between last week’s retreat and prepping for several activities this weekend, i haven’t finished any new books. that’s why this week’s bookworm review is a title i first read five years ago and recently revisited: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (4 of 5 stars).
in the airport bookstore on the way to our honeymoon, lee and i each picked out a novel to enjoy on the long airplane ride and lazy days on the beach. this was my choice. it’s thicker than i usually go for in a traveling book, but my interest was piqued by creative syllabus format (each chapter in the “core curriculum” is named for a classic work of fiction, with a final exam at the end and a glossary of terms on the cover flap). i was convinced to give it a try by the description of the sixteen-year-old heroine, blue van meer, as brainy and deadpan with a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge.
after moving to yet another remote academic outpost with her professor father, blue finds herself eyeball-deep in a series of inexplicable events and eventually a murder mystery. at first i was completely delighted by pessl’s bibliography-style descriptions and hand-drawn “visual aids” sprinkled throughout the book. the perpetual student in me was thrilled to be immersed in academic vocabulary and references to great literature as a tool to paint detail into a work of fiction.
somewhere around chapter 24 the incessant research paper-esque citing became tedious…and then i began to appreciate it for it’s significance to the story and not just a clever writing style. i was also pleasantly surprised by the skilled weaving in of uncommon words and the unexpected turn in the plot. i was certainly entertained and closed the book quite satisfied with my impulsive choice.
have you read this book? does the idea of reading a novel with style elements of a term paper sound exciting or mind-numbing to you?
in honor of national grammar day on sunday, i’ve been celebrating our lovely language this week. today’s bookworm review is on a book that does just that: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John McWhorter (4 of 5 stars).
i have always enjoyed mcwhorter’s style of teaching — i borrowed his lecture on “the story of language” from the library and listened to all twelve hours in rapt attention. i admit that i’m already a fan of the subject matter, but mcwhorter has a way of making the international origins of English words and syntax patterns seem like a lively story.
he covers everything from the the odd use of the word “do” in question form to the claim that language reveals culture. i connected with his attitude toward the maddening nature of arbitrary English rules…he seemed to convey an exasperated affection as you would feel for an unruly family member.
one of my favorite things about this book is that he points out how it’s silly to get upset over broken rules like a preposition at the end of a sentence or split infinitives, because the entire history of the English language is of an ever-changing grammar with many broken rules along the way. somehow my brain naturally distinguishes between an evolving way of communication like simplified sentence structure (acceptable), and blatant, lazy errors like mistaken homophones: it’s/its, their/there, or your/you’re (so annoying).
this book may not be your cup of tea, but it is certainly not out of reach, even if you are not a linguaphile. if you speak English, you can appreciate this story.
do you ever think about why we use the words we do? what is one oddity of the English language that has always made you scratch your head in wonder?
happy leap day, everyone! on this magical extra day, how ’bout a review of a book that tries to explain the illusions surrounding exceptional events: The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (2.5 of 5 stars).
scientist mlodinow pulls back the curtain to show us how the magician in our daily lives is randomness. he claims we overestimate the significance of everything from casual interactions to major setbacks, and so we often attribute successes and failures to “obvious” causes, when they are actually more profoundly influenced by chance.
mlodinow offers examples from the classroom and the supermarket to big financial markets and the White House, and each is more intriguing than the last. the author convincingly demonstrates that ratings, grades, polls, and many other things we rely on are just not…well, reliable.
this was certainly an interesting read. truly thought-provoking ideas. i can’t decide if the evidence and concepts the author presents are encouraging, or just encourage apathy. and as a believer in the One Whose Hand is at Work in this world, i have to think that many of these “random coincidences” are just not.
the point of this calculated tour of randomness, chance, and probability is to remind us that much in our lives is about as predictable as the steps of a stumbling drunk. i’m not sure what my conclusion is, but i definitely was not bored reading this book.
do you believe that randomness plays a major role in life’s events? does this idea make you feel relieved or hopeless?
today’s bookworm wednesday is not so much a book review as it is a piece of my reading history. i’d like to share the book that was a game-changer for me: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (5 of 5 stars).
it seems as if i’ve always loved reading. i can’t remember not craving books — both old familiar stories and new engrossing tales. but the motivation behind that desire wasn’t always the same.
i don’t know if other readaholics out there can relate, but in my history as a reader, there is a distinct moment that stands out to me — the moment when i realized that this reading thing was so much more than mere entertainment.
A Wrinkle in Time was the first fantasy book i ever read. i was in sixth grade, and up to then my reading was centered on tearing through each new title in Ann Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club series, Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High collection, and the Saddle Club books by Bonnie Bryant. i had (inexplicably) not even discovered C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
when the school librarian suggested Madeleine L’Engle‘s Time Quintet, i was intrigued, and started reading immediately. A Wrinkle in Time fascinated and thrilled me in a way i had never experienced through books. meg’s intergalactic travels, the profound and thought-provoking themes, the impossible time-travel and bizarre space creatures, the inspiring heroics…i wanted more.
after quickly finishing all of the books in that series, i moved on to books by similar authors, then broadened my tastes to other genres like allegory and history and nonfiction.
i feel like A Wrinkle in Time was a gateway to a whole new world of reading for me. a world in which books serve to inspire, teach, and make you think, as well as entertain. now i read many more academic and life-application books than in my pre-teen years, but i still love to lose myself in a fantastic story.
the A Wrinkle in Time cover above is more pleasant, in my opinion (it’s the edition on my shelf now), but the cover art to the right is what was on the library book that i read, and it scared the bajeezes out of me. i don’t think i would’ve dived in if it weren’t for my intense curiosity, and my admiration for and trust in my librarian. (every reading nerd’s childhood hero — the school librarian.)
if you have been a lifelong reader, do you remember a moment that changed the game for you? if you more recently discovered the joy of reading, what book hooked you? (if you don’t like to read…i don’t know what to say. )
since it is valentine’s week, i thought i’d share my thoughts about a book on love. and because many have had their fill of sappy romance for awhile after v-day, i chose a book with a decidedly un-sentimental approach to love. this week’s bookworm wednesday review looks at a book that was a life- and truth-saver for me after suffering emotional and spiritual wounds: Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J.P. Moreland. (4.5 of 5 stars).
sometimes, when life happens, and you begin to question all you’ve always held true…sometimes you just need to approach your area of uncertainty in a new way. my relationship with God has always been more emotional, more a matter of the heart. my relationship with His Word was surely intellectual, but i always based my faith and convictions more on what i had known since childhood to be true in my heart. i didn’t even realize where i had built my foundation until my heart was torn and my faith had to find new footing.
moreland presents a methodical, logical case for the role of the mind in spiritual transformation, challenging us to develop a Christian mind and to use our intellect to explore theology, doctrine, and spiritual growth. the analytical, academic style in which moreland presents the information was just what i needed when i read his book, and reminded me of nancy pearcy’s total truth (another life-changing book that i read a few years ago and hold as one of my top five favorite books).
i read this book while taking a theology course at the credo house, and between the two resources i gratefully found a more solid foundation for my beliefs and a new home for my love for God. if you need some traction in your faith, check out this book as a starting point, and fill in the gaps with a course or two in the theology program—they offer online options.
have you ever needed to change your angle in order to gain some spiritual perspective? what helped you re-focus?
as i was writing yesterday’s post about how this book had a significant impact on my approach toward running, i had to exercise some real restraint not to gush about how great it really is, beyond running inspiration. today’s bookworm review is of a book that i believe has a very broad appeal: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (4.5 of 5 stars).
if you enjoy epic stories, you’ll like this book. if you are awed by incredible physical feats, you’ll like this book. if you are delighted by interesting characters, you’ll like this book. if you are fascinated by anatomy and physiology, you’ll like this book. if you are intrigued by different cultures, interested in science or history, or excited by adventure, you will like this book.
mcdougall’s writing style seamlessly transitions back and forth between research and information and the compelling narrative. it is his own story—his search for an answer to the nagging question of why running caused him nothing but pain.
much of the book is spent uncovering the secrets of the reclusive tarahumara indians, who for centuries have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest over the savage terrain of mexico’s copper canyon and enjoy every mile of it. but mcdougall also takes you from the high-tech science labs at harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across north america, meeting fascinating people all along the way.
i loved marveling over the ultra-athletes, learning awesome scientific and cultural facts, and feeling encouraged about my own potential. i would recommend this book to anyone. it is entertaining and informative, no matter what your interests.