Monthly Archives: April 2014

Third time’s the charm?

I’ve just finished The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I was about to give up on Greene. I’ve heard lots of good things, but, while his books I read last year in my Reading Older Books project were ok and had memorable moments, I didn’t find them “wow” kind of reading. I had one Greene more to read already in my TBR pile that I’d heard lots of people talk about, but given the description of the story along with my previous experiences, I did not have high hopes.

Instead of disappointing, The Power and the Glory blew me away. It is really good. But, I will qualify that by saying not everyone will like the book. I don’t think I would have liked the book this much had I read it 10 years ago. Sometimes books come along and there’s a synergy with a moment in time in your life. I feel like that might be the case for me and TPatG.

Or maybe having experienced Greene two previous times, I was able to read him better the third time. What’s your favourite Greene book? Maybe I should look for that one next.


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A Little Irrationality

Numbers can be irrational. Euler’s number, e, is between 2 and 3, so in my numerical sequence, e comes next.

If you clicked on the link above, you were reminded that e=1+1/1!+1/2!+1/3!+1/4!+… This is very exciting. Look at all those excited numbers! You also may wish to recall that when a number gets excited it multiplies like this: 4!=4x3x2x1. Numbers in excited states often work well into probability theory as well as calculating Euler’s number.

How on earth does the irrational number e (approximately 2.718281828459045…) connect with books? I’m glad you asked. Initially I also had a hard time with this question. I’ve decided that the book that I’ll talk about that I’ve read that has the most to do with e is Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I’ve mentioned Anathem before, but a quick review of my posts indicates that I’ve not really discussed the book at any length. Let me remedy that situation.

I think that Anathem is Neal Stephenson’s best work to date. He is a pretty good writer in my books, so this is saying something. The book is set in a place that is like Earth, but not quite. The action takes place in an enclosed area called a “Math” which is something like a monastery. The main character is called Erasmas, and he lives in a ten-year Math — which means the math only opens its doors for a week every ten years. The book begins just before the open week after Erasmus’s first ten years inside. Within the week, everything starts to change. Along with the math references, the book involves fun with Quantum Physics and the multi-verse. Don’t worry if you aren’t a math/physics geek, this is also a good story.

(There are also books about Euler, the guy who the number is named for. He is pretty interesting. I’ve just not read a biography yet.)


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Second Thoughts

After I posted my thoughts on the number 2 and books, I had second thoughts. Maybe I caught my second wind. No, I just had second thoughts.

Secondary literature — books based on other books or written sources — is sometimes easier to access than primary literature. Example: Some guy called Plato wrote dialogues thousands of years ago. I’ve never read Plato in Greek, though I’ve read a little Plato in translation. I’ve not caught the world of Plato from the primary sources, the writings of Plato. I’ve read lots ABOUT Plato, books that reference Plato, books that analyze Plato, books that compare Plato to Aristotle (among others). I’ve learned about Plato from secondary sources.

One of Margaret Atwood’s collections of essays and articles is called Second Words. In her introduction to the collection, Atwood gives two reasons for the title: she is first a novelist and poet and only secondly a critic and essayist; and people have to write literature before that literature can be written about, thus all criticism is secondary literature by its very nature.

Secondary literature is not inherently bad or necessarily poorer than the primary work it reflects upon. Atwood makes this clear: “This is in no way to imply that words spoken first are always better than the critical fabrics raised upon them. It is only to state what seems to be obvious; that is, that you can’t have a thought about a stone without first seeing a stone. (Which leaves us in a curious position vis à vis unicorns.)” (Second Words, 11.)

All the writing I do in this blog is secondary literature. Of course you can use it as primary literature, you can see it as about me, as something to study, and then you build the fabric upon the fabric.

Possibly it is time to move on from the number 2. But it has been fun.

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Let’s talk about Two

Today is April 2nd, so let’s talk about the number two — in books of course. Often books come in sets of three, a trilogy. A set of two books seems incomplete, as though it is waiting for a third. (Of course these days, some authors find a trilogy is just not enough room to tell their story. A series of seven has become popular, but we don’t exactly have a collective term for that. A Heptology? It doesn’t have the same ring as trilogy.) And the second book of a trilogy, the middle book, is often the downer book. Lots of conflict, little resolution, the hero/good guys are down on their luck. It is the “Empire Strikes Back” effect.

I’ve observed this effect in many trilogies, including the one that came before “Star Wars,” The Lord of the Rings. Hey the second book of that trilogy is even called The Two Towers. In a trilogy by Walter Jon Williams called Dread Empire’s Fall the second book is called The Sundering. In my notes when I read the book I said it was a typical second book of a trilogy with the “Empire Strikes Back” effect. It could also have been that Williams’s series, like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings is about the little guy vs the big bad empire guy.

How about you? Second books in trilogies — disappointing or the greatest thing ever? Counter-examples to the ones I’ve proposed?


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