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?