Monday, March 16, 2009

This Week at the Library (16/3)

Books this Update
  • Frank Sinatra: An American Legend, Nancy Sinatra
  • The Sun Shines Bright, Isaac Asimov
  • The Art of Happiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
  • Enigma, Robert Harris
  • I to Myself, Henry David Thoreau

Friday the 13th began spring break at my university, and subsequently I will be away from the computer for a little over a week. While I will have intermittent Internet access, the every-other-day or so posting I typically do will probably not be possible. When I am able to post my comments, they will be backdated slightly. I am also unsure as to which books I will actually be reading this next week, so next week you may be in for a surprise.

I began with a biography of Frank Sinatra, although Frank Sinatra: An American Legend is not a biography in the traditional sense. It is more of a timeline with commentary and pictures -- a great deal of pictures, as a matter of fact. The book, compared to the other biographies I've read, offers a pretty fair depiction of Sinatra's many faces although -- being his daughter -- Nancy Sinatra doesn't really address his negative side.

Next I read The Sun Shines Bright, a collection of science essays by Isaac Asimov. The essays cover a variety of scientific topics, although about half relate to astronomy or physics in some way. Outside of those topics, Asimov also writes on demographics, the scientific method, and the possibilities of cloning. His style is enjoyable.

I returned to philosophy with The Art of Happiness by the 14th Dalai Lama. The Art of Happiness is a dialogue between himself and a psychiatrist based in Arizona, the book being written from the psychiatrist's point of view. The book begins with the simple assertion that all human beings seek and deserve happiness and that it is perfectly within our grasp if only we are willing to practice and learn patience, tolerance, compassion, and mental disicpline. Along the way the Dalai Lama explores romance, suffering, anger, difficult people, and spiritual practices in general. I found the book to be excellent. It is mostly free from religious constructions like karma and reincarnation (although he does mention both once or twice). The book is wholly practical and very much based on reason and empathy. Although I may not agree with some of his opinions (that human beings are basically good, for instance), I found much to reccommend this book to anyone who is serious about personal growth.

After the science and philosophy I engaged myself in a little light reading in Robert Harris' Enigma, a novel set in the darker days of World War 2. Our main character is Tom Jericho, a mathematician in the employ of the British government. His job is to help crack the Enigma code used to protect U-boat transmissions -- a code that may mean the difference between the Allies losing or winning the war. While Jericho and his comrades worry themselves over this, Jericho also has to deal with the loss of an old flame -- who may just be a Nazi spy. It was fairly enjoyable, although not nearly as much as his Roman books.

I ended the week by finishing I to Myself, selections from the journal of Henry David Thoreau. The selections are organized by decade and year and track the life of an uncommon man as he ages in a time of great change. Throughout this change -- industrialization's first impact upon America -- Thoreau holds himself to higher truths and purposes. He is above petty things like society and organized religion and prefers to spend his time strolling through the woods, reflecting on the beauty of life and helping his neighbors intermittently. He is a private man -- or so the journal makes him out to be -- so reading the book felt like infringing upon his privacy. The book was quite helpful in understanding the man and gave me food for thought as well.

Pick of the Week: Thoreau would have won easily in an ordinary week, but this week he was competing with the Dalai Lama. The Art of Happiness deserves my unqualified reccommendation.

Quotation of the Week: In my journal I have quotations from Frank Sinatra, Isaac Asimov, Henry David Thoreau, and the Dalai Lama: all gleaned from this week's reading. Because there is so much from which to choose, I shall go with the shortest and simplest: "Be resolutely and faithfully what you are; be humbly what you aspire to be." - Henry David Thoreau

Potentials for Next Weekish:
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. A request from a friend.
  • Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal, Joe Nickell. Nickell is a frequent guest of the skeptical podcast Point of Inquiry.
  • Archangel, Robert Harris
  • The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell.
  • Here If You Need Me: A True Story, Kate Braestrup
  • The Naked Sun, Isaac Asimov
  • The Associate, John Grisham
If you think that's a little too much for one week, I remind you that I will be without television or internet distractions and largely away from school until the 22nd. Potential distractors include German and and sociology work.

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