Books I read in March 2010

 6 books this month, but only 1 novel – I guess that’s good for Lent. I’ve been actually listening to a novel as audiobook, but am not done yet – see next month, it’s a very long one: 22 CDs

 FICTION

Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers

I kept reading about this European best-seller, which has hard time having the same success over here apparently. Very good for a first writer I believe. Interesting perspective on the solitude and brokenness of human nature.

Giordano’s deeply touching debut novel immediately thrusts the reader into the lives of two individuals, at the moment when each of their young lives takes a sharp turn toward painful solitude: Alice has been crippled in a childhood skiing accident, Mattia is consumed by guilt after playing an unintended but key role in his twin sister’s disappearance. Upon meeting in their early teens, they develop a frequently uncomfortable yet enveloping friendship. What follows is a beautiful and affecting account of the ways in which seemingly inconsequential decisions reverberate so intensely as to change a life forever. Translated from the Italian, this is a book about communication: in lacking a facility for self-expression, our stunted protagonists exist almost solely, and safely, in their own minds. Despite its heavy subject matter, it reads easily, due in part to the almost seamless translation. A quietly explosive ending completes the novel in just the fashion it was started, as an intimate psychological portrait of two “prime numbers”—together alone and alone together. –Annie Bostrom

NONFICTION

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language

Interesting point: I was lead to this book through a comment read on Facebook. A friend of one of my friends has always posts in all kinds of languages, some I speak myself. So we ended up being friends. She has a vast culture. She commented on this book once, and I was not disappointed reading it. Eco at his best, with fascinating stuff about the search for Adam’s possible language – didn’t he name the animals? Also on issues related to Babel – there was already a diversity of languages BEFORE Babel, according to the Bible, so what? And all kinds of intriguing and crazy inventions of languages that could work for everyone everywhere…well, almost.

So yes, Facebook can ALSO be used as a window opening on culture, all depends how you use it.

Here is what you can read on amazon, minus the 1st sentence which is wrong and makes us wonder if they really reads the book before posting this review…:

In this erudite study, which will be heavy going for most readers, famed Italian novelist and linguist Eco mines a wealth of esoteric lore as he investigates a neglected chapter in the history of ideas. He begins with Dante’s proposal for a universal vernacular in place of Latin, and Catalan friar Raymond Lull’s combinatorial system of letters and symbols designed to explore metaphysical connections. He goes on to examine the Kabbalistic search for hidden messages in sacred Hebrew texts, the Rosicrucian society’s symbolic writing in 17th-century Germany and French Enlightenment thinkers’ invention of philosophical languages organized around fundamental categories of knowledge. He also surveys the search for a primordial language assumed by Augustine to be Hebrew and by later mother tongue-seekers to be Aramaic or various other languages.

Marilyn Johnson, The Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

Working in a library, helping dozens of people every day on the computers there, and having participated in the Strategic Plan of our Library to gear more deeply towards the technological era in libraries, I had to read this. Really good and funny, sounds so familiar. Very well documented on library blogs and the like.

Contemporary librarians are morphing into undisputed masters of the information cosmos. An Internet-savvy, database-crunching cohort of multimedia manipulators passionately dedicated to empowering the data-deprived, they democratically distribute all the fruits of the emerging hypertext universe. Johnson’s paean to this new generation of librarians demolishes superannuated myths and stereotypes of fusty librarians filing catalog cards and collecting fines for overdue books, and replaces that with a vision of the profession’s future where librarians serve as guardians and guides to information in cyberspace. These rock-star librarians maneuver their way through a labyrinthine network of glowing computer-terminal screens to retrieve whatever answers patrons may seek. If that’s not high calling enough, librarians stand tall as superhero sentinels bravely beating back every assault on civil liberties and Constitutional government. Johnson offers portraits of American librarians, both institutional and freelance, already achieving fame as cybrarians and informationists, and she affirms and celebrates their conquests. Take that, Nicholson Baker! –Mark Knoblauch

Russell Martin, Beethoven’s Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

This book was recommended by a friend we met through our neighbors: you never know how you are going to find the next good read!

Through a little locket of Beethoven’s Hair, you’ll know what he was suffering of and died of, but this book is also so much more: because of the long journey of that locket in WWII, you will find yourself in that context, amidst fleeing Jews, of course also in the society of the great musical geniuses of the time, and much more! Very interesting at many levels. The only reproach I have for this book: the flashback technique: I think the journey was in itself complex enough the author didn’t need to use that genre, that makes it almost confusing at times. Sometimes I wonder why so many writers use this genre these days: it just doesn’t work well for everything.

A well-publicized 1994 Sotheby’s auction listed, among other musical artifacts and ephemera on the block, a lock of Beethoven’s hair. The high-bidders of the hair, two Beethoven enthusiasts, were easy enough to identify by their oddball names: one was a doctor named Che Guevara, the other a retired real estate developer named Ira Brilliant. But the real story, as author Russell Martin attempts to explain in this book, is how did the lock end up on the auction block? More important, can we learn anything from a 175-year-old snippet of hair? Somehow, author Russell Martin attempts to weave biographical information about Beethoven’s life with scientific findings about his hair (the two buyers had the lock DNA-tested), as well as trace the path the hair took, from the great composer’s head right into the present.

It’s a tall order and one at which Martin partially succeeds. His facts about Beethoven and Ferdinand Hiller (the original keeper of the lock) are solid, but he hypothesizes at length about how the hair ended up in a small port town in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. Likewise, he spends nearly the entire second half of the book describing the lives of Guevara and Brilliant, occasionally sounding more like a press agent than a journalist. Subtitled “An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Musical Mystery Solved,” Beethoven’s Hair doesn’t truly solve any musical mysteries, but it is a fascinating, original read for Beethoven-philes who want to learn a little bit more about their favorite composer. –Jason Verlinde

Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence

We won this book at a bingo game !! How à propos for a French lady… This book is sooo funny, and so right on the mark. Though I never lived in Provence, I could identify with everything, including recognizing the special characters in my little village. It’s even more funny if you speak French, as the author uses some French for jokes and remarks. Good relaxing book by a British lover of France. This book has been made into 4 movies, one for each season, but you lose a lot of course from the book.

Who hasn’t dreamed, on a mundane Monday or frowzy Friday, of chucking it all in and packing off to the south of France? Provençal cookbooks and guidebooks entice with provocatively fresh salads and azure skies, but is it really all Côtes-du-Rhône and fleur-de-lis? Author Peter Mayle answers that question with wit, warmth, and wicked candor in A Year in Provence, the chronicle of his own foray into Provençal domesticity.

Beginning, appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day with a divine luncheon in a quaint restaurant, Mayle sets the scene and pits his British sensibilities against it. “We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers,” he writes, “looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window.” He describes in loving detail the charming, 200-year-old farmhouse at the base of the Lubéron Mountains, its thick stone walls and well-tended vines, its wine cave and wells, its shade trees and swimming pool–its lack of central heating. Indeed, not 10 pages into the book, reality comes crashing into conflict with the idyll when the Mistral, that frigid wind that ravages the Rhône valley in winter, cracks the pipes, rips tiles from the roof, and tears a window from its hinges. And that’s just January.

In prose that skips along lightly, Mayle records the highlights of each month, from the aberration of snow in February and the algae-filled swimming pool of March through the tourist invasions and unpredictable renovations of the summer months to a quiet Christmas alone. Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. A Year in Provence is part memoir, part homeowner’s manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun. –L.A. Smith

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

I read this book 6 years ago, and I believe another time way back in French, but that was good reading t again, now that I am at last Orthodox myself. The author helps us live Lent deeply, through a real dive in liturgy and its real meaning, and doesn’t mince his words when criticizing those who remain at the superficial level of Orthodoxy. Indeed I’m sad myself when I see how much they miss of the treasure we have in Orthodoxy. His Appendix on Communion is very enlightening.

This revised edition of Father Alexander Schmemann’s Lenten classic examines the meaning of Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, the Canon of St Andrew of Crete and other neglected or misunderstood treasures of Lenten worship. Schmemann draws on the Church’s sacramental and liturgical tradition to suggest the meaning of Lent in our life. The Lenten season is meant to kindle a ‘bright sadness’ within our hearts. Its aim is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for recovery of this relationship. The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the brilliance of the Resurrection.

About the Author

One of the foremost Orthodox Christian theologians of the twentieth century, Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)was a renowned preacher to the East through his Radio Liberty broadcasts to Soviet Russia; and a priest to the West and Professor of Liturgics and Dean at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY. Known primarily for his eucharistic centered theology, Fr Alexander was named by Skylight Publishing as one of the ‘Spiritual Inovators: Seventy-Five Extraordinary People Who Changed the World in the Past Century.

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