Has it been a month already? Time flies.
Almost done with: A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Wow, what a great book! If I had read this book as a high school student, I’d probably have been a physicist. Probably a POOR physicist given my thoroughly average mathematical aptitude, but it makes the topic just that much fun. And Bryson actually tackles much, much more than physics in this book. It’s kind of the history of all the “hard” sciences and many of their subdisciplines --physics, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, biology, microbiology, geology, meteorology, chemistry, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. It’s the kind of stuff that you’d be expected to learn in an introductory course if majoring in any of these topics in college, but Bryson makes it so easy to read, so breezy that I just soaked it up and didn’t want to put the book down. He has a marvelous style that makes all these topics approachable and lets you take something away from each of them without resorting to nasty formulas or tedious memorization. One of the other things I particularly like is that this book is equal parts history of science and history of scientists. Bryson injects every chapter with lively descriptions of the men and women behind the science, giving us amusing exposures to their foibles, eccentricities, and character. I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in …well, ANYTHING. I’d also love to see a sequel or similar treatment for the social sciences like psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
Like just about every other non-illiterate out there, I snatched up the latest Harry Potter book. Not surprising, since I think I read somewhere that enough copies of this book were sold in one day to fill a football stadium with cream corn for a whole week.
The book was pretty fun --fast paced, imaginative in places and charming everywhere else. My only complaints are that there’ snot much of a narrative thread tying this one together so that it’s just a kind of jumble of events prefaced with mysteries and with a big event at the end. It also retread on a lot of the same themes that have been pretty thoroughly covered in past books: friendship, loyalty, trusting authority, distrusting authority, honesty, puppy love, and general teenage angst. At least there’s only one more book in the series so those can’t get driven much deeper into the ground. (BTW, there’s a great thread going on about this book here: http://www.quartertothree.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=20266)
Nothing’s Sacred by Lewis Black
Like a lot of people, I enjoy Lewis Black’s comedy on The Daily Show to the point where I told TiVo to keep an eye out for his standup routine. Having seen the latter, I can say that most of this book is essentially “Lewis Black’s Standup Comedy: The Book.” Black often goes off on random invectives against whatever comes to mind, like the chapters he spent complaining about candy corn or cell phones.
Non sequiturs like those aside, though, there’s this kind of loose narrative running through most of the book talking about growing up in the 60s and how Black developed his short-tempered views on authority in general. These parts are more like “Lewis Black’s Standup Comedy: The Blog” in that they’re pretty disjointed and hop around in time and space with pretty much complete impunity.
Black’s comedy here is pretty raunchy at times (e.g., he describes deficating on the television when it told him that Nixon had won re-election), but every now again he’ll inject it with some witty, more cerebral remark that makes you think for a second. For example, he quips that “if the United States Postal Service hadn’t already existed, Kafka would have created it.” The book doesn’t have as many laughs per minute as his “Back in Black” segments on The Daily Show, but I did get quite a few good gufaws out of it overall.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
There is, of course, a new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie just out, but I’ve actually been meaning to read this book for years. I absolutely adored the 1971 movie based on the same book, and it was fun to see all the same characters and scenes.
I think, however, that this is one of those cases where the movie (the 1971 one, anyway; I haven’t seen the new one) is better than the source material. The book lacks several key devices that I thought gave the Charlie Bucket character a lot more depth. In the book, for example, Charlie is not tempted to steal Wonka’s secrets by a spy from other chocolate factory. Thus he’s never faced with the ethical dilemmas around feeding his starving family by stealing the Everlasting Gobstopper and selling it to the competition, the result of which earns him ownership of the factory. In fact, the book’s Charlie earns Wonka’s largess just by being the last man standing in a game of “Just Stand There and Don’t Do Anything Mind-Blowingly Stupid.”