What I Happen to Be Reading At the Moment

"A thirteen-year-old is a kaleidoscope of different personalities, if not in most ways a mere figment of her own imagination. At that age, what and who you are depends largely on what book you happen to be reading at the moment.”


While not 13 anymore, the desire to read almost anything and everything in order to read for fun and for experience is still around. I'm currently working on my PhD in a physical science, but I love to read and books are one of my non-science hobbies.

Bookish goodies for the weekend
Bookish goodies for the weekend

NYRB book club selection for April and the newest London Review of Books (or newest for what we can get in the States). Excellent mail today! 

The Making of a Muckraker

The Making Of A Muckraker - Jessica Mitford Making of Muckraker has almost exactly the same contents as [b:Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking|7932625|Poison Penmanship The Gentle Art of Muckraking|Jessica Mitford|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320519474s/7932625.jpg|513406] except for a short Vogue piece contained in this edition. It's worth it to read as a Jessica Mitford completist, but Poison Penmanship is easier to find than Making of a Muckraker. Introductory and afterword material is different, but one version is sufficient to start off with baring any particular enthusiasm for Jessica Mitford.

Going solo

Going Solo - Roald Dahl I've had this book on my shelf for years and decided, at last, to read it. Turns out that painfully annoying and fantastical author that my 2nd grade teacher forced my to read had some interesting adventures!

Going Solo covers the years that Dahl was in Africa as an agent for Shell until he is discharged from the Royal Air Force in the early years of World War Two. Along the way there are rich descriptions of the last days of the British Empire, beginning with the people Dahl encounters on his voyage to Africa. Also, while in Kenya and Tanzania he has the benefit of a huge house, a personal "boy", and general privilege while encountering some less than savory wildlife. All along, though, there is tension building in Europe and eventually Dahl leaves the luxury of an oil company employee life behind to fly planes for the RAF.

Dahl's RAF experiences is immensely interesting because he participated in a very small part of the war. On one of his first missions he somehow crashes and breaks most of his face, resulting in an extended convalescence and eventually discharge from the RAF. Turns out that facial injuries, in his case, made him prone to blacking out at high G turns, something that is a bit necessary to be a fighter pilot. The colorful squadron characters he encounters as well as parts of letters home really round out the story.

Despite my distaste for Dahl's children's fiction, I think I'm coming around to Dahl as a writer. He has a perfect balance of witty bring downs and solemn moments (his buddy from the RAF squadron does not make it through the war), overall making a very English memoir of at the very end of the British Empire.

(Also, there are planes so that makes the book automatically cooler, if anyone else is so aviation inclined.)

The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist - Neil deGrasse Tyson Neil DeGrasse Tyson is possibly the coolest astrophysicist to have ever lived. Unfortunately this means that I have no idea what his research is about (since even this autobiography of sorts breezes through his grad school years) but that I do know he's one of the great modern popularizers of science. The Sky is Not the Limit shed light both on his astrophysical and personal life and gives more detail beyond his Daily Show persona.

From beginnings, including going up to the roof with a telescope and occasionally having the police called to investigate the person with the long, thin object on the top of a NYC building roof, to his continuing themes of Pluto and inaccuracy in movies (sorry "Gravity" folks, this was a thing years before he pointed out every inaccuracy), Tyson tells stories with his usual charm and humor. Really, if it's any hint to other scientists out there, adopting more of Tyson's wonder at the universe and making it obvious to others is a great way to start doing some outreach.

Other, less run of the mill topics included Tyson's experience during the 9/11 attack on New York, including evacuating with his daughter. Also, a chapter about his experiences as black man in modern America were particularly interesting, especially since the discussion occurred at a conference for African American physicists (who had all very similar experiences with the police and shopping mall cops--interesting too in light of the Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.'s run in with local cops not too many years ago). The experiences of both being an astrophysicist (which of course I am interested in as I am working on a PhD in a subfield of astrophysics) and being an underrepresented minority (also applicable) were interesting as both an insight into how scientists think but also how they develop.

One thing missing that I very much wanted to hear about was Tyson's graduate school experiences. He alludes to issues at his first institution as a reason for finishing his master's there and taking some time off, and I was very curious to learn more about it. I'm not trying to pry, but my very new position as a graduate student has made me curious about others' experiences. NDT has been a scientific role model for me for years, so I was hoping to glean some advice about how to get that PhD without going nuts.

Still, the range and interesting nature of Neil deGrasse Tyson's observations throughout his life and career were fascinating, and it's well worth the read especially for non-scientists, because more than a few times Tyson is spot on about how the minds of us scientists work.

The Skin

The Skin - Curzio Malaparte, David Moore Usually I don't go wrong with the New York Review of Books Book Club, but this one was a dud.

I just didn't care for the casual violence and brutality, though I understand as a post-war novel is something that is going to happen. In this case it was vulgar and I didn't understand the artistic motivation behind it. There is also a rather gruesome dog death, which almost every time is a deal breaker for me.

While The Skin has historical and literary significance, I was not a fan.

In Search of Lost Time: Proust 6-pack (Proust Complete)

In Search of Lost Time - Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Andreas Mayor, Terence Kilmartin, D.J. Enright, Richard Howard I am somehow to my last In Search of Lost Time review. I'm not sure how this has happened, as it doesn't seem like almost a year ago that I was first ordering Swann's Way and reading the first few pages. I was reading about sleep, falling asleep, and reading about mint tea before violent episodes of flu. Now, almost a year later, I have a set of creased, abused, fallen down from bus seats, fallen out of hands onto driveways editions of Proust, some of which with the marked dates of where the readings for each Proust 2013 week ended.

I’ve brought In Search of Lost Time along with me to all sorts of places, and it’s been an adventure when people ask what I’m reading and I say Proust. I was very interesting at parties for a while.

From the churches of Combray and the tea and madeleines to the unrecognizable faces of past friends, the journey the Narrator goes on is an incredible one. He grows up, falls in and out of love, different types of love, and writes almost page long sentences because Proust is an amazing literary mind and his translators have preserved his distinct style.

It was a year long commitment to read In Search of Last Time and this upcoming Sunday when I’m not sitting down with the Proust reading of the week I’m reminisce about reading times past.
NYRB Book Club Renewal
NYRB Book Club Renewal

I sent in my NYRB Book Club renewal today! Here's hoping for another 12 months of excellent literature a few weeks before publication date!

Time Travel Murder Mystery

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls sounds at first like a bad mash up of Doctor Who and CSI, and while there was great potential for camp, the brutal violence and suspense avoids that pitfall. 


Kirby has survived a brutal attack (and animal lovers might want to just skim the chapter that describes her actual attempted murder) and she is trying to find the man who murdered her. 


Meanwhile, Harper, the murderer, stumbles across a house in Chicago that doubles as a time machine and motive for murder. He brings tokens from another murder to leave at the site of each killing, his time traveling concealing his actions. He is without a doubt a sick killer, which was overall decently done. I'm not big on reading about criminals themselves, especially murderers, which is where this book finally lost me. 


However, the clever plot, the lack of fetishization of murder (and even a direct addressing of it at one point), as well as the interesting secondary characters and undercurrents of "the shining girls" moving outside the normal confines of society make it a strong combination of literary and genre fiction. 



I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban - Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai The Childhood of Jesus - J.M. Coetzee Night Film - Marisha Pessl The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes Childhood, Boyhood, Truth: From an African Youth to the Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

"To Read" October 18 2013

I am swamped with good books to read next now that I've finished four books in the last week. I'm way behind on Proust, I know, but there are so many nice books just waiting to be picked up. 


I'm especially excited for I am Malala. I followed her story extensively last fall and am very much looking forward to reading what she has to say, especially after her Daily Show interview. It's also a signed edition so I'm excited about it as a book collector as well. 

The Black Spider - Jeremias Gotthelf, Susan Bernofsky A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning - Maggie Nelson The Captive & The Fugitive - Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, D.J. Enright

Back in the land of the living

The last two weeks I've been working on a somewhat dysfunctional 2 dimensional linear hydrodynamics code that made me want to puke every time I went close to it. Also, not much time for reading when every waking moment is tracking down bugs or trying to keep up with other classes when trying to conquer this beast. 


I finished the code Tuesday night. 


While it was running, I read half of A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, which really absurdly macho and arty, but it was about some guy with artistic and money problems who wasn't in grad school so I ate it up. 


Then, to celebrate being done with the code, last night I just read. I finished The Black Spider essentially in one sitting, and am still trying to digest the arachnid imagery (I do not like any type of arthropods, especially ones on or around my face) and the religious allegory. 


Then, because I was on a roll, I read some of Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty because I've been trying to read that book for the last two weeks and have not made much progress (see above issues with my grad life interfering with my reading life). 


Fortunately, I'm back and the non-linear hydro code is not due until December, so I have some time to start reading again! I've got some good ones in the queue as well so I am super excited for this weekend, when I will binge read and hopefully catch up on my Proust 2013 read along (I'm only 4 weeks behind?). 

A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway Hey Hemingway, I like hearing about your friends and living in Paris, mostly because your friends are awesome and Paris is cool.

I can definitely see how A Moveable Feast has in a lot of ways become a classic of the time and place. The Fitzgeralds make appearances (of course Hemingway wasn't a fan of Zelda) as well as Gertrude Stein and other famous authors and artists of the day. There is the art, the struggling, the Parisian atmosphere. I binge read this after a week of very intense hydrodynamics simulation coding, and experiencing the ins and outs of American expats was fascinating. Unfortunately there is a slightly more expanded version that my university bookstore did not have, but I have a feeling that the overall impressions are similar.

Before the Spanish Civil War, before commercial literary success, before the next three wives and before the Nobel Prize, Ernest Hemingway is a struggling artist, discovering what literary opinion he values and forming his authorial identity (having read this in the midst of reading Proust, I definitely started to see a connection between the literary ambitions and uncertainties between Hemingway at the time at the narrator of In Search of Lost Time).

Overall, it's not just worthy to read out of being a Hemingway enthusiast but because it documents the formation of an artist. Hemingway does take some perspective on things, especially when it comes to Fitzgerald's future successes and failures, but overall it's a time capsule of a time and place that has since been written about extensively by biographers. Why not read it from the horse's mouth?

Being Don Draper before Don Draper was cool

Mortal Leap - MacDonald Harris

I'd been highly recommended Mortal Leap for about a year and a half before I finally requested it through inter-library loan (my reading time may be infringed upon by my grad student life but I wouldn't give up the library privileges for the world, except maybe graduating eventually). It showed up right as the semester went nuts. Of course, not as nuts as the plot and premise of this novel. 


Our narrator starts out as a young man in Utah, from a devout Mormon family, who will rather get caught reading a girly mag instead of the Joseph Conrad novels he loves. He has issues for sure, and before too long our narrator is on his way to reinvention, first on a ship and then having his face and hands so badly burned he cannot be identified. His purest form of reinvention is literally erasing his previous identity. 


Mortal Leap was originally published in 1964 and it's difficult to get a copy outside of libraries. The story itself is strange and captivating, and I can't seem to figure out why the book went out of print. The nameless narrator deals with what happens when one does not feel strongly attached to a particular place or way of life, and what happens when people start to drift. There are some weaknesses in the middle of the novel while there is a sense of safety where the narrator is passing himself off as a man with a wife and history outside of his own sad life, but these are remedied by the end of the novel in a very neat way. The wife that our narrator comes out of the woodwork to claim is not just some object, as the narrator first sees him, and I loved how she was given a larger role by the finale. 


There is some lower than navel-gazing, over-thinking about life, and some great commentary on readers and literature, in addition to the crazy plot. It's multilayered enough that no matter how annoying or rude the narrator becomes, there is still a reason to stick it out until the end.


A man with a poor, unimportant background sees chances to reinvent himself, finally literally as a different person, with a different identity and different family. 


(Those of you Mad Men nerds out there know what I'm talking about. The rest of you, don't Google just go watch the show. You'll see the connection and it's even more unbelievable that Mortal Leap has not been reprinted. NYRB could make a mint.)


Bluets - Maggie Nelson My favorite color is blue.

From a recommendation from a friend, I found a copy of Bluets and in the process found my favorite new bookstore in Tucson. So, a win all around.

Maggie Nelson has organized Bluets into a series of propositions, she calls them, and each one varies from a few lines to significantly longer (though never more than about a page). Each one focuses on the color blue in some way, shape, or form. The physical, like Newton, to the emotional, like depression, play together in a way that alternates between quirky and deeply sorrowful. Occasionally these changes throw the reader, but that's part of the beauty of the work.

I was strongly reminded of Terry Tempest Williams' When Women Were Birds in terms of the structure, and I have to say I am a huge fan of the short essay structure. The combination of stream of consciousness where the thoughts are so brief that only one or two things are captured is combined with a numbered structure and this is something I need more of, as soon as possible. There's something about it that's incredibly special and innovative.

Bluets is a masterwork of contemplating the social, emotional, and physical implications of the color blue in the most interesting and fascinating way.

Cross-posted at BookLikes.com

Importing from Goodreads

I think the formatting of my Goodreads reviews are not coming through particularly well in the import. Please have patience while I import and fix reviews!



We're Importing Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky

Reblogged from BookLikes:

Let's just say I am part of the problem because I wanted an alternative to Goodreads. I figure it's safe to have a back up, right? I also like the review layout here better, and I'm not here to bully authors like some comments have said about us Goodreaders looking for greener pastures. Expect diverse, hopefully insightful, and interesting reviews from me!



Original post below



Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.


The little rhyme by Arnold Lobel fits all book lover just perfectly. BookLikes is also working hard to put all your book piles back on your shelves as soon as possible.


As you've noticed we're experiencing massive inflow of book lovers and huge amount of imports which is responsible for import queue. We feel honored that all of you have chosen BookLikes as home for your books, you books reviews and your writings.


We're doing everything we can to shelve your titles. We don't want to miss any of your book or your review, we try to be as accurate with book match as we can. We're really excited about this situation and we're working hard to meet all your expectations.


We would like to ask you for patience and thank you for understanding in advance. We can promise you that all your books and texts will be put on your blogs and shelves and it will be much sooner than the estimated time.


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Life After Life - Kate Atkinson I like Kate Atkinson's style, I like the myriad of ways that a character can live their fictional lives plausibly, and I love the way that Ursula ends up trying to make the best of her life time after time. However, as a (somewhat) rabid Doctor Who fan, I have seen this before. The beautiful literary premise about how choices affect someone gets caught up in the muddle of a somewhat sci-fi evolution of the story. It's kind of fun discovering who these historical side characters are, but at the same time it seems like a little overdone sci-fi story. Seriously, it is the plot of "Let's Kill Hitler" complete with a character who has foreknowledge of the situation who is manipulating it for her own ends, and even that who rebirth/regeneration thingSo, the conceit is fascinating but the execution reminded me of a hybrid of a video game and a Choose Your Own Adventure where, no matter how hard you try, you keep dying. When Ursula would get herself into a variety of different situations (abusive relationships, death of pets, death of loved ones--there are a lot of possibilities when one gets to live their life over and over) I definitely felt for the character and was invested in how Ursula would end up. Atkinson was successful in creating and capturing a character who at least had me as a reader interested for the length of the novel. It should really be four stars but it's three because, if you consume as much sci-fi as I do, you've seen this plot before.

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