Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An artist's conception of a terraformed Mars, the subject of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, one of the guilty pleasures of this summer's reading, as noted in the post below.
Summer Reading 2009

If there were such a thing as summer reading, and maybe there is--in moments stolen from the reading and writing for projects there isn't time to accomplish the rest of the year--these would be on my 2009 list:

Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell (Yale) is one of those guilty pleasures appropriate to summer: a book about a frivolous but fascinating subject by a terrific writer with great insight into film. Especially since Haskell began her career writing about women in movies, this is a great choice of subject. My favorite film critic--Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle--loved this book, so I am sure I will, too.

The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr. Beddoes and His Sons of Genius by Mike Jay (Yale.) A dip into the first few chapters reveals an absorbing story of late eighteenth and early 19th century science and society, centered on a fascinating character, Thomas Beddoes. This is intellectual adventure, of a kind with another new book, The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel (Yale) is a book I'm already reading with great attention and pleasure. And of course I'm reading it in my library at night.

Another book I've started reading that doubtless will be a centerpiece of my summer is Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. I read his Red Mars on my recent multi-hour airplane trips, and I'm sure the last in the trilogy, Blue Mars, is also in my future. If I wasn't already convinced that Robinson is among our best fiction writers of any kind, I would find the first chapters of Green Mars the clinching and convincing evidence.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This new book by the author of Zen and the Brain continues his exploration of "contemplative neuroscience." See the post below.
Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness
by James Austin, M.D.
The MIT Press
342 pages with notes

Of the various books that explore relationships between western science and eastern meditation, or Buddhism in particular, James Austin's are among the most specifically technical. In large part, this book follows new findings in brain research conducted since his earlier well-known study, Zen and the Brain, and uses them to further the evolving study known as comtemplative neuroscience.

Austin explores such issues as attention, insight, the self, emotional maturity and wisdom, in the light of brain science and in the context of the practices and history of Zen. He also attempts to ask questions and make his points with broader contemporary cultural associations, but readers probably need an abiding interest in the physical workings of the brain to follow his arguments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Noting Some Essentials...

The guidebook, selection, etc. is an age-old attempt to compress, winnow, collect the most essential information--to make a small library out of a big one. Here are a few new examples:

The Essential Lincoln: Speeches and Correspondence, edited with an introduction by Orville Vernon Burton (Hill & Wang) hits the highlights in 177 pages, including the "House Divided" speech of 1858, Cooper Union speech of 1860, the Inaugurals and the Gettysburg Address. The first speech is from 1832, the last is Lincoln's final public address in 1865. There are also letters that provide another view--Lincoln is sometimes bolder, more incisive, but also more philosophical and feeling. It's also interesting to read Lincoln with President Obama in mind, and note the similarities in style of discourse. Burton is the author of The Age of Lincoln.

The Essential Hospital Handbook: How to Be An Effective Partner in a Loved One's Care by Patrick Conlon (Yale) is a practical, up to date guide for a situation more and more people must face. Dealing with different kinds of doctors, and all the decisions and frustrations of the contemporary mess that's called medical care can be more than maddening. There are definitions of hospital terms, tear-out checklists for various situations, and the advice extends to communicating with other friends and relatives of the patient. There are also other suggested resources. This is a book you hope you won't need, but will be glad you have--even if only a few features turn out to be relevant to your needs.

Fighting Cancer with Knowledge and Hope by Richard C. Frank MD (Yale) is a more specific guide book, for patients, families and health care providers. The style is conversational, with lots of stories from Dr. Frank's experience as director of cancer research at the Whittingham Cancer Center in Norwalk, Connecticut. Again, it answers questions that become very relevant when the topic becomes a central concern.

Nanoscale: Visualizing An Invisible World by Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Stephen E. Deffeyes (MIT) is a compendium of a different kind: a collection of images of substances from water and gold to quasicrystals at the nanoscale: one billionth of a meter. Descriptions of each substance accompany the images.