Sunday, April 18, 2010

When to give up on a book.

My son and I both gave up on Galileo's Dream a few days ago. We each really tried to like it, and in fact did like very much the historical aspect of the book. As I wrote last week he brings Galileo, warts and all, to life. But the sci-fi part of the book -- not so much. The characters of the future sci-fi world are one dimensional, not very likable, and their motivation, their reason for intruding into the book, is very unclear. They were so patronizing to Galileo -- I didn't want them to have any influence on him or his work. If that wasn't bad enough, the sci-fi story completely "jumped the shark" into silly and unbelievable territory.

And yet Kim Stanley Robinson is such a good writer that we both kept thinking there had to be something more to the book, something that we just weren't getting. It made us feel dense, as if we were too stupid to see the profound message buried in the story. I finally started reading published reviews of the book, looking to see what exactly we were missing, but it seems the book has many people scratching their heads. The reviewers who did like it didn't convince me that reading to the bitter end would be earth shattering and worth while.

So, we put it down. I'm intrigued with his writing enough that I'd like to try another of his novels. The premise for The Years of Rice and Salt intrigues me, and I'd be reading it this weekend but the copy in my library is missing a huge chunk of pages.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

52 Books in 52 weeks.. a long overdue update

It is week 15 of the year and I'm on my 14th book but only my 5th blog post about books. Here's my list thus far...

1. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglass Adams
2. Leviathon by Scott Westerfeld
3. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
4. The Little Book by Shelden Edwards
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6. Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
7. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
8. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
9. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
10. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
11. Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
12. Country Driving by Peter Hessler
13. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
14. Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (still in progress)

Lost World, Remarkable Creatures and Galileo's Dream each have made me stop to think about the science I take for granted as each of these books deals with the state of science in a given time. Lost World of course isn't a modern book so when Professor Challenger's expounds on science facts it seems quait and antiquated. But Remarkable Creatures and Galileo's Dream are both newly released, and the authors had to put themselves into the minds of historical figures and have those figures react to their discoveries and grapple with what it might mean. It gives me pause that idea of extinction, for instance, was earth shatteringly new, 200 years ago, and it is extraordinary to me to how the authors bring that sense of wonder, awe and confusion to life as these characters struggle to make sense of what they discover.

My ds and I are both reading Galileo's Dream, but haven't quite finished it yet. So far --I'm about half way done-- we agree that the historical fiction aspect of the book is our favorite part. Galileo has come to life. The sci fi part we can't quite decide about, why it is there, whether it is worthwhile, how it is central to the story. It's that big question -- WHY did the author write this book? Tune in next week when I'll see if my son and I come up with an answer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This and that

I've experienced more earthquakes in the last 5 days than I have in the last 25 years. I'm beginning to get good at figuring out the richter scale number. "That was minor, probably a 4.6." "Now that, that was over 5" and the big one last Sunday was just plain WOW!!! Can't imagine what it felt like in Chile several week ago when they had that almost 9 earthquake. Don't think we'd enjoy that massive a quake as much as we do these little ones.

I've been slacking off in my reading. For no good reason other than I'm too preoccupied with the neurotic clutter rattling around inside my head.

This week's Lost was awesome. Desmond episodes always rock.

Need to practice violin today or I'll embarrass myself at quartet rehearsal tomorrow.

Back to that mental clutter. Can't decide if I'm a brilliant homeschool mom or a failure. I think I'm fairly reasonable and creative, but I'm not one of those hard-nosed "rigorous" moms who post all the time on the WTM board. What if I'm screwing it all up?!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nerd cred

Apparently the word "nerd" is not a pejorative these days -- it is rather a compliment of the highest degree. So says my 15 yo son, who patiently explained recently that "nerd" "geek" and "dork" are not interchangeable words.

Nerd, according to him, is a label you have to earn. You have to actually be knowledgeable and smart while living and breathing science or engineering or computers. Geek is a close second, but it is more of a wannabe level. Both nerds and geeks enjoy the same gadgets but geeks can't reach nerd status without earning some cred. Dorks are just idiots -- there is no hope.

My son has been working hard on his nerd cred. He has the geek level down pat -- Rubik's Cubes, logic puzzles, World of Warcraft level 80. He loves his USB missle turret that he has programmed to target anyone who passes too close to his work space. He makes bad puns referencing Lord of the Rings.

But he is making progress towards being a bona fide nerd. He built this from a kit, which to him means any fool could do it, but I think it is pretty cool and nerdy. It is an old fashioned Pong game:

What really cemented his nerd status in my mind, though, was how much fun he was having yesterday in learning how to use his new TI 83 calculator. He spent hours with it, and was ready to move on to new math topics so he could explore new functions on the calculator. It reeks of nerdom!