Monday, January 29, 2007

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

After a fiction streak, I desperately needed to move onto something nonfiction. For this, I picked perhaps one of the most renowned nonfiction works of our time. Now, I have read parts of this book before and—based on the select passages I read—was eager to read the book in its entirety. However, after completely reading Hawking’s brief history, I admit I was a little let down. Even though he is the smartest man alive (it is rare that I can say that without any sarcasm), I think there are a number of astronomy and physics textbooks that do a better job explaining the universe. Then again, the book is titled a “brief” history, making it difficult to fully develop some core principals of physics. This book does offer the unique perspective in that it was written by Stephen Hawking. Any other book on these topics may mention that Stephen proved item A. However, in this book Hawking actually can say, “So I was going to the bathroom when I realized item A.” The personal stories add so much. Actually, his personal stories would be the only reason I’d recommend this book, especially his story about betting some Penthouse magazines over the existence of black holes. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but laugh when I think of Stephen Hawking going to a convenience store (or smut shop) to buy some porn.

Date Completed: January 27, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

I once had an English teacher who said that he loved James Joyce but never finished reading one of Joyce’s novels. Ever since hearing that, I’ve been curious to experience one of his works. For this reason, about five years ago I purchased this book at a used book sale. Since a few days ago, it hadn’t moved from my closet; it just intimidated me each morning when picking out clothes to wear. Because of this project, I finally decided to give the book a shot. It was nothing to be afraid of. The story more or less follows the development of a young Irish artist, hence the title of the book. I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book when he was a younger man (grade school years). During this first part, Joyce takes advantage of his signature stream of conscious style. Unfortunately, as the “Young Man” develops, Joyce uses less and less stream of conscious. By the time Stephen reaches his college years, he talks incessantly about philosophy, and I found myself losing track of the story—partly because I was bored and partly because I didn’t understand everything he was talking about. In other words, I enjoyed the first part of the story when Stephen is six or seven, but by the time he is 20-something, I couldn’t handle his intelligence. That proves my maturity level.

Completed: January 22, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I had no clue what this book was about before starting it. Knowing it to be a classic, I had taken it from my brother’s bookshelf a few years ago. It then sat on my bookshelf and moved with me from apartment to apartment until I finally decided to read it now, largely because I have read just about all of my books. My first impression was that the book was a lot shorter than I expected. I read it in almost one reading and when I finished, I didn’t even realize I was at the end. During this reading, I was also slightly drunk. This hurt my ability to fully appreciate this literary work. Despite my intoxication, I enjoyed reading about Marlow’s adventures into the unexplored world, the Congo. Conrad paints a rather vivid picture of imperialism in the Congo. Despite the egregious scenes he describes, I found the landscape to be surprisingly romantic. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take a river boat into the heart of the “unknown”?

Completed: January 18, 2007

Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire

I would classify this book as a historical fiction fantasy fairytale. I read this book off the recommendation of my roommate Pete. This is a different version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with the characters being based off of actual medieval figures, controversial historical figures. This book was a lot of fun to read, making it very quick and easy. Pete claims this to be his favorite book. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d still recommend it if you are interested in learning a little history while reading a popular fairytale.

Completed: January 16, 2007

Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins

After A History of God, I needed something light and fun. This proved to be the perfect book; a Christmas present from my family in Atlanta. This is more or less the personal journal of a man who decides to try something different and move his family to Alaska for year. His family moves to Seward, Alaska, and he spends his year going on adventures to all the corners of Alaska. His adventures are both awe-inspiring and borderline crazy. I especially liked this book because it reminded me of the stories my brother Andrew, who has lived in Alaska for the past few years, tells me. I recommend this book to anyone excited by outdoor adventure.

Completed: January 13, 2007

A History of God by Karen Armstrong

I admit…I wasn’t ready for this book. I have been spending a lot of time lately studying different religions and trying to understand my religious views. I read this book hoping to get a better understanding of the relationship between the three major monotheistic religions. To my surprise, this book was considerably more detailed than I expected. If you want to read about different philosophical debates between Islamic rulers in the 9th century, this is the book for you. There was so much information and much of it I have already lost. If anything, it did further add to my belief that man created God, not the other way around.

Completed: January 6, 2007

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

From the first chapter of this book, I developed a personal relationship with the characters. I got so caught up in their lives and misfortunes that I couldn’t get to sleep at night; I would lie awake and worry about Alexi until I finally would turn on my lights and start reading again. Never have I had such a personal relationship with characters in any novel. Besides the deep connection I developed with these characters, I was also deeply touched by the numerous philosophical/religious debates commingled with the story. Oftentimes I would read a chapter and then find myself searching wikipedia for a further analysis on discourse I just read. This is probably one of the greatest works I have ever read; a good start to the year.

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Date completed: January 2, 2007 (Started on December 24, 2006)