Archive for September, 2017

What We Lose

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Unknown-2By Zinzi Clemmons

The Short Take:

Some events in this thoughtful, pain-driven novel are drawn from the author’s own experiences. She is also a light-skinned black woman largely living in a white world, who lost her mother while in college. Clemmons addresses the problems of loss and identity with exceptional honesty, however it is hard to relate to many of the central character’s actions.

Why?

This novel is written in vignettes, as if the central character, Thandie, was keeping a journal where she recorded whatever touched her heart that day. This makes the book a little disjointed plot-wise, but it also adds a stronger emotional appeal.

Thandie’s (and supposedly Clemmons’) expressions of grief are often poetic and consistently insightful. She explores how her skin makes her feel like an outsider, not only in her home community of Philadelphia, but also with her mother’s family in Johannesburg, South Africa. She makes acute observations about the divide between rich and poor in the latter location and the escalating crime problem. The novel also includes some historical facts with related photographs, such as the criminal behavior of Winnie Mandela (which was frankly a puzzling addition).

However, for all the looking inward and emotional outpourings, Thandie keeps her distance from the reader. You want her to tell you more and provide context for her actions. Instead you encounter some rather inexplicable behavior and more surface than depth.

Clemmons’ writing style is lyrical, but I’m not sure what else the reader gains from this experience.

A Little Plot:

Thandie’s mother dies and this affects her deeply. She and her father withdraw from each other emotionally. Thandie engages with different people and occupations, but nothing seems to fill the void.

For more about Zinzi Clemmons and her writing click here.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Unknown-1By Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Short Take:

This slim volume contains a wealth of easily understood information about a very complex and abstract subject — our universe. It’s perfect for someone like me, who knew next to nothing about astrophysics. I learned a lot and, Tyson’s summation was genuinely uplifting.

Why?

Words like quantum mechanics, dark matter, and pulsars always sounded intriguing but I had little or no understanding of what they meant. Tyson brought these outer space terms solidly down to earth and made it fun to learn about them.

The sizes and times related to various entities is this book are mind blowing — for the unfathomably small to the unimaginably large. Reading this book is inspiring, humbling, and actually great fun. Plus, there are all kinds of simple factoids you can casually drop into conversations, if only you are lucky enough to be around people who talk about life, the universe, and everything.

A Little Plot:

Plot doesn’t really relate here. You will gain a very basic understanding of the theories, discoveries, and science that shape today’s understanding of the universe. And it’s all delivered in way that makes you hungry for more.

For more about Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Hayden Planetarium under his direction click here.

Beren and Lúthien

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

41FwLxwd-pL._AC_UL160_J. R. R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

The Short Take:

Unless you are an exceptionally serious Tolkien fan or scholar, you will probably want to pass this one up. It was too much for me, and I’ve read The Lord of the Rings 11 times!

Why?

Basically, Christopher Tolkien has taken every version his father wrote of this adventure/love story and put it one volume, with plenty of information about the background, the whys, and wherefores. You really have to care an awful lot to want to wade through it all.

If you do care, you’ll enjoy the effort put into this book in order to demonstrate how the story, the characters, and even the names evolved over time. It really is quite thorough and scholarly, but it’s not for everyone.

A Little Plot:

Beren falls in love with Lúthien and goes through great peril to win her. She refuses to let him do it all alone. These two heroes go through multiple revisions.

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