Readings

Last semester was full of travel but short on time. Despite having more time to read, I end up reading less. Maybe I can just blame the election. This semester is not going that great either, reading-wise.

Measuring the World (Daniel Kehlmann). This was apparently a bestseller in German-speaking countries. It’s about Gauss meeting von Humboldt, but mostly about von Humboldt. Gauss comes off as pretty cranky, but von Humboldt’s adventures have an air of the fantastical about them. I’m not sure why it was so popular in Germany, but I think those who like science and history would enjoy it.

The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin). Won the Hugo award, wide-ranging, multiple perspectives. A world in which seismic activity crushes civilizations regularly. Engenders a kind of cruelty and fend-for-oneselfness that seems raw but desperate. Really a great book, can’t wait to read the next.

The Social Construction of What? (Ian Hacking). A book that is not really about the “science wars” but is couched in there nonetheless. Hacking tries to taxonomize and break down what “social construction” means. I like the approach but as a “book” it kind of meanders to the end, with a chapter on child abuse more or less stapled in. He sets up the first half with a bunch of scalpels with which to dissect cases, but then doesn’t use them as clearly. I think I’m biased because I like reading math books where you get a general theorem and then a bunch of nice corollaries that recover known results or shed new light on something etc.

Too Like The Lightning (Ada Palmer) One of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in terms of Big Ideas and Lots of History. The second book in the series came out and I am going to read it soon. There’s a Crooked Timber seminar on it that I’ll read afterwards because spoilers. It’s a very difficult book to describe to others, but it’s in a very futuristic Earth with a very complex governmental system and perhaps extreme stratification into affinity groups. The latter seems “for the purposes of argument” in terms of the philosophizing. The narrator is remarkably unreliable, and the novel is written in a historical style, addressing the Reader, who sometimes themselves interjects. Read it if you like heady speculative fiction and complex worlds.

My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante) This is the first of the Neapolitan Quartet novels and I found it utterly engaging. I think it’s one of those books which many of my friends who are women have read and almost none of my male friends have read, but that’s just some stupid sexism-in-publishing BS. I’m looking forward to the next three books, although I’ve heard this is the best of them. The thing to me about it is how vividly I could picture the events without Ferrante actually going through and describing the details. It somehow captures the feeling of revisiting a memory. Maybe I’m getting older. Time to start reading Proust?

 

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