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Tomes 2011: About Bleedin’ Time I Finished a Book” Edition

I know it doesn’t seem that way, but I’m still reading.  It just hasn’t been much.  There are these times when the Muse takes over, and I can’t concentrate on anything other than my own work, and maybe the show or movie or what have you that prompted the outburst of creativity.  I read a page or two of someone else’s work, and then I can’t read any more, because it makes me want to jump back on the computer and get on with things.

So it’s taken half of forever to finish some books, but finish them I have, and here they are.

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Dreaming in Hindi

I don’t usually read travel books, or memoirs, or travel books that are memoirs.  But I’d decided I’d best read a few travel books on other countries, because my perspective gets locked down in America too often, and this one acted like the proverbial puppy in the window.  It jumped up and wagged its tail and gave me those big gooey eyes and said, “See? I’m a travel memoir, but I’m also about the science of language acquisition!”

Okay, so that’s not something you’d expect from a puppy.  But neither is this book what you’d expect from a travel memoir.

Reality warped when I read this book.  It made me think in completely different ways.  I started treating words differently.  It’s hard to explain, but you can’t walk away from this book and see language and human relationships in the same way again.  The science included is utterly fascinating.  There’s adventure, and intrigue, and a bit o’ danger, and confusion, and hilarity, and humanity. 

This is the book that inspired the idea for the geology book I’ll be working on this summer.  Whodathunkit?  A travel memoir inspiring a geology tome.  But it happened, and that’s not the only way this book affected me.  It made me think about issues that had only ever been abstract before.  It gave me a window on the reality of a different part of the world.  And the writing’s just delicious.

So, if you only ever read one travel memoir in your life, it should probably be this one.

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The Science of Doctor Who

Yes, my obsession with Doctor Who really has gotten that bad.  But I love science, and I love books that explore the science behind shows, and so this seemed a good choice.

It was a fun read.  Mind you, the author has an inordinate fondness for Ray Kurzweil, and the science is at times questionable at best.  (I should have marked out the bits that didn’t mesh with what I’ve learned from other, more reliable, sources, actually, but too late now.)  And some of the science herein is no more than speculation.  But it’s still a hell of a good time, and a lot of the science in here is solid.  Doctor Who fans who also like science should be enjoyably entertained.  It’ll leave you hungry to learn more about fields you didn’t even know existed.

It’s obvious the author loves his Doctor Who.  That passion comes out on every page, even when he’s poking fun at the so-shoddy-it’s-not-even-science bits of the show.  That’s another thing I liked: that he wasn’t afraid to call the frankly impossible flat impossible, and present the science saying why.  The book’s salted with quotes and references and suchlike that will delight those in the know and intrigue those who aren’t.  That’s the power of good science fiction: to make us fall in love with science, real science, not just the made-up variety.  The dramatic license taken gives us a license for the real deal.  It’s about exploring the what-ifs, because that’s how we make discoveries.

And there’s nothing more valuable than that.

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Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

I’ll have to read this one again when I’m older.

It’s an excellent book.  Dan Dennett’s one of the best thinkers around, and this is one of those books you see quoted extensively and in many places, for very good reasons.  But it’s not an easy read.

I have to admit something: when it comes to science, I’d rather be reading about actual science rather than the philosophy of science.  I’d rather see the results of real experiments than engage in thought experiments.  But it’s important to come to grips with evolution’s impact on philosophy.  Especially since so many people haven’t, and therefore still fear it, and misunderstand it. 

Not to mention the chapters dealing with Steven J. Gould helped me understand why the man could be so brilliant in some respects and such a bloody pain in the arse in others.  That, alone, was worth the reading.  And a second and third and probably fourth reading of this book will uncover a lot of facets I’ve missed this first time round.  It’s one of those books that repays revisits.  If you want to improve your philosophy chops, this is the crash course.

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Living With Karst: A Fragile Foundation

This is a very handy little booklet from the American Geological Institute that far more people should read.  It’s got everything you need for understanding karst: what it is, how it forms, and why living on it can be so damned difficult.

I have to admit this book actually scared me in a few places, especially the bits where they talk about groundwater flow through karst aquifers, and how very easy it is for human beings to fuck everything up.  Too much pumping leads to things falling apart.  Screwing up the drainage leads to contamination and flooding.  And much, much more.  A fragile foundation indeed.

I read it because I wanted to understand karst landscapes better for the world I’m building.  I ended up wanting to be a karst crusader.  We have such a tendency to do horrible things to gorgeous landscapes because we’re short-sighted morons.  At least this book gives some very good ideas on how humans and karst can get on better in the future.

Everyone from government officials to landowners to folks who just appreciate beautiful places will find something useful in here.  It’s inexpensive and an easy read.  What more do you want, a free pony?

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Unseen Academicals

I’ve learned, over a great many years, to trust Terry Pratchett without reservation.  So when I found out his latest Discworld novel would be all about sports, I didn’t groan.  I knew he’d do something awesome with it.

And he definitely did.

If you haven’t yet read a Discworld novel, let me put it this way: this is the only author who can make a flat circle of land on the backs of four elephants standing on a space turtle utterly plausible.  There’s quantum wizardry and issues of interspecies diversity.  And football* isn’t just football in this world, especially not when patronized by the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork.

And you’ll get to see Lord Vetinari drunk in this one.  Quit
e the sight, I assure you.

One thing about Terry Pratchett’s books is this: they are side-splittingly funny, and yet there’s depth and wisdom and so much that makes you stand back, squint a bit, and realize that yes, the world can and very probably should be seen that way.  You never did before, but you do now.  And life is better because of it.

Oh, and the Librarian.  Playing football.  An orangutan Librarian playing football.  You shouldn’t need any other reason to read this one.

*That’s soccer for all you Americans in the audience.

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Sedona Through Time

Now I want to go back to Sedona.

I lived there for two years, spent all my life living near it and visiting it and getting my white socks dyed red by its rust-red soils.  I loved the scenery and didn’t know a damned thing about it.  When I went home in 2009, I took a trip through Oak Creek Canyon and could appreciate its geology a bit better, but damn it, I should have read this book first.

Wayne Ranney is one of Arizona’s best science writers.  He teaches geology and leads field trips and ensures that people who crack open one of his books or takes a course or a field trip with him can appreciate just how incredible Arizona’s geological history has been.  He’s done the field work and the hard thinking, and he’s friends with some of Arizona’s premier geologists, and he writes with clarity and enthusiasm about what they’ve learned, studying one of the most remarkable places in the world.

If you ever plan to visit Sedona, have this book in hand, because otherwise you’ll be where I am now: cursing voluminously over the bits that I missed by not having this book in hand.  If you never plan to visit Sedona, read this book and then book your trip, because you won’t put it down without wanting to go see for yourself.

And did I mention the lavish photographs of some of the most photogenic scenery anywhere?  Ron Blakey’s paleomaps making visual sense of it all?  Bronze Black’s diagrams making the complex seem almost simple?  Utterly wonderful.

You can buy direct from Wayne at his site.  And if you do, don’t forget to look at the title page.  Put a grin on my face from ear-to-ear, I can tell you that.

Thank you, Wayne!

Comments

  1. says

    Just for the sake of throwing related information into the same bucket, here are my notes on Darwin's Dangerous Idea. I'm not sure what happened to chapters 8-11, but I was transcribing from bits of loose paper that I used for taking notes when I was stuck somewhere with nothing to do but read.I can't decide if I'm glad or not that this seems to be happening less often these days.