Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Age of Wonder

How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
By Richard Holmes

In 1768, Captain Cook and his crew set out to circumnavigate the globe, a journey that would open a whole new world up to Europeans and fuel a renewed interest in science and exploration. Just 63 years later, the Beagle embarked on an expedition that would culminate in Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory that, it may be argued, has removed the romance from science and replaced it with cold, hard logic.

The years bookended by these two historic sea voyages are the time period explored in Richard Holmes’ book, The Age of Wonder. The first half of the book is absolutely brilliant. Exotic Tahiti, the early days of ballooning, and huge breakthroughs in astronomy are described with such enthusiasm and wit that I couldn’t get enough of it. The stories truly are fascinating. Don’t believe me? Consider the tale of the two balloonists that quarreled their way across the English Channel, a passage that ended dramatically with the men mostly naked and half-frozen (p. 149-152).

Unfortunately, the second half of the book was a bit of a bore for me. And allow me to emphasize the for me. In its second half, the book starts to delve more into philosophy. Is there a God? Why are we here? Does some part of us endure after death? You know, the age-old questions.

Problem is, I don't do philosophy. This is my secret shame. I really want to be philosophical and deep, etcetera, etcetera, but the minute someone mentions transcendentalism or existentialism, my brain shut right off. I can’t tell Plato from Socrates, and Descartes works better than Ambien for me. (And to be honest, I don’t even know if what I’ve written even has anything to do with philosophy, but it sounds pretty good, wouldn’t you agree?)

Holmes takes the traditional view that the horror of science is that it may one day turn on us (a la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) or that the scientific method has replaced wonder with cynicism and logic. I guess for me, the only horror lies in getting so caught up in wondering why science can’t tell us where we’re going or why we’re here that one forgets to enjoy the mysteries and beauty that science can expose.

First half of the book: 4 stars
Second half: 2 stars, but will appeal to those with a more philosphical bent

* Sorry, my comuter is acting up, and I can't seem to post pictures or comments. My apologies!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Author interviews

Lula and I have briefly talked about the idea of having author interviews on the site. Would any of you be interested? Who would you want interviewed? And what kind of things would you like to know about them? It could be fun to learn about them, and the world of publishing and writing. Let us know what you all think


Lula you are always doing all the work on the blog. For that I say thanks and so I am feeling inclined to post so you don't feel like your the only one.
This is for all you fantasy lovers out there. Warbreaker is a story of people who return from death and become "gods". Living breath that can "awaken" people or objects and command them to serve the awakener. Colors that hold power of their own and the country that 1/2 loves and worships colors versus the other 1/2 that loathes color and thinks it to be abominable.
Sanderson is a fantastic writer. He weaves very complicated plots and complicated characters.
I like this world and the story. Political intrigue and religious debate abounds in this book. And your always wondering who is good and who is bad. What religion is right? What makes a "god"
In the midst of all this wondering you will find yourself laughing.
This is a full blown fantasy, even has a little scifi feel to it. I will say that I liked Sanderson's Elantris better. It felt like it was edited better and cleaner. There were aspects of Warbreaker that just didn't seem to make sense, like the whole color thing. So if you are a casual reader of fantasy I would say to read Elantris first. They are long, complicated stories, but they always keep me on edge.
I gave it 4 stars on goodreads for whatever that means to you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Spirit of Sweetgrass by Nicole Seitz

There's something to be said about a well cast first sentence on page one of a novel - This is what I remember about that night - my last night alive.

Was the main character, 78 year old Essi Mae already dead then and telling her story from the grave? Why did she die? Who was she? I wondered all these things like a fish wonders what that worm dancing in the riffles would taste like. I was hooked. By that first sentence and the warm tones of that cover.

Essie Mae Jenkins is a sweetgrass basket maker who sells her finished products from a roadside stand on a tiny anonymous highway along the coastal islands of South Carolina. From there she sews her baskets, weaving in some of the sweetgrass and Gullah culture, and a little voodoo magic for good measure, all in the presence of her dead husband, Daddy Jim.

Like the vanishing sandy beach ecosystems that sustain that billowing native grass, so is the talent of making these unique baskets. Essie Mae wants to pass it on like it was passed on to her. But nature's forces are working against her, not unlike the forces of prosperity are working against the disappearing sweetgrass. Like all of us as we age, Essie Mae feels like she's slowly disappearing from the landscape as well.

Well-written in great Southern voice, The Spirit of Sweetgrass hits on many levels. It brings into sharp focus the fears that we all worry about as we age - of being forgotten and replaced. I wondered what I would leave behind for my family, suddenly wanting to take up a new skill or perfect the two or three that I have! And, I thought of what's been left for me in previous generations and I became both happy and melancholy at the same time. Memories, love, cherished mementos, and most importantly a knowledge of things particular to my family and friends always bring in torrents of emotion. We all wish for this, in any culture and time.

I enjoyed reading about other lifestyles and customs unfamiliar with my own. Now, if I could just get my hands on one of those baskets!
3 stars

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead A play by Tom Stoppard

To be or not to be, that is the question.

We all remember that famous line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, that play of all plays. Was Hamlet really being told what to do by his dead father, or was he really insane after all? Did his mother know what was going on? Did his uncle really murder his father? Were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's friends from childhood, as funny and brilliant as they seemed?


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Hamlet from a different point of view. A play within a play, within a play! Two minor characters bewildered and apparently unable to accept their present condition are brought to life in such a way that I thought of Deep Thoughts on SNL and laughed out loud more than once. It was genius. It was thought-provoking, and as you see from my book - full of such excellent word play between the two characters that I should now buy stock in sticky notes.

A sample -

Inside where nothing shows, I am the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins, and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past.

And -

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

This clip from the movie is one of the best parts of many.

This play is an easier, and much, much shorter way, to view the struggles in Hamlet. It almost explains why it ended like it did - with a cornucopia of death.

We're tragedians, you see. We follow directions - there is no choice involved. The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.

I highly recommend reading this, and then watching the movie. You will never look upon Shakespeare's most famous play the same again.
5 stars
Thanks to the Good Books Club for recommending it.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Plants, Plants, Plants!

Ah, I'm such a sucker for spring! It's almost here, in this part of the world anyway. I couldn't get to the backside of January and February fast enough. I'm one of those weirdo's who actually enjoys yard work, and despises house work.

Detests it.
Hates it.
Loathes it with a passion.
What does dish pan hands mean anyway..

When the weather warms so do my reading choices, almost against my will. If I can't physically get my hands dirty, I want to read about others doing so. I want to smell the fresh cut flowers through someone else's nose. If I must.

I've been rewatching this PBS series about two gardening sleuths. It is excellent!! And perfectly named.

And my reading choices for this month are:

Anybody else have any good gardening or outdoorsy sort of books they read this time of year? How does one fill that void of time and space that only a really good seed catalog can fulfill?