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Bookworm 2014: Realities Uncovered

Posted on | December 26, 2014 | No Comments

Though much of my non-fiction reading this year was dedicated to books about pregnancy and babies, for yes, even us nerds sometimes manage to procreate, I did manage to slip in a few non-themed titles.

John McWhorter - Our Magnificent Bastard TongueJohn McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is a delightful analysis of some of the roots of modern English as we know it, but not from the simplistic “well, it took a bunch of words from these other languages” perspective, opting instead to look into the development of its grammar and some influences generally overlooked by other experts (mainly that of the Celtic languages native to the British isles prior to most of the major conquests). The only issue I have with this brief, yet entertaining book is that it spends a considerable amount of time actively arguing with experts McWhorter disagrees with, leaving a reader who isn’t familiar with the fact that there are contrary opinions on these issues with the feeling of watching a somewhat pythonesque one-man boxing match.

Desmond Morris - The Human ZooEqual measures funny and unsettling is Desmond Morris’ The Human Zoo. Having already read The Naked Ape, I was ready for more of the same – the author uncovering how despite all the trappings of modern (socio-technological) life, we are still merely animals with a few clever tricks thrown in, but the extent to which this is done gave me pause. His analysis of the equivalence of baboon and human social behavior makes watching the news, going out for a night on the town or just simply talking to friends a depressingly apish affair. However, far from being just a depressive look in the mirror, this book, along with its predecessor, makes me amazed at just how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished, despite being merely talking monkeys.

Sean Carroll - From Eternity to HereSean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here asks, as far as I’m concerned, the right questions. While nominally discussing the big why of the arrow of time – not only why does it flow in the direction it does, not only why does it flow the way it does, but also, just basically, why does it flow, or indeed, do anything at all – it manages to touch on a plethora of other subjects. To my immense delight, the section regarding the theory of relativity provided an interesting explanation of spacelike and timelike paths that finally dislodged a pebble that kept me from firmly grasping the concepts and being able to operate them in my mind. The final part of the book may be a bit unsatisfying, since it is not so much an explanation as it is a compendium of questions we (as a species) have, some attempts at answers, pointers as to which among those have been proven wrong and which may still hold out hope, and a list of questions still open. It did, however, leave me with the pleasing knowledge that the questions most people seem generally uninterested in yet  I often wrestle with late at night, during bouts of insomnia, are questions that bother at least some other people as well, and that there are those with mathematical and experimental capacities beyond mine willing to take them on and, hopefully, one day, crack the underlying codes of the Universe.

John Yorke - Into the WoodsNo less mindblowing, but in a completely different arena, was John Yorke’s Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story. Recommended by my good friend, this is one of a handful of books I can safely say every writer should read. It’s not just one of those humdrum how-to books on writing, it’s not a sentimental memoirish affair like Stephen King’s On Writing, it is more like a particle physics type of analysis of storytelling and narratives in general. It looks at what makes good stories good, tries to break things down, analyze the shit out of them, then put it all back together for a synthesis, leaving the reader (more) able to recognize why a given story works, while certain others do not. For me, personally, a few revelations enabled me to start writing again after a long fruitless pause where I constantly felt that I was missing or misplacing something in the words put to screen. As it turns out, that something was proper, archetypal structure. That is not to say that my writing has gotten better after reading the book, but it did become writing once more, with beginnings, middles and ends, instead of endless fumbling starts that end up nowhere in particular.

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    Written in minutes and fact-checked in seconds via Google. May contain unsafe levels of self-righteousness. Past cleverness is no guarantee of future results.
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  • Goodreads

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
    From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
    The Ophiuchi Hotline
    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    Green Eyes
    Crackpot Palace: Stories
    The Fractal Prince
    The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter

    Sebastian's favorite books »