Albino unicorns punching a baby.
Good, now that I have your attention, I want to babble on about my life and what I've been doing since my last post. What? You have no interest in these things you say? But say I: "I hear there are whole communities built around letting each other know when we get a new toothbrush, dye our hair a new color, or think a clever thought in our thought-having skulls". And like the curmudgeon I am, I will willfully mispronounce the name of one such service as "tweeper", thinking it cute in it's artificial naivety and not at all cliche.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I've usually have a rule of not writing when I have nothing to say (and I rarely do; I work hard to avoid the affliction others know as "opinions" and "beliefs"). But today is so nice, and I am so wonderfully touched with madness at this particular moment that I decided, what the hell? Let's live a little and linguistically vomit all over this particular corner of the Internet.
But no, I'm finding now that can't do this thing. Let's cut to some quick and dirty book critiques, shall we? I've been reading, right? Let us see what has been keeping me from endless rounds of Starcraftand Team Fortress:
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
by James Swanson
Um, okay. I read Manhunt long enough ago (June) that I probably shouldn't have this on my list of recent reads, but let me put down my antique smoking pipe for a moment and stare whimsically into the five feet of blank space in front of me while I think. Ah, right. I *did* enjoy this book - it's peppered with all kinds of interesting facts and theories surrounding Lincoln's assassination and his murderer (spoiler alert!), John Booth (just for today, no middle names). For the most part, Swanson does a good job of weaving what must be a plethora of sources into a single coherent narrative. That said, he has the tendency to go off on ridiculously long tangents that have no immediate relationship to the story, pedantically examining the history of every character and their family, significant or not. While history buffs might love this sort of monotonous recounting of irrelevant facts, I have shit to do - tell me if John Booth and his criminal (and, I got the impression, intensely enamored) companion David Herold make it out of that thicket, dammit! This characteristic of the book actually caused me to stop halfway through and start reading something else; you know, where shit actually happens. But I needed to know how it ended, so I diligently read through scene after scene of our outlaw sitting in the woods (the actual assassination plan and execution is only about 1/4 of the total book) whining about how nobody understands him. The only other serious irritation Swanson commits is the occasional romp through time, casually jumping ahead to a character's vindication or villification years later as new evidence surfaced (which reminds me, I need to see The Conspirator). To be fair, the pace of the book picks up again once Thomas Jones obtains a rowboat for their journey south. After that point, the book had no trouble holding my attention. I didn't read the appendix either, but there was plenty of information there to keep history lovers busy for days-worth of hours.
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
by Oliver Sacks
Uncle Tungsten is quite possibly my new favorite non-fiction book of all time (and not just because of extensive usage of footnotes, which at one point, spans 75% of two consecutive pages - he acknowledges such insanity with great glee). Half childhood autobiography, and half history-of-the-era-of-modern-scientific-discovery (an amalgamated awesomeness shared only by the elusive and deadly narwhal), Sacks has a way of making you feel the same excitement for chemistry and physics as that of his childhood, placing his own learning discoveries alongside instances of first discoveries in the scientific world (luckily, he explains the sciences as he learned them as well, making the book readable to those otherwise disinclined to such devotions). I particularly enjoyed his experience "discovering" the modern table of elements and the recounting of its development by the rarely-mentioned-in-pop-culture hero/chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev (a man whose predictive powers must have been akin to magic in his time). Look, plainly put, there is nothing not-awesome about the developing scientific theories of the 1700s and 1800s. Sacks includes great stories about some of the paradigms that emerged during the demise of phlogiston theory, and the continual cycle of failure and success in the scientific community of the era. He goes to great pains to paint the scientists he admires and discusses in as much vivid detail as his family members, revealing the personalities behind each theory and experiment. Suddenly, the history of science becomes a narrative filled with characters, both heroic and villainous (though thankfully, no pirates), each on their own quest for truth (this time, a first for my blog, "truth" here does not mean "ice cream"). Some succeed! Others fail! New elements and friendships are forged, while others are destroyed, and betrayal reigns supreme! New episodes every Thursday at 8:00 pm EST!
Sacks has also written the apparently-very-good The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which is among the next few books on my list of future reads.
I have notes for some other books here ("here" being an abstract space in my head which only occasionally manifests itself in reality, and "notes" being nothing) about my summer reading, but my bourbon is gone, and I have a strict policy against writing reviews without my bourbon close by (bourbon is the brown stuff, right?). So until next time, terrified readers, do... whatever, I guess?