Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Another short eclectic reading list

I swear I must have posted this before: How to live on 24 hours a day. The only trouble is that it's written with people with the exact reverse problem of what I've got. According to this book, most folks fritter their time away and don't understand how much more they could and should want to cram into their 24 hours.

Another read that made my mind spin: The underground history of American education by John Taylor Gatto. He used to be the New York Teacher Of The Year; now he denounces the same educational system he once worked for. From reading his book and some of his essays and speeches, he's a radical (or at least presents himself as such). I definitely don't agree with everything he says, and I don't think the extremist viewpoint he proposes and the fiery voice he speaks in is the best way of getting things done. I do greatly admire his eloquence and courage in saying such things, though; this is one man I would love to meet.

Gui recommended Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig. It's good; I read it on the bus to the Media Lab when I was working there two summers ago. This is one of those books that slowly crackles away in the back of your mind as you read it; you don't notice until you look up, something goes snap! and you shake your head and wonder what's rattled loose to make you see things so differently.

Writing Down The Bones is a book I've bought and given away multiple times. Short, poetic reflections on writing itself that will transform the way you write; it's one of the things on my inspirational writing rotation (Shakespeare is another common appearance) that I read through whenever I start feeling that my prose is growing dead and mechanical.

Flatland: A romance of many dimensions is not sappy in the least; it's mathematical (and therefore I love it). It's a story told by the denizen of a two-dimensional world (A. Square) who is trying to grasp three-dimensional space. I discovered this book in high school simultaneously with linear algebra, non-Newtonian physics, and non-Euclidian geometry, and it was pure delight. Speaking of non-Newtonian physics, anything by Alan Lightman (especially Einstein's Dreams) is just beautiful. Reading Lightman's essays gives me the same quiet feeling I have when I stare out a window and see thick white snowflakes swirling softly in the lamplight. He expresses the loveliness of mathematics and science in a way I would like to... not imitate, but admire and honor by finding my own way of writing about such things.*

Sequels to Flatland (Flatterland, Sphereland, the Planiverse...) have been written. All the ones I've read are good; I read them over a spread-out enough time-scale that I'm not 100% confident in my rating of which are best. Someday I'll collect them all and do a storybook reading in order - I wish someone would publish a single volume collecting them all, as they've done for Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, or even the Feynman Lectures on Physics.

*Lightman teaches at MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing. I wish I could just stay a student forever - there are so many teachers I want to learn from, classes I want to go to, schools I would attend...

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