Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Silver Linings

Currently Reading: One Last Thing Before I Go

Pg 90:
1. Be a better father.
2. Be a better man.
3. Fall in love.
4. Die

Pg 131: "Everybody dies alone.  That's a fact.  Some more alone than others."

What would you do if you knew you were going to die?  I don't mean ever.  Everyone dies at some point.  The question is more about what things you would make sure to complete if you knew death was knocking at your door.  The above is the humble to-do list of Drew Silver, the lamentable hero of Jonathan Tropper's latest morose yet humorous tale.

Silver, as he is know, is an aging rock star drummer, sadly past his prime and slowly making his way through life playing a few gigs here and there in order to pay his bill at the long term rental hotel he calls home.  Divorced and miserable, Silver spends his days with the other down and out men who have also been cast out or cast aside.

As if his life couldn't get any worse, Silver passes out in the waiting room of an abortion clinic and wakes up in a hospital where he is told he has a life threatening hole in his heart which will kill him if he does not have surgery soon.  With an ex-wife soon to be married and a daughter who, note the location of his incident, certainly has problems of her own, Silver thinks bowing out of life gracefully might be the best bet.  He escapes from the hospital and stumbles along a journey of self-pity and resignation.  In the end, Silver discovers that life really might be worth a second try and manages to accomplish a fair bit of his list.

One Last Thing Before I Go showcases Tropper's ability to display even the most ignoble of characters in an empathetic light, tossing in the occasional rabbi and bar mitzvah bash.  As with many Tropper novels, the characters are engaging, the story common yet surprising and personal revelations are abound.  I have been slowly working through his creations over the past several years and am never disappointed.  It's thanks to a former student of mine that I even stumbled upon him in the first place, and for her recommendation, I am forever grateful.

So speaking of gratitude and all that, let's get back to my original question.  What would you do if you knew the end was near?  Not in terms of a bucket list.  That implies lots of time and fantastic adventures.  This is more about a list like Silver's.  What are those little things that need to be done before you depart from the world?  What is it you want to be remembered for?  It is definitely a loaded task, but worth a bit of pondering.  I think my list would follow some of Silver's choices.  Be a better daughter.  Be a better person.  Be happy (or at least content).  That's at least a start.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Are I?

Currently Reading: The Rapture of the Nerds

Pg 103: "She might actually be a communicant, he realizes with absolute horror.  She might actually have a Facebook account!  She's mad enough...  These days, tales of what Facebook did with its users during the singularity are commonly used to scare naughty children in Whales."

First, how could I resist the title.  Then, to my immense pleasure, I noted the authors, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  The Rapture of the Nerds manages to combine features of both writers into a seamless tale of chaos and insanity.  Imagine, Stross' penchant for biological fiddling, disembodiment and a completely invented vocabulary mixed with Doctorow's social commentary and totally on point predictions of the near future, not to mention "tech speak".  Totally mind-boggling.  I mean, who but these two could manage to create a world with multiple iterations of a person, one of which may at some point have to navigate his way to Glory City, South Carolina where the John the Baptist Museum of Godless Evolution contains the Steven Jay Gould Lies and Blasphemy exhibit?  Craziness.  In fact, too crazy for me to even properly outline here so instead I will pontificate on other things.

Co-authoring is something that totally intrigues me.  I have read several such penned tales and still have troubles distinguishing between which parts were written by whom.  I wonder how they do it?  Do you pass the story back and forth or is it a joint thing?  Does one person write something and then the other add their own bits to that section?  I'm sure much planning is involved and it almost seems more challenging than just simply writing something on your own.

Also, how do you decide who gets their name listed first?  Is it alphabetical or perhaps done by age or who is the most famous?  Again, I am at a loss.  For this one, it is listed alphabetically, but I don't know if that was the exact reasoning.  Both are accomplished writers in their own right to be sure.  Maybe a coin toss is involved...  Pick a number between one and ten...  Or maybe it was decided by who has the most hair :P

Anyways, I am happy that these two awesome dudes decided to hook up and give the world a taste of their combined awesomeness.  Below is a fun reading that they did at MakeBot.  It's certainly worth a look, but be forewarned, you will be coveting one of the souvenirs!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Greetings From the Road

Currently Reading: Broken Harbor

I have several tendencies and quirks that make me a bit of the odd man out.  I won't get into the myriad of maladies  but anyways, one of which is that I really don't like to travel much.  So here I am in Boston for work and low and behold!  I find a silver lining!  Flying all the way here from Dallas gave me time to almost complete Broken Harbor, the latest thriller by Tana French.  Hooray for travelling!  (Occasionally...)

In the novel, we are again transported to Ireland and follow along on a murder investigation with the detective in charge, Mick Kennedy.  I know what you are thinking, not again!  I'm not going to try to convince you that French completely surprises us, but still, it was a remarkably compelling and exciting read.

This time, Kennedy is paired with a rookie who, while a bit in awe of his mentor, does not allow his idol to make any mistakes.  Kennedy immediately hones in on a suspect and the reader is left wondering why there are still hundreds of pages to go.  Don't worry though, Tana French makes sure to keep you entertained.  The main characters are enigmatic and the murder itself couldn't be more intriguing.  French coveys aspects of the key players from so many different angles that you end up feeling like you never knew them at all.  Pat, one of the main characters, comes of as lamentable, psychotic, and affable all at once depending on whose mind you are in at the time.  Very cool.

I have been reading mysteries for as long as I can remember and never cease to get wrapped up in the thrill of the chase.  Maybe it comes from my love of puzzles and brain teasers.  It is always so exciting to find a solution.  That's one of the reasons I love math so much too.  What is so awesome about French's novels though is that she manages to keep you thinking up until the very end while avoiding getting formulaic or relying on trite techniques.  I'll admit to reading my fair share of the "big name" authors who continually fill the shelves with hardcovers relating the same old story, but have to say that they have slowly lost their ability to keep me engaged.  I am happy to say though, that Broken Harbor will help make even the longest plane ride go by in the blink of a eye.

Oh and before you give me a hard time about blogging while I should be working, the conference has let out for the day and I have a bit of time before heading out again.  Besides, it has been way too long since my last post and I knew you all were on the edge of your seats, eagerly awaiting the next one :P

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unions and Intersections

Currently Reading: The Genesis Code

So I am constantly amazed by the ubiquitousness of math.  No.  I take that back.  I am not amazed, but rather gratified.  As a math teacher, I find myself constantly having to defend the need for understanding this ever important language to students.  And yes, it is a language in and of itself.  Not because of all the x’s and y’s prevalent in most people’s nightmares of Algebra, but because it is the common denominator (pun totally intended) across all civilizations throughout the ages.  Think about it.  Citizens of any country can communicate with numbers and a set of symbols meaning the same things regardless of what their native language is.  It is truly awesome.

The novel referenced in my currently reading line is not really a challenging or complex tale.  It is really just another of those Dan Brown or James Rollins type adventures where archeology meets scientific conundrums, but what is sticking with me the most is that math plays such a large and realistic role even in this commonplace genre.  I’m glad that authors are reaching out and giving everyone a glimpse at the wonders of math.  Who’d have thunk that the golden ratio could help solve the secrets of our DNA?  Well of course us geeky math folks could.  It is the underlying principle of loads of natural phenomena!  Now don’t get me started on the power of e...

Prior to this book, I read The Infinite Tides, yet another math-loving story.  This one has a tad bit more literary merit, but again, math is a dominant theme.  The Infinite Tides share the sad journey of an astronaut who loses his daughter in a car accident while onboard the International Space Station.  Through the time between his finally reaching Earth again and going through the acclimation process back to standard gravity, the main character ends up losing his wife as well.  Not to death, but though divorce.  He flounders his way through coming home and finding his identity again.  One thing that he has always clung to is his affinity for numbers and all types of math.  As he reflects back upon his times with his daughter, their shared gift for the world of mathematics brings him both joy and sorrow.  Again, math pops up when you’d least expect it.

I find it incredibly intriguing that two seemingly different hobbies of mine, mathematics and literature, keep crossing paths, intersecting beautifully and allowing me to have some incredible experiences.  It makes me glad to see these “English-types” embracing the often deemed scary world of math.  All too often we end up labeling ourselves as English/history people or math/science nerds, but applying those labels limits us all.  What’s wrong with loving the arithmetic patterns in poetry or seeing the historical aspects of scientific advancement?  It’s all true so why avoid it because of some arbitrary label applied at some long lost point in your schooling.  I say we ought to embrace all the disciplines and love them each for not only what they bring to the table individually, but for the power they display in their overlapping themes.  This calls for a Venn diagram!!