A Million Words in a Weekend

The nerdy little part of me (which is not particularly “little” and is not exactly just a “part”) basically died and went to heaven this weekend. The main reason for this was the acquisition of eight (!!!!!) new books:

  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
  • Maps and Legends, Michael Chabon
  • The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  • Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
  • The First War of Physics, Jim Baggott
  • Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, Richard Morgan.

I feel as though I should be issuing some sort of travel advisory warning for unsuspecting visitors to Berkeley’s Moe’s bookstore:

Traveler, beware! Though they be tarnished with highlighters, battered and dog-eared, there can be no sight more seductive, no siren call more potent, than the literary treasures of Moe’s! Pile upon pile shall they be stacked, and thus shall the bewildered visitor be lured into making ill-advised and doubtless unwieldy purchases, especially when they have already got three unread books sitting upon their mantel at home! With only one consolation shall you, weary traveler, depart: that your acquisitions could feed the fount of wisdom, if you ever got around to reading them instead of just admiring the erudite way in which they sit upon the bookshelf.

T tells me this Calvino is her favorite, which I can completely believe. It is, believe it or not, a book about reading a book. Or a book that reads itself. Or a protagonist who is actually imagining himself into existence within the book and tells you what to think of him. It’s mind-boggling in the same way the fifth dimension would be, glorious and utterly crazy. Take, for instance, this: “The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph.” Is Calvino describing what we’re seeing in our minds, the bizarre quality of reimagining a world as we read it? Or is he referring to the relative emptiness of that scene, a sole train, displaced and context-less?

I have no idea, and that is so exciting.

Michael Chabon was pure accident. Also, the cover looked nice. Maps and Legends seems to be a series of essays about writing itself, about constructing a story. He mentioned ACD and the scaffolding of the Holmes story and cyberpunk in the 1980s and… I was hooked, what can I say.

Gentlemen of the Road features a trek, in centuries past, across the Middle East trade routes; also, a foul-mouthed parrot. The decision to buy was made at this point.

I’ve heard of Brian Greene and The Elegant Universe and realised it was time to get back into the physics swing of things. This time, however, instead of pretentiously reading quantum physics and being bewildered, I intend to actually try getting it this time. Greene does seem to have a very engaging style of writing.

The First War of Physics has the potential to be totally absorbing: it’s the race to build the first atomic weapon, and why the Germans failed even though they had  massive head start. It seems to look into the lives of the physicists involved, too, which I always find fascinating.

Of course, I have V to thank for all this literary debauchery, as well as for introducing me to some very cool people. Amongst several things, this weekend has been a time to realize that: good Chinese food is available, my knowledge of highway travel is burgeoning, I really really really need to learn how to drive, Richard Morgan (sci-fi) might be worth a shot, and I am not at all good at playing Dominion.

I now have even greater incentive to finish Empires of the Word (which while interesting, presupposes that the reader has a lot of historical information at her fingertips). Page 273 and counting!

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