Saturday, February 1, 2014

52 books - January update: 10/52

My previous post said that I will be reading 52 books in this year's 52 weeks. I fully intend to achieve that goal. Here is my progress:

As of last post, I had 6 books down and now, by the end of January, I have 10 under my proverbial belt. Huzzah! I am trying to take as much advantage as I can of the fact that, after this week, a major source of "reading material" will be homework and exams to grade. I realize that this is of my own doing, and I could alleviate these obligations by merely assigning less written material but ... hey, who are you, my students?

So I know my reading pace will slow as the semester carries on. I at least feel some comfort in the fact that this is due to an increased pace in writing: I type all of my lecture notes and share them with my students, I type homework solutions, and so on. I'm not a passive teacher. And thus far, I have maintained a good pace, even as classes have started, but I think this is specifically because I know what will eventually happen. I find myself making more and more time for reading than I've tried to before. What's nice is that this hasn't at all felt like a chore; I'm loving this experience.

Here's what I've managed to read since my last update:

7/52: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
So glad I finally read this. I'd seen the Kubrick film version years ago but only remember some of the more sensational parts. It was particularly enlightening to read Burgess's thoughts in the intro and then read the book thereafter, knowing what he intended; did you realize the US version was missing an entire chapter, and the Kubrick film was based on this incomplete version? #TMYK
I'd also like to nab some of the slang here and use it in daily life. "Appy polly loggies" is probably my favorite. "Horrorshow" is good, too. Here's a big list of all of them.

8/52: Fantasia Mathematica, edited by Clifton Fadiman
This is a compilation of short stories, poems, limericks, and excerpts of longer pieces that happen to deal with mathematics in a literary way. Now, this was compiled in the early 1960s. This means that many stories/poems are totally outdated/contrived. This also means that some humor and writing is timeless, though. Part of the beauty of this book is reading through and discovering what kinds of ideas carry through the years and which die by the wayside.

I found this book in the Emmanuel library and started reading it because I've been thinking of designing a course on "mathematical literature" or the like, and this seemed like a good source. I ended up reading right through its material in a matter of four days. By the by, if you have suggestions of reading material for a course like this, send 'em my way!

I liked this book particularly for its selection of stories from Martin Gardner and its inclusion of a story about a Moebius Strip in the Boston subway system.

9/52: How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff
I borrowed this from a colleague and finished it the next day. It's a quick and enjoyable read, yet highly informative at the same time. The cartoons throughout are quite funny and helpful, too. I will continually recommend this to everyone I know, especially those who view themselves as "not a math person". This book promotes some essential literacy in basic statistics, and can keep you from being swayed by a distorted infographic or a misleading advertisement. Honestly, this should be required reading for every high school student in the world. I'll get on that … If you haven't read it, here's a free .pdf copy. No excuses!

10/52: The Road To Los Angeles, by John Fante
This is actually a reread from year ago. Sometime in college (maybe shortly after), I read this from a library, knowing that Fante was a significant influence on Charles Bukowski (and one of the few writers Buk openly praised, at that). It's truly a character study, and Arturo Bandini is truly a character: he's an ass, unnecessarily pompous and self-righteous (but perhaps not as extremely as Ignatius J. Reilly … perhaps), but I can't wait to see what he does and says next. The prose is pretty "racy" and "vulgar", too, considering it was written in the mid 1930s (and, indeed, never published until after Fante's death in 1983). I also have copies of Ask the Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill (two more books in the Bandini "series"), so I'll be reading those next. (I know this interrupts an earlier commitment to Gravity's Rainbow, but I've now committed myself to that being the book I read right after finishing these Fante novels.)

Up next:
I'm almost done reading Philosophy of Mathematics by James Robert Brown. It's unapologetically Platonistic, and it's tainting my enjoyment a bit, but there's lots of ideas and examples in here that I'd never considered. I read a quarter of this book before January 1, so I'll think about whether to count this towards my 52 goal.

I found a cheap used copy of Levni Yilmaz's Sunny Side Down recently. This should be another fun and quick read. If you don't know his "Tales of Mere Existence" series on youtube … then you're missing out. This is a good one on procrastination, and this is a silly one on food.

Until next time!

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