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The Stranger’s Child

Alan Hollinghurst’s “The Stranger’s Child” Review : The New Yorker.

That which I am reading now. Yes, I have a definite Booker bent to my reading tastes. No, this book didn’t win the Booker, but another of the author’s books did — The Line of Beauty. And I wouldn’t have found this here book — The Stranger’s Child — without having been curious about its author’s other books, on account of the prize win.

Now #reading … (experiencing?)

Silent History

This is not just a book — audio and pictures as well. I have only just downloaded it, so am still exploring.

It is a medical thriller / science fiction story that takes place thirty or so years in the future, and documents a growing number of young children who are born starting around 2011 and grow up never speaking.

Looks good so far.

Alan Turing as a young student

What do young geniuses read, anyway?

I cannot resist a good math article, or a good computer science tidbit, or a good history of math article, and I seem to have found all three of them in one place, Alex Bellos’s blog, in (as of this reading) in two entries about Alan Turing’s reading and study habits while at Sherborne School which he attended for what we in America would call high school.

Book list

First up is a list of the books that Turing borrowed from the school library.

The books are almost all ones about physics and mathematics, with two exceptions. One is The Escaping Club by A. J. Evans, which is about the author’s escape from an inescapable German prison camp in WWI, and the other the works of Lewis Carroll, which would seem out of place to someone who didn’t know that Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, was a professor of mathematical logic at Oxford.

School reports

Then we have Alan Turing’s school reports, wherein we find out tidbits like the fact that he did not do very well in Latin.

As for math class, in Michaelmas term of 1926, his teacher writes: Works well. He is still very untidy. He must try to improve in this respect. I can only comment that tidiness isn’t everything.

By 1930, he is improved enough in math that he gets this comment: A really able mathematician. His trouble is his untidiness & poor style, but he has tried hard to improve in this. He sometimes fails over a simple problem by trying to do it by complicated methods, instead of by an elementary one.

So there we have the first sign of genius: the simple methods of problem solving are too easy for Turing, and he has to try to find the harder methods — don’t just look at a clock to see what time it is, but take the clock apart to see how it works and see why it says the time that it does.

The books themselves

As for the books that Turing read, most are, of course, out of copyright by now, and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg. This link is to a list of the available books.

Reading the Forsytes

I don’t know why I have left it to my advanced stage in life to discover Galsworthy and his attendant Forsyte Saga, but there it is — chief right now among that near-infinite gathering of things I should have done long ago. But at least I have started the saga: three volumes, three books per. They go fast.

We start at the beginning with a collection of the Forsyte family at a party to celebrate the engagement of one of its youngest members, June, to a penniless architect of whom nobody in the family knows anything. The ten siblings, none under 70, who make up the senior layer of the clan are introduced. The rest of the first book’s actions follow two of the clan: Soames, who succumbs to jealousy of his wife’s attentions, and Jolyon Sr. who attempts reconciliation with a son whom he had disowned years before. Galsworthy does not bog down these books with the heaps of atmosphere and description that can slow me down when I read Dickens, but I still have to pause in the reading of it every once in a while and revive myself: too much of this book reminds me of my own family members (many of them, at least). I keep a couple of other novels handy in which to escape from my escape into Galsworthy.

Right now, one of them is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. It was preceded by Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife which just came out two weeks ago and is very wonderful.

Now I shall quit typing and read.

Done with Lit. Next, This Boy’s Life

Tobias Wolff at an event at Kepler's in Menlo ...

Image via Wikipedia

I have finished Mary Karr‘s Lit, minutes before Sally and Other Patti came over for our usual Movie Night. I usually don’t use the word “harrowing” when talking about — well, anything — but that is an adequate adjective here. There is probably a better adjective, but I cannot come up with one on the spur of the moment.

I loved the book. It also exhausted me. Her dealing with her own demons got a few of mine to waken a small bit. However, I would read the book again in a second if I did not already have her first memoir, The Liar’s Club, winging its way to me from Amazon, and MK’s friend and mentor’s book — Tobias Wolff‘s This Boy’s Life — sitting on the table next to me, about to be pounced on in turn.

Much autobiographical introspection: what can drag you out of yourself better than that?

A lull in reading

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor (41–54 AD) ...

Image via Wikipedia

But not too big of a lull.

Last night, after a marathon not-quite-all-day bout of reading, I finished Robert GravesI, Claudius. Not only did the action and characters in the book carry me along quite effortlessly, I was also refreshed by reading about a political climate that is even more poisonous (literally) than ours today — the one that existed two thousand years ago in Rome. Therefore, our political climate is not, in fact, devolving into some kind of sub-civilized mosh pit, but is quite a normal one, judging by every single other society we know of since recorded history began. I suppose that this is all a great relief to me; we have been like this before, and survived it.

I am turning now to a re-reading of A. S. Byatt‘s The Children’s Book both because I want to re-read it and because the second volume of Graves’ Claudius books won’t get here from Amazon.com until Tuesday.

Currently reading… Gardener’s Nightcap

I must first start out here by saying that I am not a gardener. I grew up deep in the country but had nobody to tell me the names of the various plants around except for those of three or four varieties of trees. Today, I can definitely distinguish a specimen of any species of moss from a sunflower, and both of those from a California redwood. I actually do know a few more species than that, but I have never really had a garden except for a horrible attempt at the house we lived in before Peter arrived, when I tried to keep the previous owner’s prize-winning rosebushes going. Buck planted a lot of squash vines the next year which tried to consume the whole house in their furious growth. That was pretty much it, as far as our efforts at gardening have gone.

Which brings me to one of the wonderful books that have just arrived in my morning mailbox, and no, not from my dearly beloved Amazon.com. It is Gardener’s Nightcap, by Muriel Stuart, and is from Persephone Books (persephonebooks.co.uk) in London. She was, judging from her bit of biography, a very passionate gardener, and it shows in this book which is not an endless bunch of chapters on how to raise rosebushes etc. and not kill them off. It is rather a string of small essays upon gardens, plants and the natural world. Each essay-let is short enough to be read easily before you turn out the light for the night. I am devouring them even though I have no similar experiences to go along with the reading.

Grown-ups never realize how close a child is to the earth, how intricate and detailed the earth is to him. Things that to older eyes are but tufts and pleasant tangles, are to him as distinct and individual as the furnishings of a doll’s house. He sees the tiny life between the stones, the entrancing growth of very small plants, just as Rossetti, face down among the grasses, noted that the wood spurge had ‘a cup of three’. We learn on dust, from Socrates, from the field daisy. But only in childhood do we live such lessons.

— Muriel Stuart, ‘Single Flowers’, Gardener’s Nightcap

More Infinite Jest thoughts

David Foster Wallace‘s writing is like a firework, always fading away.

A.S. Byatt‘s writing has life in it. It is solid, and will happily last and live as long as is possible for a book to live.

DFW’s Infinite Jest frightens me with the possibility always of its frivolity, its center of nothingness, despair, entertainment as a main goal in life and entertainment as ultimately empty and leading literally to death and decay and waste around us.

It is amazing that DFW lived long enough to create that work. It is amazing that he lived through all of the experiences that he must have in order to write of these subjects, of addiction to substances and activities and of recovery from these addictions. You can’t simply make up stuff like the monologues and descriptions of AA, in Boston or elsewhere, without having been through the process yourself. This is not something which you can simply imagine or extrapolate or get as advice or reminiscences from friends.

This is it, the real thing.

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Books: not necessarily difficult.

Ulysses, James Joyce
Image by cobra libre via Flickr

Norm at the Library has a hopeful note up today. It’s possible to like books with plots in them, and not have to be publicly ashamed at that fact.

Well, folks, it looks like the long literary nightmare is finally over.

via “…they have trained us… to associate a crisp, dynamic, exciting plot with supermarket fiction, and cheap thrills, and embarrassment.” « Stacked.

Maybe now I can admit that I never finished James Joyce‘s Ulysses. I’ve felt overly sensitive about that fact ever since our tour guide in Dublin said he’d read it long ago.

According to the WSJ article that Norm links to,

If there’s a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.

That’s another reason that I’m enjoying A. S. Byatt‘s The Children’s Book: stuff happens. Should I admit that in public? Oh, why not.

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