Saturday, September 27, 2008

Physics for Future Presidents -- The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller

My book club selected this for the first read of the new year, and I am glad and sad to have read it.

First my glad side: considering the last eight years have seen a rejection of science in many areas, not to forget the general demonetization of intellectualism, this volume shows in a clear and concise manner, scientific explanations of important issues of the day. The best sections were on terrorism, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power. Muller taught me a lot about these issues. I was on the fence about nuclear power, but his statistics and logical discussions of the real dangers has caused me to lean somewhat in favor.

The section on space was the thinnest, and added nothing to my knowledge of this subject. Over all, the book was written at about a 10th grade level. The “Presidential Summaries” at the end of each chapter, were at about a 9th grade level. The reading level was glaring, and sometimes this came across as condescending. I sure hope the next president can at least read at a college level!

The book grew out of course the author teaches at UC-Berkeley, which makes the reading level even more glaring. Perhaps he has the current president in mind. Bush 43’s dictum, early on in his presidency, that all position and policy papers be no longer than 2 pages and his admission that he does not read newspapers, make me want to vote for an intellectual – not someone I’d like to talk sports with over a beer. 4 stars

--Chiron, 9/25/08

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright

Anne Enright won the Booker prize in 2007. I had never heard of her, so when this volume came to my attention, I decided to read it first. Partly because it has been a while since I have read any short stories, partly because I am working on a short story now for my seminar in fiction, and partly because I did not want to begin by reading Enright's prize-winning novel.

The best I can say about this collection is the stories are uneven. Some of the more conventional ones are memorable, but the stream of consciousness ones are, as the English say, rubbish. This is not to say I am sorry I read the collection -- there are plenty of good stories.

I especially liked the ones about relationships, for example, "Until the Girl Died" and "Here's to Love." Most of the stories are short -- 3-5 pages -- and perfect for those odd moments in the doctor's office or between groups of deplorable essays I had to grade last weekend.

Now, I am looking forward to Enright's Booker novel, The Gathering.

--Chiron, 9/14/08

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Time in Xanadu by Lars Gustafsson

Readers might recall my disappointment with two volumes of poetry by Gustafsson earlier this year. This volume was recommended by Amazon, and I decided to take a chance. This is a nifty volume of poetry published by Copper Canyon Press. I subscribe to their catalogue, and, if I had noticed they were the publisher, I would have waited and bought it directly from them.

This collection of poems is really rather good. The poems still have that sparse, Scandinavian style, but there are plenty of touches of humor, as he juxtaposes profound insights with ordinary images, events, and ideas. Here is a good example:

“…it’s nice sleeping with cats
in bed, somewhere down
in the foot area just where the toes
cautiously peep out into a nocturnal world
like watchman on the wall
of a very old city
Sleep City on the Plain of Dark.
The cat then at a suitable distance
but in a kind of understanding
with the toes, these ten watchman
against the dark, chaos, the void,
and the sound of the distant train.” (73)

Anyone who sleeps with a pet – cat or dog – can recognize the images here. Settle in after turning off the lights, wiggle and slide under the covers. A foot comes near the soft, still body of a pet, and then the warmth they exude touches the toes, the feet, and travels up the leg. Wonderful stuff.

This is one of those books that requires an immediate, slow, second, or maybe even a third read. One at a time, moments before the light goes out.

--Chiron, 9/10/08