Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Week at the Library (11/9)

This Week at the Library (11/9)

Currently Listening To: "Waking Up in the Universe", Richard Dawkins


" It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it. " - Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot


Last week I checked out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. I had only half-finished Shelters the week before, and aimed to finish it -- which I did. I also finished The Deathly Hallows, which finishes the Harry Potter series. I had to wait almost an entire week to get it after I finished Half-Blood Prince. (I have been informed by friends who had to wait years between books that I "suck".) If you've not read Half-Blood Prince and plan to do so, kindly close your eyes and scroll down for a few seconds so that your reading experienced is ruined.

I kept thinking of the book as The Deathly Hollows; I thought that one of Harry's friends were going to be killed as he and the rest of Dumbledore's Army fought the forces of Lord Voldemort in some wooded area. As it turns out, the "Deathly Hallows" are three artifacts/relics that all have something to do with death. Actually, only two of them can be sensibly tied to death; associating the Invisibility Cloak with death is a bit of a stretch. In The Deathly Hallows, Harry and friends are supposed to be hunting for Hocruxes that contain bits of Voldemort's soul so that they can kill him off for good. I don't want to reveal too much of the plot, but every thing ties together. I was not particularly surprised by the ending, but I enjoyed it.

As mentioned, I also finished Shelters of Stone. I predicted that Jondolar would have to choose between his community and the woman he loves; well, he doesn't. In The Shelters of Stone, Ayla and Jondolar settle into life among the Zelandonii. Ayla tells the story of her life (the one she told several times in book three and the one she told too many times to count in book four). The reaction among Jondolar's people is pretty much the same as with everyone else; everyone is impressed with the exception of one or two jealous or tradition-bound people. Ayla once again draws some flak when she announces that she was raised by the Clan (the Clan being "primitive" Neanderthals and the Zelandonii being the "intelligent" Cro-Magnons). She makes a few petty enemies, gets mated to Jondolar, and has a baby. That's it. This book's lack of a real plot would be baffling if I didn't know that it's the fifth part of a sixth series. While the rest of the books can stand alone by themselves, though, I don't think this one can. I wouldn't read it without reading some of the others, just so that it makes some sense. It's nice to learn about the customs of these people, but there's no plot-driven story that is developed through the book. Auel simply tells what happens to Ayla once she and Jondolar arrive back at his home; the months recorded here are as uneventful as a few months in an average person's life. I am hoping that Ayla's petty enemies were being introduced in this book to serve some more dramatic purpose in the sixth, final, and yet to be released book.

Finally, I read Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. I have now officially read every one of his books with the exception of the one on the nuclear winter. While I am morbidly interested in the effects of nuclear winter, I think the only nuclear attacks we'll ever really worry about are those that take place at the hands of Islamists with their addled minds set on dreams of Heaven. I may read it later on, though, just to say that I've read everything written by Carl Sagan. I recently watched an "old" interview (1989) between himself and Ted Turner. The entire interview is on YouTube, and you can begin watching it by clicking here. In the second clip, Turner brings up nuclear winter. While the interview is now nearly twenty years old, ridiculously enough we're still facing the same problems -- global warming, inadequate health care, and a woefully uneducated populace. Sagan even mentions that a sizeable percentage of U.S. students couldn't locate their own country on a map; deja vu, anyone?

I enjoyed Pale Blue Dot enormously. That goes without saying; the book is by Carl Sagan. I think the book might dethrone Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors as my favorite Sagan book; we'll see as time goes by. The book is primarily concerned with humanity's role among the stars. A few weeks ago (before I checked the book out) I added a video onto my MySpace profile. Sagan's words in the video feature in the beginning of the book. Toward the end of the video, he says that astronomy is a "humbling experience". This is how he begins the book, by illustrating through a history of astronomy the various ways that humanity's arrogance has been checked by further knowledge of our cosmic insignificance. Sagan moves on to explain how we started to explore the solar systems and goes into detail on how particular parts of the solar system formed; he talks about the natural history of Venus that can be deduced through the available evidence, for instance. The book covers all manner of subjects, all of them tied in some way to astronomy. While I think the book could be enjoyed by anyone, I would especially recommend it to people interested in astronomy like myself. I also want to recommend another video.

A couple of months back, I somehow encountered Prometheus Music, which produces songs dealing with humanity's adventures in space flight. "Surprise!" is about Sputnik, for instance. My favorite song is "Fire in the Sky". I happened to find a visual history of space flight set to the song -- I hope you enjoy.

Pick of the Week: Despite the fight Deathly Hallows put up, I have to say that my favorite reading for this week was Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.

I also began reading Only Yesterday. I'm not reading it in book form, but online. I can't find a copy of the book in any of the nearby libraries, and I've been wanting to read the book for two years. Because of this, I have overcome my aversion to e-books and started to dig in. So far it's fantastic.

This week, I plan to read Richard Dawkins' The River Out of Eden. Despite my enormous affection for Dawkins, I have actually only read three of his books -- Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor's Tale, and The God Delusion. I've tried twice to read The Selfish Gene, but genetics bores me. With that in mind, it seems ridiculous that I am reading another of his books about genetics. I plan to read the book largely because of the fact that I'm familiar with and enjoy reading Dawkins' works. I love watching interviews with the man, and I'm hoping that this book is as engaging as he is in interviews.

Dawkins was featured in a panel of interviewees that I watched a few days ago. Another of the panelists was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote about her experiences as an ex-Muslim emigrant to Europe in the book Infidel. I'm interested in her story, so I'll be reading the book this week.

So, this week:
- Only Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen
- The River Out of Eden, Richard Dawkins
- Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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