Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of 08


It's that time of year again... the time to review what I've read this year and do a bit of analysis. This year I read 181 books, the highest number since I began keeping track back in '95. I think it is all the blogging! It's funny that my 'best of' list has changed even since October when I did a preliminary list as part of a Weekly Geeks assignment; if I looked over my year's reading in another few months perhaps my choices would all be different again. I found many of the books I read this year to be satisfying, absorbing reads but here are some of the highlights:


Books Read 2008
181 (182- just finished The Golden Notebook a few hours before midnight on the 31st...)

By Women: 112

By Men: 56
Non-gendered reading (multiple authors etc.): 11

Non-Fiction: 64

Rereads : 4

In Translation: 11
Russian 4; Ukrainian 3; French (from Quebec) 2; Portugese 1; German 1

Challenges undertaken: 7

Challenges completed: 3
And an interesting stat I'm stealing from Joanne at Book Zombie:
Review Copies Read: 18
Library Books Read: 133
My own Books Read: 31
(you can see I use the library a lot!)


The Best of the Year

Fiction:


The Gipsy's Baby / Rosamund Lehmann (short stories with interesting technique)

Three Bags full / Leonie Swann (really enjoyable)

Three Men in a Boat / Jerome K. Jerome with To Say Nothing of the Dog / Connie Willis (these 2 together made the perfect reading combo; pure entertainment)


Saltsea / David Helwig (a beautiful vacation of a book)


And 3 serendipitious reads which I found fascinating for their original storytelling:

Blasted / Kate Story (interview as well)
The Queue / Vladimir Sorokin
Mary Modern / Camille DeAngelis


YA:

An Abundance of Katherines / John Green
The Loser's guide to life and love / A.E. Cannon
Wildwood Dancing / Juliet Marillier


Non-fiction:

Faust in Copenhagen / Gino Segre (a wonderful read discovered for the Science Book Challenge)

The Magician's Book / Laura Miller (and don't forget you have a week in which to win a copy)

The Ancient Tea Horse Road / Jeff Fuchs (the subject of this one was unique and fascinating)


My reading goals for next year are simple: read for the Challenges I've signed up for, but otherwise try to reread some of my old favourites and catch up on classics and older, TBR books. I enjoyed my reading this year, but did feel a bit as if I was neglecting all the books not newly published. I'll be trying to read widely and profitably in the Year of Readers!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Magical Giveaway!


Thanks to Miriam at Hachette Bookgroup, I have 3 copies of Laura Miller's The Magician's Book to give away! As I recently said in my review, this is a beautiful book about the love of childhood reading; she talks about her childhood passion for the Narnia books as well as giving us some biographical information about Lewis and some literary criticism as well. And it's a gorgeous cover!

To get your name into the draw just leave a comment sharing one of your favourite moments from anywhere in the Narnia series. (mine is in The Magician's Nephew, when Aslan sings Narnia into being).

I will draw for it in just over a week, at 9 pm, January 6th, Ukrainian Christmas Eve. That way I will let the 3 winners know on January 7th, as a Ukrainian Christmas gift!
**Almost forgot to mention: this giveaway is limited to US and Canada only, sorry to all other readers

Saturday, December 27, 2008

First lines meme

I did this meme last year and enjoyed its reflection of the year's blogging trends. So just for the heck of it I'll do it again; feel free to join in and try it yourself - but leave a comment so we can see yours too!

The idea is to list the first sentence of each month's first post. Here are mine:


January
Yes, another Challenge which is irresistible!

February
Another volume chosen by Yann Martel; somehow I don't think the Prime Minister will be getting to it, even though this book carries Martel's message most clearly - how literature is valuable in all areas of life, by virtue of its training of the imagination.

March
[Treading Water] is my choice for British Columbia, for the Canadian Book Challenge -- which, I might say has been a challenge far more interesting and indepth than the insipid Canada Reads debates this week.

April
Just like last year, I am celebrating National Poetry Month.

May
I've really been enjoying National Poetry Month this year; all the different types of poetry I've been reading (old and new, by men, by women, Canadians and others) are just sloshing around together in my brain.

June
I can't believe it's been more than a week since I've posted...busy busy this week.

July
I'm back in Canada and finally back at a computer, so time for a quick share of some of the things I've seen lately!

August
As I am once again travelling this week, I'm just going to check in by answering a couple of general questions -- I'll write more in a few days about specific questions on the specific books we've mentioned.

September
[Three bags full] is a short, delightful mystery featuring a flock of 19 sheep living in Glenkill, Ireland.

October
This week, the WG theme is to list your top books published in 2008.

November
I'm so pleased with the election results in the US!

December
Talking about 2009's Science Book Challenge made me realize I hadn't yet reviewed my 3rd choice for the 08 challenge!


A fair approximation of the year's activities: beginning and ending with Challenges, a lot of travelling in the middle and a sprinkling of both poetry and book reviews. And then the one exception in November which was not about books at all, but impossible to ignore. :)
This meme is a fun way to look back on the year's output, but I certainly wish I was more given to clever witticisms and bon mots than I apparently am from this list!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Martel-Harper Challenge


Another challenge to continue in 2009!
I'm so delighted to hear that Rebecca from Rebecca Reads is adopting Dewey's challenge to read books recommended by Yann Martel to Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. This challenge is dear to me, as I've been following along with Martel's list from the start, considering it is my Prime Minister we are talking about! (unfortunately...)



The rules are this:


To join for first quarter 2009, commit to read and review two books from the Martel-Harper challenge list between January 1, 2009 and March 31, 2009. You can choose the books now or as you go.


Because Martel chooses a book every 2 weeks I am sure I will end up reading more than two, but you never know.... The ones I have on tap presently are:

Metamorphosis / Kafka
Kreutzer Sonata / Tolstoy
Meditations / Marcus Aurelius

I may read these or may choose others. But I will be reading both the books and the wonderful letters Martel encloses with each.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!




Susan awoke in the dark of Christmas morning. A weight lay on her feet, and she moved her feet up and down. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was Christmas Day. She stretched out her hands and found the knobby little stocking, which she brought into bed with her and clasped tightly in her arms as she fell asleep again.

She awoke later and lay holding her happiness, enjoying the moment. The light was dim, but the heavy mass of the chest of drawers stood out against the pale walls, all blue like the snowy shadows outside. She drew her curtains and looked out at the starry sky. She listened for the bells of the sleigh, but no sound came through the stillness except the screech owl's call.

Again she hadn't caught Santa Claus. Of course she knew he wasn't real, but also she knew he was. It was the same with everything. People said things were not alive but you knew in your heart they were: statues which would catch you if you turned your back were made of stone; Santa Claus was your own father and mother...

She pinched the stocking from the toe to the top, where her white suspender tapes were stitched. It was full of nice knobs and lumps, and a flat thing like a book stuck of the top. She drew it out -- it was a book, just what she wanted most. She sniffed at it, and liked the smell of the cardboard back with deep letters cut in it. She ran her fingers along like a blind man and could not read the title, but there were three words in it...

Susan pressed her nose to the cold window-pane until it became a flat white button, and her breath froze into feathery crystals. "This is Christmas Day, it's Christmas Day, it won't come again for a whole year. It's Christmas," she murmured.

from The Country Child by Alison Uttley

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Country Child


London: Penguin, 1971, c1931.
237 p.

I've been reading this book over the past couple of weeks and have found it calming and peaceful reading before bed. It is inspired by author Alison Uttley's childhood on an English farm in the early 1900's. It follows Susan Garland as she intensely experiences her life over a year at Windystone Farm, as the only child there. She has to walk 4 miles to school through a dark wood, which frightens her when the moon isn't out to keep her company. Everything in the farm -- the trees, the kitchen furniture, the ornaments in the spare room -- everything is a special friend to her. She has a strong attachment to the 3 books she owns, which have been read over and over. One of the chapters is about her decision, when she wins a prize at school, to spend it on One Thousand and One Nights. Alas, before she can finish it, her religious parents discover it and throw it into the kitchen stove.

This book is a quiet, nostalgic look at an imaginative child's growing up years, but it is probably not something I'd give to many modern children. Older children, preteens or teens, who like quiet, descriptive books without much dialogue or in your face excitement, would perhaps find it interesting. As for myself, I love it. It is beautifully, hypnotically written and suitably I've just been reading the December chapters, on Christmas. Gorgeous!!


Here is a sample of Susan's Christmas Eve festivities:

Holly decked every picture and ornament. Sprays hung over the bacon and twisted round the hams and herb bunches. The clock carried a crown on his head, and every dish-cover had a little sprig. Susan kept an eye on the lonely forgotten humble things, the jelly moulds and colanders and nutmeg graters, and made them happy with glossy leaves. Everything seemed to speak, to ask for its morsel of greenery, and she tried to leave out nothing... In the middle of the kitchen ceiling there hung the kissing-bunch, the best and brightest pieces of holly made in the shape of a large ball which dangled from the hook. Silver and gilt drops, crimson balls, blue glass trumpets, bright oranges and and red polished apples, peeped and glittered through the glossy leaves. Little flags of all nations, but chiefly Turkish for some unknown reason, stuck out like quills on a hedgehog. The lamp hung near, and every little berry, every leaf, every pretty ball and apple had a tiny yellow flame reflected in the heart.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Retro Reviews: YA version

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney / Suzanne Harper

Sparrow is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, who lives in Lily Dale, New York, with her large family of women. She has no desire to be the kind of weirdo who talks to dead people, so hides her gift from her family of spiritualists. Then the ghost of a teenage boy asks for her help...

This first novel melds spiritualism, romance, humour and a touch of history to create an intriguing novel about being true to yourself. Enjoyable characters, including Sparrow herself and her irascible Grandma Bee, make this book sparkle (and not in an Edward-the-Undead way). The real life spiritualist town of Lily Dale is the perfect setting for this story.



Beastly / Alix Flinn

I love retellings of fairy tales, and Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite tales to begin with. While Robin McKinley's classic Beauty is one of my top ten all time books, this retelling took a different approach. The main character, Kyle Kingsbury, is one of the rich popular kids at his private school. He has a very strained relationship with his father, an image obsessed tv anchor. His girlfriend is one of the popular kids as well, and on prom night he gets her a rose rather than the orchid she asked for. She pitches a fit and so Kyle ends up giving the rose to the girl taking tickets at the door. This one act of kindness ends up saving him, as a witch turns him into a beast but gives him an out because of the rose; if he can find someone to love and who loves him in return he will be restored. The rest of the story is great; Kyle's father banishes him to a brownstone in Brooklyn where nobody will see him, where he has a housekeeper and a blind tutor (both marvellous characters). He finds a girl to come and live with them, yes, you guessed it, the ticket taker from the prom. How they fall in love is believable within the story, and while there may be just a couple of moments where the action comes too close to the Disney movie, I liked this reworking a lot. It was humorous and sweet. The chat room for monsters that Kyle joins at the beginning of the novel, which reappears intermittently, is original and amusing; the frog from The Frog Prince has trouble typing with webbed feet, the Little Mermaid needs help deciding whether to pursue her prince, etc.


What can I say? This totally lives up to its hype. That doesn't happen often.
Child prodigy Colin Singleton, having just graduated high school and been dumped by his 19th Katherine, is completely directionless. His best friend Hassan convinces him they should go on a road trip, so off they go, ending up in Gutshot, Tennessee. What happens in Gutshot ends up giving them both new focus and new understanding of their lives. But while it is all happening it is very, very funny. When I read a book that causes uncontrollable laughter, the kind where you can't speak when you try to explain to your husband why you are laughing so hard that you are crying, so he just has to take it on trust that it's hilarious, well, then I know it's a great book. This happened more than once with this story. Read it! That's all I have to say.
Also reviewed by: Bookfool at Bookfoolery & Babble, Jessica at Bluestocking Society

Monday, December 22, 2008

Retro Reviews of Recent Reading

There are a number of interesting books I've read this year that I never really got around to reviewing. To catch up a bit before the year ends, here are a few stories encapsulated in a paragraph or two!


New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Another book that everyone's been reading!* I like these kind of gothic stories, and one set in Salem, Massachusetts was too good to pass up. The setting was superbly evoked, Barry making use of all the mystique of Salem very successfully. I loved the character of the aunt who dies at the beginning, drawing main character Sophia (or as she prefers to be called, "Towner") home; the aunt was the original Lace Reader and her house is appealing on its own. The story was good overall; but the twist at the end was, for me, unbelievable and made the rest of the story implausible.

*Wendy at Caribousmom, Dar at Peeking between the Pages, Softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society / Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I'm not sure who hasn't read this one by now. Told in letters, this is the story of a woman whose life is changed when someone on Guernsey writes to her after finding her name in a used book he purchased (Charles Lamb's essays). It's infinitely charming and yet not twee, as it takes place around WWII. There is sorrow and friendship and love, and the meeting of literary minds. Letters fly between our main character and all of the people she comes to know on Guernsey, as well as her London friends and publisher. Many voices and yet all distinct, so it was easy to keep track of who was writing. For bookish people it is a novel which can't go far wrong. I loved it despite the unwieldy title.

Reviewed by:
While I had this book on the TBR, I was finally inspired to read it after Dewey's glowing review. Her taste was always to be trusted.
This is a quick read, a story of "what-ifs"; what if the Queen discovered, late in life, a passion for reading? What if this passion for reading changed everything? How would it affect someone like the Queen? This story reflected charmingly on the joys and pleasures of books and the act of reading itself, and was an entertaining read. Bennett has dealt with questions about the Queen before, notably in his play A Question of Attribution, but this book goes a bit further and uses her as the main character. A cheery but rather light and quick read.

Also reviewed by:

This is also a recent choice of Yann Martel's as a gift to our Prime Minister as part of his campaign to get the PM reading (lost cause, I'd say, but he is persistent). I actually read it before he chose it, so was one up, yay! Despite the PM proroguing Parliament, Martel has not followed suit and has chosen not to prorogue his project just to get himself out of a tight spot -- potentially 4 more years of books!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Currently reading Nikolski


Nikolski / Nicolas Dickner; trans. by Lazer Lederhendler.
Toronto: Random House, c2008.
304 p.

Another book I received from Mini Book Expo, this marvellous novel recently won the Governor General's award for translation. Despite the author's surname not sounding particularly Quebecois, this was written in French. It was a highly entertaining read, taking us all over Canada, from the Prairies to BC to Montreal, and includes stops in South America and Nikolski, Alaska. I almost expected it to head up to Yellowknife, as the feel of the book reminded me of Steve Zipp's Yellowknife, in its structure of interwoven lives and slightly odd people and places, and in the fact that there is no neat conclusion to the story. And like Yellowknife, it also concludes right around Y2K.

The main action of the story is in Montreal, where the 3 characters intersect. The nameless narrator and two others, Joyce (from Acadian stock) and Noah (from the Prairies) end up all situated in Montreal at the same time: Noah to go to university, Joyce to fulfill a long-cherished dream of following her family's tradition of becoming pirates and the narrator because he is a used bookshop employee and a native of Montreal. What they don't know, and what we as readers eventually puzzle out, is that they are all connected through the figure of Jonas Doucet, a mysterious relative last heard of as residing in Nikolski, Alaska. This book is hard to describe briefly; these three characters' stories are told in alternating chapters, and while they do meet up once or twice, their stories never really meld. Each remains on their own specific trajectory and pass each other by. The novel is filled with fish, books, garbage dumps and archaeology, maps, compasses and navigation; it whizzes across geographical boundaries and ethnic identifications; it carries us along with its rhythm, excellent writing and mysterious plot. It is playful and thoughtful and intriguing. The only thing that threw me a bit was that the voice of the nameless narrator and that of Noah sometimes sounded so similar that I had to go back to recollect which one knew which facts.

I found each character and their background fascinating, and of course having lived in Montreal for some years I liked reading about their surroundings and trying to figure out where they were, exactly, or what might have been the author's inspirations. Certainly the narrator, working in a bookstore, seemed familiar; I think I have spent time in every used bookstore in Montreal. Although there were many quoteable sections (I must mention again how entertaining and admirable the writing itself -- and of course the translation -- is in this book) I really enjoyed some of the ruminations on the used book trade. For obvious reasons, I suppose, having run our own shop for a few years. Here are a couple:

My job is more like a calling than a normal career. The silence is conducive to meditation, the wages are consistent with a vow of poverty and, as for my work tools, they're in keeping with a sort of monastic minimalism... Every shelf holds three layers of books, and the floorboards would vanish altogether under the dozens of cardboard boxes, but for the narrow, serpentine paths designed to let customers move about... Our classification system is strewn with microclimates, invisible boundaries, strata, refuse dumps, messy hellholes, broad plains with no visible landmarks -- a complex cartography that depends essentially on visual memory, a faculty without which one won't last very long in this trade.


I am a clerk in a bookstore whose life is devoid of complications or a storyline of its own. My life is governed by the attraction of books. The weak magnetic field of my fate is distorted by those thousands of fates more powerful and more interesting than my own.

This was a fascinating read and one I think I will have to return to; I am sure that a second reading would bring out elements I missed in my first, headlong rush to the end. Very entertaining and simultaneously puzzling, this is well worth spending time with. And the design is perfect; I love the jacket. The paperback which is soon to be available has a similar design but I think the simplicity of this one is just what's needed.

For another view of this novel, here are some other reviews, of much more literary merit than this one:

Steve Zipp, at his eponymous blog
Kerri at
Pickle Me This


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raising Funds in the Year of Readers



I would like to announce that I have signed up for the Year of Readers!

This year-long event has been organized by Jodie to help readers spread their love of reading and the beneficial effects of literacy. When you sign up, you commit to raising money for the literacy charity of your choice throughout 2009, by getting friends and relatives to pledge you, or in any other wild and crazy way you can come up with. So far there are 25 participants and a wide variety of charities (which Jodie has listed on the blog so you can easily explore the many wonderful charities working on literacy based outreach whenever you wish.)

I've chosen as my charity the Public Library on Wheels (PLOW), an outreach effort of my own library. This is a program which takes books and also family literacy events and story programs to under-served areas of our rural community. One of the highly anticipated events of the year, created by our amazing PLOW programmer, is the Family Literacy Day Enchanted Adventure. (similar to her original event, Night at the Library). It's held at the local mall in partnership with mall management, school boards, and a bunch of other local family/children's organizations. It is amazing, really; storytellers, costumed fairy tale characters, treasure hunts, crafts and activities...lots and lots of FREE family fun, all based around reading and books. It's a huge hit. PLOW is running short of funds this year so I will do my readerly best to keep it going.


To donate in 2009, email me for information on per-book pledging, or go directly to my online giving page at CanadaHelps. Along with Jodie and the Year of Readers blog, there will be various events throughout the year to keep us all going. This sounds like a lot of fun and a way to help out by doing more of what I love most: reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Challenges!

It's time to decide which Challenges I want to take on next year...like many others, I am feeling that I am reading far too many new books/ARCs lately and not getting to all the books on my own shelves. So, I will only be taking on a few. I rarely finish Challenges anyhow; but I do like signing up.

So far next year I will be doing:


I've just posted about this year-long challenge in which you only have to read 3 books; I can do that! And so can you -- for ideas about book choices, try looking through the existing Ars Hermeneutica book notes or Eva's huge list at A Striped Armchair.



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I did this last year and really enjoyed the random nature of it. This year it works the same way: there are six categories and you have to choose a book with that thing in the title for each one. Here are 09's categories and my book choices (I'm choosing 2 in each to give me options)

A book with a "profession" in its title:

The Zookeeper's Wife / Diane Ackerman
The Yiddish Policeman's Union / Michael Chabon

A book with a "time of day" in its title:

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built / Alexander McCall Smith (tea time is a good time of day!)
Late Nights on Air / Elizabeth Hay

A book with a "relative" in its title:

Cousin Phyllis / Elizabeth Gaskell or My Cousin Rachel / Daphne DuMaurier
The Time Traveler's Wife / Audrey Niffenegger

A book with a "body part" in its title:

The Case of the General's Thumb / Andrey Kurkov
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart / Lydia Millett

A book with a "building" in its title:

The Magic Toyshop / Angela Carter
The Post Office girl / Stefan Zweig

A book with a "medical condition" in its title:

Consumption / Kevin Patterson (also counted toward the Canadian Book Challenge II)
Fever / Sharon Butala

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I'm still moving along with the Canadian Book Challenge (which runs July 1-July 1) which I love -- I'm not quite halfway done but there's still lots of time.





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I am also considering the Support your Local Library challenge. I read many, many books from the library in any case -- I work there so it's kind of unavoidable for me! I think I will sign up, and choose the 50 book option. I'll keep a running list here on the blog throughout the year.




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There's another group event I'm signing up for which isn't exactly a challenge, rather, it's a charitable side to the year's reading. More on that shortly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Viewings

Do you have any favourite shows you watch only at Christmas? Anything that puts you into a Christmassy mood?


The movies I especially like to watch at this time of year are The Bishop's Wife (with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven) and While you were sleeping (with Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and a huge cast of fantastic actors playing a whole family). Of course, there are the tv specials as well, and of those I love The Grinch most.


The Duck Thief over at Great White North has put together a must-see list of some of her favourite holiday movies. Can you add any more? Favourites are an idiosyncratic thing but there are quite a few on her list that I also love. Although I am probably the only person in the entire world who doesn't like It's a Wonderful Life!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Magician's Book



The Magician's Book: a skeptic's adventures in Narnia / Laura Miller
New York: Little, Brown, c2008.
311 p.

Even though I haven't posted in more than a week, I have been reading -- in between all the other necessary duties of the season. This is a book I recently received from Hachette, and I absolutely loved it. It's a gorgeous physical object; the cover is so very beautiful, and even the paper it is printed on is pleasing. I am so glad I got to read it; Miller is someone who makes her living from books and her love of the bookish life comes through loud and clear. I found many passages to copy out and ruminate over.

This book is the story of her lifelong adoration of Narnia, and the dismay she felt when she learned that many people saw the Narnia series only as Christian propaganda by the Christian apologist and writer C.S. Lewis. I recall this moment in my own life; because of growing up Christian I saw the parallels between Aslan and Jesus when I first read the books, but I never saw the whole series as a "Christian" tale. Most of the books written specifically for a "Christian" children's audience that I read were dull and didactic and really not very well written at all. Narnia was real literature. Even at 12 I could figure this out. Narnia was something different; something magical. As the Christian themes became heavier I lost interest in the series, eventually stopping before I finished all seven books. But I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe numerous times, and I can't even count how many times I reread The Magician's Nephew, my favourite.

This was a fascinating book; part memoir, part biography, part lit crit. I enjoyed the memoir bits most; Miller is a wonderful writer and her love of childhood reading is clear. She points out that the books we love shape our self-perception in ways we don't always recognize immediately, and that books in childhood have a stronger influence because of the unguarded manner we read them, without worldly concerns or reservations about the author coming between us and the story. That all comes later, as it did for her.

The literary criticism was interesting for me, and I realized how little of it I've been reading in the past few years. Digging into the books the way she did really made me want to read them again; her enthusiasm for this series is contagious. I'm actually rooting around trying to find my old copy of The Magician's Nephew. I know it's here somewhere...

If you are comfortable with the idea that a great work of literature can be more than one thing at once, perhaps even two opposing things at once, you will probably enjoy reading this. It's thought-provoking and beautifully written and I completely understood what she was talking about when she stressed that these books are so much more than apologetics. C.S. Lewis was a complicated man, and so is his creation. I'll finish up with a quote or two from my favourite bits of the book:

The relationship between book and reader is intimate, at best a kind of love affair, and first loves are famously tenacious... The meeting of author and reader has a similar soul-shaping potential. The author who can make a world for a reader -- make him believe that the people, places, and events he describes are, if anything, truer than his real, immediate surroundings -- that author is someone with a mighty power indeed. Who can forget the first time they experienced this sensation? ... If we weigh the significance of a book by the effect it has on its readers, then the great children's books suddenly turn up very high on the list.


Insofar as they are stories at all, all stories are escapes from life; all stories are unrealistic, or at least all of the good ones are. Life, unlike stories, has no theme, no formal unity, and (to unbelievers, at least) no readily apparent meaning. That's why we want stories. No art form can hope to exactly reproduce the sensations that make up being alive, but that's OK: life, after all, is what we already have. From art, we want something different, something with a shape and a purpose.


Read an excerpt over at Salon.com

Listen to an interview at blogtalk radio (featuring our very own Bermudaonion!)

Send in your photos of Narnia-like places to Miller's contest on Flickr. Or just take a look, it's great.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Einstein's famous Equation (or why the universe has more energy than I do)



E = mc2 / David Bodanis
Toronto : Anchor Canada, c2001.
352 p.

Talking about 2009's Science Book Challenge made me realize I hadn't yet reviewed my 3rd choice for the 08 challenge! This is the third book I read as part of the challenge, and it is one I have had on my shelves for many years. I received it as a Christmas present in 2002, I think, and have been intending to read it ever since. I do not move at the speed of light! I wish I had picked it up sooner because it was very entertaining, at long last.

Anyhow, Bodanis takes a look at the most famous equation of them all in this book, and each unit of the equation has a section of its own. He talks about the history of the concept represented, whether energy, mass, the speed of light, or even the = sign and the idea of 'squared'. He explains the science which built up to the equation, and the people involved in all its varied parts. For example, when he is talking about "C", he explains how the concept of the speed of light was developed, and what exactly it means. I felt like I clearly understood for the first time the reason why the speed of light is an absolute measurement.

He is a clear writer who also has a feel for the telling anecdote. From my last physics read, you will know that I adore gossip about the figures involved in all these discoveries. Bodanis includes here the story of Voltaire and his mistress and intellectual superior, the brilliant Emelie du Chatelet; the tale of a group of Norwegian saboteurs who skiied into a Nazi stronghold to prevent atomic technology from reaching Germany (this reads like a thriller!); and more tales of my old Copenhagen acquaintances.

The science is explained well, with not too many equations etc. to confuse the non-scientist. I really appreciated how this book shows the interplay between individual discoveries and minds from all countries and centuries. It illuminates the fact that a great discovery, like Einstein's, does not appear out of nowhere, despite Einstein's god-like status. Everything builds on what came before, and the whole line of minuscule steps leads to our present state.

I must admit I didn't find this as exciting and enthralling as I might have otherwise, only because I've just finished Faust in Copenhagen, one of my favourites of the year. Still, this is a captivating read, and covers a lot of historical and scientific ground. I'd recommend it for the general science reader!