Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics - Carlo Rovelli I'll give it four stars for the first six lessons, and give it a free pass on the seventh - which isn't a lesson at all, or even about physics, but is an awkward attempt at comforting those who might be tempted to think all this physics stuff somehow detracts from the meaningfulness of our human existence. The six actual physics chapters are perfect brief introductions to the wonder and complexity of modern physics. Chapter seven makes the reader kind of embarrassed for the author as he wades into a subject that has occupied great thinkers for millennia, and to which he himself has not devoted rigorous thought -- as evidenced by the fact that this is the least "brief" and most rambling of all the chapters. I guess you have to wrap up the book somehow, but it wouldn't hurt to grant some credence to the possibility that these more "philosophical" concerns are at least as complex as - and maybe even more fundamental and elusive than - one's own area of expertise.

On Human Nature: Essays in Ethics and Politics

On Human Nature: Essays in Ethics and Politics - Arthur Schopenhauer, Thomas Bailey Saunders Schopenhauer's super smart and all, but man, what a grump.

The Quick

The Quick - Lauren Owen I gave this one a full 350 pages before finally giving it up -- I guess because the first 100 pages were so good, I was sure the book couldn't ultimately be as boring and unengaging as it suddenly seemed to be. Alas, this is just a run-of-the-mill vampire story (and no, that's not a spoiler anymore -- the secret is out, to the point that they basically tell you as much on the back of the paperback version). I can see how you might be fooled into thinking it better than it is by sort of skimming the book, or maybe reading the beginning then skipping to the end, which is what I assume Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, and Tana French did when they were asked to provide their effusive blurbs. That said, with more effort and a better editor, Lauren Owen clearly has the talent to write a great, or at least very good, story. I may well give her another try next time around -- so long as it isn't a sequel.

The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story - Roswitha Quadflieg, Michael Ende, Ralph Manheim It's possible I'm just too nostalgic about the movie to judge the book fairly, especially reading it for the first time when I'm almost 40. But I really don't think the book works as a cohesive whole. There are basically two completely different stories with no real connection between them -- the adventure story I knew from the movie, followed by an inexplicably darker, rambling, dream-sequency second half during which Bastian (spoiler alert) decides to usurp the empress and literally has thousands of Fantasticans slaughtered on his journey to discover that he'd rather be a normal kid on Earth than a fascist dictator in Fantastica. He actually slices open Atreyu's chest with a sword at one point. It's very disturbing.

That said, my 9-year-old -- who hasn't seen the movie -- loved the book, and he's the target audience, I guess. And the overall message is positive, if a little vague. And I'll always have the movie, with its uncomplicated triumphant ending where Sebastian fixes Fantasia forever and everyone's happy and he and Falkor chase those stupid bullies into a dumpster. Really, how could I have expected Michael Ende to have topped that?

Football Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated Myth-Busting Guide to America's Most Popular Game

Football Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated Myth-Busting Guide to America's Most Popular Game - Michael Kun, Adam Hoff A few interesting facts buried under an avalanche of failed attempts at wit and/or cleverness.

One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? - Frederick Herzberg If you are in human resources, and it has never occurred to you that employees might be happier if they think they're doing something useful, then this essay may teach you something. Actually, if you just read that sentence, then you've learned everything this essay can teach you. I just saved you 15 minutes. (Yeah, it's that short, but still somehow a waste of time.)


Gallop! - Rufus Butler Seder Four or five stars for the "scanimation," which is pretty cool; one or two stars for the text, which is pretty lame. Fortunately, my two-year-old doesn't care.

Personal Pleasures

Personal Pleasures - Rose Macaulay This one's not so much for reading as for savoring, bit by bit. Macaulay has a way of describing the pure, sensuous pleasures of life that make it very difficult not to go on a journey, revisit your favorite book, or go straight back to bed and pull up the covers -- just a few of the pleasures receiving their own chapter in this collection. (The chapter on "Bed," comprised of the sections "Getting In To" and "Not Getting Out Of," is perhaps my favorite.)

Recommended for fans of luxurious language, especially of the British variety.

Botany for Gardeners

Botany for Gardeners - Brian Capon An impressively readable introduction to botany, which I really do feel will make me a better gardener.

10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests

10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests - Law School Admission Council There's just no substitute for the real thing. Take the full tests, under actual timed conditions, and do it over and over again: that's the single best way to know if you're really ready.

The only negative for this particular book is that the tests are older, and so not quite as close to how the test is today. Fortunately, it hasn't changed all that much, but if I were to do it over again (please, god, no), I would buy the most recently published collection and work from that, but the practice was invaluable, no matter what.

Three Trapped Tigers (Latin American Literature Series)

Three Trapped Tigers (Latin American Literature Series) - Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Donald Gardner, Suzanne Jill Levine This is not the first Latin American novel to which I suspect I would give five stars, were I only smart enough to fully comprehend it. What is it with these guys? I loved the first 350-400 pages of this, and there was this 20-page chapter that truly blew my mind, but then the end was this seemingly endless night of baffling conversation, capped by a completely indecipherable page of stream-of-consciousness bizarrity.

In other words, I didn't get it, but for the most part, I loved it. If anyone reading this can tell me what the hell the last 100 pages were about, I would be most appreciative.

The Guide

The Guide - R.K. Narayan, Michael Gorra I'm not at all sure how I "feel" about this book. I never felt exactly compelled by the story or the characters, though I became increasingly curious about where it would all end up. The protagonist is a very curious creature -- an almost purely selfish man (whose selfishness often disguises itself as selflessness) who ends up as a reluctant spiritual guide and would-be savior. Whether he grows at all as a person is, I think, an open question, and the course of his life is almost completely driven by external events. He somehow manages to be fascinating and despicably dull all at once, and I can't quite figure out why I never just gave him up in disgust. I suppose the fact that I didn't speaks as much to Narayan's abilities as does anything else.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders I have a feeling if I'd read this as part of a collection, I would have liked it more. I'm pretty fond of Saunders' work, generally, and I see that this is equal to some of it. Somehow, though, the mere fact that it has been published as a book on its own made me expect something . . . more? . . . different? I don't know. It works as an experiment, or a diversion, or a postmodern fable, but it just doesn't have the substance to stand itself up, and I find myself less pleased by the reading than by the fact that I got a free copy and saved myself $13.00.

The God Delusion

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins The first time I tried to read this book, I gave it up within about three pages, convinced that it was far too narrowly focused and inadequately researched to be a worthwhile criticism of religion. I had also recently seen the author give an interview in which he showed himself to be an unbearable, egocentric jerk, and the book rather quickly solidified that impression. Recently, in conversation with someone who loved the book, I agreed to go back and read the thing, all of it, just out of fairness to this person's enthusiasm for it.

I was not wrong in any of my kneejerk impressions. The book is indeed too narrow and shallow to be considered anything like a true criticism of religion, in any reasonably sophisticated sense of the word. Dawkins makes clear at the beginning that he is not writing about "Einsteinian" religion, by which he means a sort of vague awe in the face of the vast wonder of the universe, but there are more strictly religious notions that he plainly fails to consider as well. And yes, Dawkins is indeed a self-centered jerk, or at least frequently comes across that way. That was certainly very distracting, but I don't suppose it should count one way or another in considering the merit of his efforts.

For my second go at the book, rather than take umbrage at its narrow focus, I simply accepted that focus from the beginning, so as to evaluate it on the appropriate scale. It is an attack on religion, but on the sorts of religion espoused mainly by the least thoughtful and, often, most vocal believers. A blurb on the back of my copy refers to the target of the book as "religious bigotry," and it is against this opponent that the work is most successful. Indeed, there are only two ways I can imagine this book achieving any of the goals Dawkins seems to have in mind for it:

1. Near the beginning of the book, Dawkins says something to the effect that he hopes some people will start the book religious and put it down as atheists. I suppose I can see this happening, but only for those people who are looking not so much for a reason to stop believing, but merely for permission. They have already made their decision, and Dawkins is saying, "It's okay."

2. More positively, I can easily see the book stirring up surprisingly latent sentiment against an increasingly mainstream religious fundamentalism. If anyone wants to know why they should be outraged at the current general acceptance of ludicrously, and often harmfully, extreme religious conviction, especially in America, they need only read Chapter 8.

In fact, I don't see much point in anyone reading more than the last three chapters of the book. These are where Dawkins makes his strongest points, speaks most to what he truly knows most about, and writes in some of his most convincing and elegant prose. The preceding two-thirds of the book suffers from a lack of focus, a too-present sense of self-importance, and a general tone of scorn and derision toward anyone with any religious inclinations (whatever lip service he might occasionally try to pay to some of them). It is only in the final 90 pages that he says anything truly constructive.

For whatever it's worth, I am not a religious person. I simply think that "the religious" deserves a lot more serious attention than it tends to get from anyone who doesn't have personal religious convictions (I am not talking about the blind "respect" for all things religious that Dawkins rightfully derides, which is indeed just intellectual timidity). To grant this attention, one must take the time to investigate religious thought at its best, to read religious works as charitably as possible, and to openly and honestly confront those religious thinkers who have thought the most, and the most intelligently, about what religion can be. If one does not wish to do these things, that is fine, but one ought not then expect to be taken seriously in turn by those one has so thoroughly disregarded.

Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith This is a good book I probably would have liked more if I hadn't first read The Talented Mr. Ripley. That's the problem with eventually writing something truly brilliant, I guess -- your first novel is bound to look a little shoddy in comparison. I definitely enjoyed it though, and I'm glad I read it. I would maybe just recommend making it your first Highsmith.

Little People Cars, Trucks, Planes, And Trains; My Little People Farm; My Little People School Bus (My Little People A Lift The Flap Play Book, 3 Book Set)

Little People Cars, Trucks, Planes, And Trains; My Little People Farm; My Little People School Bus (My Little People A Lift The Flap Play Book, 3 Book Set) - Fisher-Price Inc. I'm not a big fan, but my son (now 2 1/2) has loved these for a very long time, and I guess that's what counts.

Currently reading

Season of Migration to the North
Denys Johnson-Davies, Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ, Laila Lalami
The Broken Kingdoms
N.K. Jemisin
Ramona the Brave
Jacqueline Rogers, Beverly Cleary