, Grace and Tilly, try to come to terms with the disappearance of one of their neighbors, Mrs Creasy. It seems everyone’s suspicions lie with the odd man who lives at Number Eleven, but none of the adults will say WHY, other than vague references to a missing baby some nine years previously.
What an interesting and inventive way to structure this mystery / coming of age novel. Cannon tells the story in dual timeframes (Summer 1976 and December 1967), and with multiple points of view. Grace and Tilly are naïve but ever curious. Adults frequently talk around children as if the children can’t hear, and that is the way that the girls get much of their information (and misinformation). Of course, some of what they learn makes no sense to them, given their limited life experience, while this reader could put together clues far ahead of them.
But in addition to the mystery Cannon gives the reader a coming-of-age story. Tilly is the quieter, shyer girl, somewhat in awe of Grace, who is, herself, trying to emulate the local teenager. Grace can be bossy and unfeeling. Tilly, somewhat sickly and sheltered by her single mother, is at a distinct disadvantage. Their relationship has its ups and downs through the book, with one particularly painful episode when Grace fails to give Tilly her due. But in the end the girls learn valuable lessons about friendship, responsibility and not being quick to judge.
This is Cannon’s debut novel. I would definitely read another book by her.
I finished Little Fires Everywhere. It was a story of conflict between the ideal American dream and alternative life styles, between birth mothers and adoptive mothers, between righteousness and reality, between interfering and augmenting others lives.
>16 whymaggiemay: Thanks, I sometimes feel my comments on books are a bit too terse so glad to hear that sometimes they have some truth to them.
I finished Julie Otsuka's story of the Japanese Interment and its aftermath sparsely and eloquently told by the 4 members of a Japanese-American family. When the Emperor Was Divine
Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon – Michael P Ghiglieri and Thomas M Myers
The subtitle is all the summary anyone needs: Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. And the cover adds to this by showing skeletal remains and a mid-air collision. The authors recount all the fatalities occurring in the canyon area, from falls off the rim, to flash floods, to drownings, to murders, and yes aircraft mishaps.
The chapters are divided by cause: falls from the rim, falls within the canyon, environment (i.e. dehydration), etc. They have a pretty engaging style when they are recounting a specific scenario, giving the reader insight into the ways in which various visitors met their fate – mostly due to ignorance or callous disregard of warnings. But they tend to get preachy about the causes of most of these fatalities. (No. 1 risk factor is being a young male … especially one fueled by alcohol.)
I had the second edition, with is easily 100 pages longer than the original. Presumably this is because of additional information provided to them since the book was first published. While each chapter includes several detailed scenarios, a table at the end of each chapter outlines ALL the deaths attributed to that particular cause.
On the whole it was rather dry and somewhat boring.
In the interest of full disclosure, however … a couple of years before we met, my husband went on a Colorado River rafting trip in Grand Canyon. His raft broke apart when going over Crystal Rapids, dumping all passengers into the river. I was kind of expecting something along the lines of what my husband wrote about the trip when I picked up this book. Here is a snippet of what he wrote about that experience:
Your mouth is dry, your knuckles are white, your muscles are knotted, and ... you’re going over the edge. Time is now measured in hundredths of a second; everything seems to move simultaneously in slow motion and at lightning speed.
We’re falling towards the sluice hole. Opposite the sluice hole is an eight-foot standing wave crashing uphill into the sluice hole.
The bow of the raft touches the surface of the sluice hole. The raft is being hit by tons of water from every direction. That’s normal. But something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
Only later am I to learn that the raft has broken up. Thirteen people are in the water. But again, I don’t know this. It all happened too fast for me to comprehend. All I know is that I can’t breathe, and that it’s getting darker and darker.
I’m in the sluice hole. I’m being tossed, tumbled, turned and twisted. I’m being pulled down. I’m being pummeled by a thousand soft blows. I know that something has gone terribly wrong. I’m being pulled down and down. It’s getting darker and darker. It’s quiet, there is no sound. A warm stream flows down my leg. I’ve got to fight out of this. I’ve got to get to the surface.
Up … I’m going up. But I hit the underside of the capsized raft, and then I’m slammed back down, and down, and down. I go back up once more and once again hit the bottom of the raft, and then it’s back down and down. I’ve been under water for a long, long time. My head is about to explode, my lungs are on fire. I’ve got to breathe. I think about dying. I begin to see white flashes, something like stars or lightning. I just can’t hold my breath any longer. It’s black, it’s so black.
I start up again. This time I see light. This time I break the surface. I take in a huge breath of air. I’m in a churning, roaring mass of water. A wall is closing down on me, and then I’m slammed back down and down.
After being thrown out of the eddy and catapulted downstream by the river’s strong flow (over yet another set of rapids – without a raft), he was eventually plucked from the water by another boat. Amazingly no one drowned; another rafting expedition gave them extra blankets and food, and luckily for my husband, HIS “ammo box” of personal gear was one of the bits of flotsam retrieved, so he had his spare pair of glasses. They had to spend the night, before they could be airlifted out the next morning.
>18 BookConcierge: Interesting. I saw this book come through my used bookstore once or twice (and be sold, too!). I remember visiting a friend of mine on Boulder quite a few years back. The front page of the local newspaper had a story about someone dying in an accident at Grand Canyon and the resulting furor about the need to make the trails safer. The editorial opinion of the paper went something along the lines of, "Hey, the Grand Canyon isn't Disney Land, and your safety is not assured. People have to realize that if you come to the Grand Canyon and go out on the trails then, yes, there is a possibility that you might die."
On a lighter note, I rarely think of the Grand Canyon without thinking of the Flintstones, one of my earliest exposures to metafiction:
Added The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2018 edited by C. C. Finlay to my reading rotation.
Black and Blue – Anna Quindlen
Book on CD narrated by Kimberly Schraf.
With the help of an advocate group, Frances Benedeto leaves her abusive husband, Bobby (a New York city detective), and takes her son to a new state with new names and new backstories. It’s not much different from entering the Witness Protection Service, in that she has to cut all ties with her family and friends in order to avoid being found out. Now she’s Beth Crenshaw, living in a small apartment, walking to work as a home healthcare aide, and trying her best to explain to her son why they have to do what they are doing to stay safe.
Okay, there’s a nugget of a good story here, and I started out completely engaged in the story. But as the book moved along I found that I couldn’t really believe in Fran/Beth. I get that women who are repeatedly abused and controlled by animals like Bobby lose what self-confidence they started with pretty quickly. That they become full of self-doubt and take on the blame for what has happened. That they become immobilized by fear and the certainty that they are all alone and no one will believe and/or help them. That they lose the ability to trust.
But Beth keeps saying she’s never going back and then doing things that will clearly make it easier for Bobby to find her. And when, after her new identity is compromised, she’s offered additional help and another relocation, she refuses … more than once. I was just so frustrated by her behavior. While I was interested enough in the book to keep reading/listening, I don’t think I’ll remember it for long.
On the positive side … Quindlen gives the reader a reasonably suspenseful story arc. She also gives us a new group of friends that will obviously help Beth and her son, Robert, move forward in a new life. And she resists the impulse to give us a happy ending. These kinds of cases rarely end happily, and Beth will face these issues for years to come. I applaud Quindlen for shedding some light on the issue.
Kimberly Schraf does a fine job of narrating the audiobook. She sets a good pace and gives the many characters sufficiently unique voices to help differentiate them. Her rendition of Bobby is oily and just gives me the shivers.
I finished The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin. It was very hard to get through in places, due to the technical nature of the subject matter, though Smolin did his best to write clearly and engagingly. Basically, Smolin chronicles the ways in which he thinks string theory is a flawed as a theory and the ways in which that theory, nevertheless, has scooped of the lion's share of the funding and research hours at the expense of the more broad-based science Smolin advocates. The book was written in 2007, though, and from my limited investigation, it's hard to tell whether there's been anything come down the pike (or more specifically, the collider) to make Smolin seem any more or less correct.
Next up for me: I will finally read The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. These two books together definitely constitute a serious hurdle for my 50-Book challenge, which currently stands at 36.
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