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A Busy Sunday

January 13, 2008

If you look to your upper right, you might notice a new page called “World Lit.”  It’s a work-in-progress that I’m hoping to make a great resource for anyone who wants to read books outside of the US and England.  Feel free to suggest your favourite books/authors/websites/etc. related to the theme!  Right now, I’ve only got two sections up (the former British empire and continental Europe), because it’s somewhat tedious work, but don’t worry-I haven’t forgotten about the rest of the world! :)

Also, I’ve found another challenge (via Melanie)! I can hear you groaning, but it’s a non-fic one, so in my ‘rules,’ it’s allowed.Science Book Challenge :D It’s called The Science Book Challenge and the rules are pretty simple. Read three science-y non-fic books this year, then write at least 500 words about them. Then, you can submit your review (or note, as this website calls them), and it will be posted in a big communal section. Oh, and you have to tell two other people about the challenge! Rather then pick three definite books, I’ve found several that are in my library and sound interesting:
Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson (a collection of public-friendly essays on physics)
The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin (a long book of important scientific discoverers throughout history)
The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin (I’ve read a couple books on evolution, but never the one that started it all!)
The Canon by Natalie Angier (an introduction to the basics of every discipline of science, for adults who weren’t necessarily paying attention in their high school classes!)
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (I read this in high school, but I don’t really remember it, so it’d be a good refresher!)
Web of Life by Fritjof Capra (combines science and philosophy; I was originally going to read this for the Planet Earth challenge, but I don’t think it fits, so I’m moving it here and using T. Rex and the Crater of Doom-an account of the search to figure out what killed the dinosaurs-in its place)

For those who’re thinking about joining in this challenge, but don’t know what books to read, here are my recommendations:
Genome by Matt Ridley (biology): this book is a fascinating look at the human genome. Each chapter focuses on a different chromosome, and Ridley tends to look at one major thing associated with that chromosome. The writing style is very interesting, as is the topic! Ever since I read it, I’ve been wanting to read his The Red Queen, which is all about the sex chromosomes.
The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra and Matt Blakeslee: I reviewed this for, so you can go there and find out why you should read it!
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene: this was a dense, but accessible, explanation of string theory, which is just fascinating! (Even if it isn’t necessarily true.)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: this book is difficult to sum up, but it begins with the Earth coming into being, and goes through life. They’re looking at how modern-day problems might have roots in the struggle for life to survive, and it’s chock full of interesting facts.
Also, if anyone has any suggestions for general public-accessible chemistry books (I tend to focus on biology and physics), let me know!

blindman.jpgFinally, it is Short Story Sunday, and I just read a beautiful collection by Amy Bloom called A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.  First off, isn’t that cover gorgeous?!  Might not be the best one to read on the public bus, though-my mom saw it and got the wrong impression. hehe  While these stories definitely aren’t erotica, several of them do focus on sexuality, and the myriad forms that it comes in.  Most of my reading is heterosexual-centric, so it was refreshing to read a collection that includes trans-gendered and homosexual characters as well!  The title story focuses on a mother who, when she realises that her little girl wants to be a boy, decides to go about fulfilling that wish to the best of her abilities.  Bloom’s prose really creeps up on you; its beauty seems to obscure some of the emotional content until all of a sudden you find yourself laughing and crying along with the characters.

In addition to sexuality, Bloom likes to focus on loss.  In “Stars at Elbow and Foot,” the main character has just lost her baby; then, in the following story entitled “Hold Tight,” we have the reverse of a teenage girl losing her mother.  Both of these are exquisitely rendered.  Really, the entire collection is about love: maternal love, friendly love, sexual love, and how sometimes they can get all mixed up.  In the center are two stories focusing on the same characters-Lionel and Julia.  What makes it interesting is that the first story (“Night Vision”) is told entirely from Lionel’s point of view, so the reader meets the people in his life through his eyes.  Then, in “Light Into Dark” we suddenly see Lionel as these others see him, and it’s just fascinating to see the differences!  Bloom’s prose is consistently stunning.  Take this passage from “Rowing to Eden,” a story about Mai, a middle-aged beauty who’s going through treatment for breast cancer, her husband Charley, and her best friend since college (and a lesbian) Ellie

It seems to Mai that even her subconscious has lost its subtlety.  Mais is famous for her subtle humour, her subtle beauty, her subtle understanding of the Bronte sisters, of nineteenth-century England, of academic politics and the art of tenure, which she got at thirty.  Now she feels as subtle as Oprah and not even as quick.

That’s Bloom being delicate; she also knows how to be raw, as in the thoughts of the narrator of “The Story”:

The story I began to write would have skewered her, of course. Anyone who knew her would have read it and known it was she and thought badly of her while reading. She would have been embarassed and angry. That really is not what I have in mind. I want her skin like a rug on my floor, warm throat slit, heart still beating behind the newly bricked-up wall.

There isn’t really a weak point in this collection; the only thing I wish is that it was longer (it’s only eight stories and weighs in at 163 pages). If you love stories that focus on characters and emotions, rather than plot, and if you eat up beautiful writing, you will definitely want to own this book. And if not, well, this book just might change your mind!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2008 2:20 pm

    You’re quicker than I am in selecting your books! I might try The Canon as well, and I’m going to spend my afternoon flicking though my many science related books to decide which one to tackle first.
    I’ll add one suggestion, Marcelo Gleiser’s 1998 “The Dancing Universe” was a wonderful read.

  2. January 13, 2008 4:31 pm

    Ooh, what a great excuse to add more science titles to my 2008 TBR list. This is one challenge to which I think I’m going to have to succumb.

  3. January 13, 2008 4:54 pm

    Melanie, thanks for the suggestion! My library doesn’t have it, but I’ve added it to the TBR. :D It’s easy for me to pick books when I’m limited to my library, hehe. It’d be much more difficult if I was letting myself buy/mooch whatever I wanted!

    Emily, yay! I thought it was a great excuse too. Between this and Planet Earth, I’ll learn lots of science this year. :)

  4. January 13, 2008 5:05 pm

    The Amy Bloom stories sound wonderful – I’m still looking for a couple more collections for the short story challenge.
    I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed her new novel, Away.

    Thanks for the review :)

  5. January 13, 2008 7:32 pm

    RavenousReader, I’ll have to look into Away! :)

  6. January 13, 2008 7:53 pm

    If I weren’t already doing the Earth 2008 challenge I’d jump at the science challenge. I’ve got Death by Black Hole. It looks like fun. Now, to actually read it!

  7. January 13, 2008 8:04 pm

    Good luck on your new challenge!
    I’m going to have fun checking out your world lit lists. I do have a book to recommend by Mexican author – Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. Magical realism to the max.

  8. January 13, 2008 8:29 pm

    That World lit page is a great idea! I’m too tired now to give it much attention but I’ll be sure to take a look at it to see what I can contribute and to spread the word.

  9. January 13, 2008 9:53 pm

    Stefanie, isn’t that always the problem? :)

    Iliana, thanks for your suggestion…I think the phrase “Magical realism to the max” would make me read anything!

    Imani, thanks for the help! I’m counting on you to help me out in the Caribbean. ;)

  10. January 13, 2008 9:56 pm

    Oh, and I’ve just drawn for “The Madonnas of Leningrad” – and you’ve won a copy!

  11. January 13, 2008 11:57 pm

    Yay! Oh I’m so happy Melanie. :) I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as enthusiastic about a book giveaway before.

  12. January 15, 2008 12:58 pm

    Hoo boy, no more challenges for me! And especially not science, since I have to hear science talk all the time from my husband. Not that I don’t love science! But in moderation. ;) I hope you enjoy that challenge, though!

    Sometimes I really like Amy Bloom, but her newest (Away?) was really dull for me. It just seemed like so many other books I’d read before, somehow.

  13. January 15, 2008 9:00 pm

    Eva: thanks so much for taking the Science-Book Challenge! All your titles sound great, and your suggestions, too. I’m looking forward to hearing about them. And thanks to Melanie, too, for netting another reader.

    Say, for all your commenters who are already reading a science book for another challenge–well, shouldn’t they be allowed to count their book for our challenge, too, so long as they send me a short note about their book? Ta da!

  14. Dark Orpheus permalink
    January 15, 2008 9:12 pm

    The Julia and Lionel stories were among my favourite. But I think there was a third story with the same characters, where Lionel visits Julia with his second wife. It should be in another collection — I need to look at my bookshelf to find it.

    I always felt Bloom could have expanded the Julia & Lionel stories into a novel.

    Hope you will enjoy “Away” — it’s a subtle novel that has to be read slowly. But it’s worth the time. It’s funny and compassionate — but I still prefers Amy Bloom’s short stories.

  15. January 17, 2008 2:15 pm

    Dew, maybe I’ll stick with her short stories then. :) I agree that science needs to be in moderation…and humble. At my college, a lot of the science majors were the cockiest things ever…used to annoy me!

    Jeff, no problem-thanks for hosting! (and it’s a fun button) That is a good point about double-counting books…hopefully they’ll decide to join in the fun.

    Dark Orpheus, I’ll have to try to track down the third Julia & Lionel story. It does feel like they could be a novel! On the other hand, it seems that maybe Bloom’s talent lies in short stories, so perhaps she just knew better than to mess with a good thing. ;)


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