June 27, 2005

Books 9, 10, almost 11, and 11

So, it's been since March that I've posted an installment in my approximately 25 book challenge list. Again, I'm glad I didn't join the overachievers in the 50 book challenge, because clearly, by now, I'd be beaten. But instead, at 11 books down and 14 to go, I've got a reasonable chance of meeting my goal. Hip hip hooray for mediocrity, moderation, and mmmm.... mmm.... something that starts with m.

Book 9 was way back in puerto rico: The House on the Lagoon, by Rosario Ferre. It may be the best book I've read so far this year. It had a little bit of everything, historical tidbits about a place I was visiting that I wouldn't otherwise know, a convoluted plot with a surprise twist at the end, complicated characters that the reader is forced to simulataneously love and hate, and, of course, gorgeous language. If you liked Love in the time of Cholera or 100 years of solitude you will also like The House on the Lagoon. All three books have a similar vein of genetic faultlines and humanity running through drama against a gorgeous backdrop. I know people who find this type of writing annoying. But, thankfully, I'm one of the appreciators who also happened to be in the setting of the book at the time I read it, so I thorougly enjoyed it and heartily recommend it.

Book #10: In keeping with the Raggaeton theme, book #10 was also a Puerto Rico read, also way back in April. I decided I needed to know more about the political writings of the Puerto Ricans because although I knew little about them as a people, I knew they were conflicted, particularly on the issue of their relationship with the U.S. So, I read Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings -- An Anthology. It was full of firey texts from revolutionaries, painful expository writings of those caught between cultures, and pragmatic but less passionate pleas for moderation from others. This book probably wins the award for the most educational non school text I've read this year. I started it with only The House on the Lagoon as my Puerto Rican cultural background. I finished it confused and impressed by the complex issues this culture faces. I was very glad to have read it during my stay in Puerto Rico and wholeheartedly recommend it to travelers who like to have an idea of the politics of the places they visit.

Book Almost #11: This is an embarrassment. As early as the beginning of March, I ordered and promised myself I'd read Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. I finished half of it in the last few days of our Puerto Rico trip and the flights back. But then, I stalled. It's an amazing book because it chronicles the beginning of World War I in astounding detail. But, if you become too busy and put it down for two weeks, I dare you to pick it up and have any clue who the generals are, which armies they command, and why it matters that they just decided to retreat instead of charge forth. Perhaps when I'm older and less distracted I will have the fortitude to get through this (and the half-finished copy of Ulysses that stays by my bed).

Book #11 (for reals): D stopped by with one of her rats the other day. She also brought books, and in particular, she brought Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis. I'd refrained from starting any books for quite some time because I was still struggling with the falsehood that I would finish The Guns of August (I try to force myself to finish one book before I start another unless they are in completely different genres and the time spent reading one could not, in any estimation, be detracting from the time spent finishing the other--yeah, I'm a control freak). BHM is a huge fan of Kary Mullis, so when I found myself with a free weekend and a book by none other than the man himself, well, I figured the time had come to cut the cord on The Guns of August and face the facts. Good thing, too. I raced through the book in approximately 4 hours total reading time. I wasn't trying to read quickly, it's just an easy, entertaining read with large print (another reason to go for it over TGOA). The basic take home is this: Kary Mullis is brilliant, egotistical, oh, and totally completely insane. This is probably largely because he admits that he started using drugs at the age of 6 (phenobarbs from mom...) and moved up from there. I found it odd that this book simultaneously reminded me of Feynman's similar work as well as The Illuminatus Trilogy. So basically, reading Mullis is like reading Feynman on Acid. But seriously, if you're interested in the history behind the invention of PCR and the crazy mind of someone who could see the simple solution to a very important problem, read the book. If you have trouble believing that people who believe in aliens, astrology, and halucinogens as mind-enhancing drugs could be intelligent, then this book is a good one for you to read and open your mind. Or, it may just annoy you. The whole four hours my nose was buried, I was simultaneously entertained and astounded or annoyed. But the entertainment was the constant, hence the 4-hour read time. So I recommend it on that alone.

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