Tag Archives: science

Not Knowing vs Knowing

I picked up the novel The Martian by Andy Weir at our first Independent Bookstore Day stop, and the sum total of what I knew about it before buying it was:

  • The cover is orange.
  • I’ve seen people really engrossed in it on the bus.
  • I’ve seen it on several bookstores’ Staff Recommends shelves.
  • It has something to do with an astronaut left behind on Mars.
  • The first chapter begins:

LOG ENTRY: SOL6

I’m pretty much fucked.

That’s my considered opinion.

Fucked.

And then I spent a whole Saturday (that I hadn’t intended to spend reading) not being able to put it down. Could NOT put it down. Had other things to do. Should have been doing them. Didn’t. Couldn’t put it down.

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Thinking of Red

For this month’s Famous People poem, Linda Bierds’ “Thinking of Red” (epigraph: “Marie Curie, 1934“).

It’s a little like complaining that Rembrandt* is always doing beautiful things with light to talk about how Linda Bierds’ poems are so often doing the same thing, because they are doing that same thing so damn well and that thing is so exquisite and resonant, immediate. “Bierds’ persistent subject is the effort to imagine herself so fully into historical events that the past becomes the present, the public merges with the private” says David Walker in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets, “Her poems reflect a double vision, set in history and yet released from it by imagination. Though her research is impeccable, she is fortunately not confined by it; the facts keep giving way to intuition, intensely empathic and hauntingly articulate.”

*(Poets.org goes with Vermeer instead: “Linda Bierds has become our premiere verbal portraitist of the space-time continuum, tracing the fine lines of transcendent human experience with the sure hand of a Vermeer, fashioning events of verbal meaning with the impeccable ear of a Yeats.”)

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Briefly Reviewed: Rin Tin Tin & Stiff & Packing for Mars

Susan Orlean’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend tells three stories, well four. There’s the partly heartbreaking and partly inspiring tale of Lee Duncan and the puppy he found on a French battlefield and named Rin-Tin-Tin, there’s the legend of Rin Tin Tin in all his film, television, merchandising and dog breeding iterations, and then there’s the story of the changing place of the dog in Americans’ lives in the twentieth century, in our homes, in our wars and on our screens. It’s an engrossing read, and I found the balance of informational detail to pace just right (that’s always my litmus for a good non-fiction book).

And the fourth story is the story of Susan Orlean’s quest to find those other stories. Orlean herself is definitely a figure in the writing, not only why she became interested in Rin-Tin-Tin in the first place, but stating which topics she cares about, and is therefore delving more into than others, and why. (For instance mentioning that it’s unclear in many Rin-Tin-Tin movies which dog is actually playing the part, but not getting much into what is and isn’t provable about that, because that’s not something she finds very interesting). So it’s on that level a different style than, say, Dorothy Ours’ Man O’War: Legend Like Lightning, which I also highly recommend, but which isn’t about Ours’ personal story. I like Orleans’ voice, and found the occasional personal sections worthwhile. It’s a big-hearted book, without getting treacly.


 

I’ve read two Mary Roach books now, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Voidand I highly recommend both for learning, with just the right filter of humor and empathy, about the stuff you might never have thought to ask about the human body or if you had thought to ask wouldn’t have been sure who to ask (or might not have been sure you wanted to). But I also highly recommend not reading them while you’re eating— Continue reading

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Currently Reading: Quantum Physics!?

I’m in the middle of an immensely satisfying book which explains quantum physics in a way I can (at least for a few minutes at a time) understand — which, if you knew anything about my science grades in high school and college, is really saying something.

The premise of How to Teach Physics To Your Dog is that physics professor Chad Orzel (the author) is explaining concepts and conundrums of quantum mechanics to the unusually inquisitive, not to mention talking, dog he adopted from the pound.

And it’s awesome. The frame of explaining concepts to Emmy (the dog) is quite effective — what does the uncertainty principle mean about the probability of finding bunnies in the yard? Is measuring what made her bone disappear? How does one get to the universe where steak IS dropped on the floor? Continue reading

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