Reading notes

I have begun a new book of nonfiction, Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious, a collection of essays that look at science — what it is, how it works, and what its connection to language and the arts is. Lightman is both a scientist and a novelist, so he’s got some intriguing ideas about how, for example, metaphor works in science as opposed to literature and about the creative process in science and in the arts. He starts off with a personal essay telling about his love of both science and writing and about how he’s managed to make both disciplines work in his life. He started off with science because he figured out that most scientists do their best work while they are relatively young, and many novelists produce their best work when they are older. Science, he points out, doesn’t require much experience of the world; you need agility of mind, but not necessarily years and years of living. Novel-writing, on the other hand, benefits from that experience. So he made a career for himself as a physicist, and then later began writing essays and eventually novels. His novel Einstein’s Dreams was a bestseller, and I’m very curious about it, as I like his essay writing. Has anyone read it?

I’m also still reading Wuthering Heights, or rather looking it over again as I teach it. I’m learning to love the book as I’m spending so much time thinking about it; it’s so wild and gothic and deeply weird. My students seem to be enjoying it too, somewhat to their surprise, I think. One student asked what makes this book anything more than a potboiler, and in response we generated a list of ideas it deals with and themes it takes up, and I think this student ended up surprised and impressed by our long list.

I’m looking forward, though, to picking up a new novel, and I have no idea what it will be. I alternate between wanting something challenging (Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives maybe? or another Brontë novel? — I have three unread ones on hand after all), something more familiar (another Alison Lurie novel? another Rosamund Lehmann?), and something new and fun (Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters?). We’ll see what mood hits when I’m finally ready to pick up something new.

I have also acquired a couple new books, including Edward P. Jones’s collection of stories All Aunt Hagar’s Children, which I’ve heard wonderful things about and am looking forward to. I’ve been wanting to read some more short stories, after all. I mooched a few books, including William Gass’s book Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation, which promises to be wonderful, and two Georgette Heyer books, Venetia and The Masqueraders. I feel lucky to have gotten these, as they get snapped up quickly.

But now I’m off to do a little reading before bed …


Filed under Books, Fiction, Nonfiction, Teaching

11 responses to “Reading notes

  1. I’ve read Einstein’s Dreams, years ago. I enjoyed it; it’s sort of a meditation on time, in several short vignettes, not really a novel. Extremely short. Worth a look, I think.


  2. I’m very envious of those Heyer novels! I rarely see anything moochable (at least from US participants). I finally broke down and ordered the two new releases from Sourcebooks (it looks like they’ll be releasing one or two each month for the next few months) via Amazon. I ordered them early in the week, but they’ve yet to even ship the books, so I am getting impatient! It looks like you have lots of good books to choose from! I think it’s really interesting what you write about Alan Lightman and science and literature. It would be itneresting to read his perspective since he works in both areas. I hope you post more about his book!


  3. verbivore

    Well I know now that I’ll be getting Lightman for my husband for his next birthday – sounds like something he would really love. I have this feeling that I actually read Einstein’s Dreams at some point but I’m drawing a blank for any reading memory.

    I reread Wuthering Heights last year – it was an intense experience. Glad yourself and your students are enjoying it!


  4. Oh, how fun! When I was in college I spent a bit of time reading books about my heroes and how they made their advances and discoveries: Leibnitz, Newton, Einstein, Rutherford, Galileo, etc. I think “A Sense of the Mysterious” is an excellent title. Grasping an accurate yet unique approach to understanding how the world works is indeed a mysterious mindset.


  5. I read “Einstein’s Dreams” a few years ago. I really like Lightman. In fact, I’ve signed up for the Science Book Challenge but I’m finding it much easier to read fiction with scientific themes than non-fiction science books. I signed up because I need some impetus to read more non-fiction!


  6. Lightman’s essays sound interesting. I’ve not read Einstein’s Dreams but I’d like to one of these days. And I agree, Wuthering Heights is a weird book. The first time I read it I didn’t like it, couldn’t get what all the fuss was. But the more I have read it the more I like it. Strange how that works sometimes. Have fun deciding on what new book to read!


  7. hepzibah

    read Three Lives by Stein, you’ll love it!


  8. That Lightman sounds really interesting (especially in light of the fact I happen to be at a science conference). When I read WUTHERING HEIGHTS, I thought it would have been fun to have a group of people to discuss it with (I never read it for any classes in school), because even though I didn’t like it and thought all the attention it gets is “much ado about nothing,” it had drawn me in, and I could understand that it was very well done. It sounds like your class is having a great time with it. Too bad I can’t be there to sit in on it.


  9. I’ve read Einstein’s Dreams and thought it rather fascination – a series of prose poems almost but revolving around the more supernatural aspects of science, notably the bendiness and caprice of time. I’m also a big fan of Wuthering Heights. And I adored William Gass on Rilke. Wonderful reading in prospect, Dorothy!


  10. Richard — thank you for the recommendation; I’ll have to hunt down a copy, as it sounds like something I would like.

    Danielle — I’ll definitely post more about Lightman — there’s lots of interesting stuff there! I was lucky to get those Heyer book — they disappeared fast!

    Verbivore — glad I could help you find a gift 🙂

    Bikkuri — I think I’d enjoy reading biographies of scientists, although right now I’m inspired to read more about science itself; I’ve got a couple science books on hand I might try.

    Melanie — fiction books with science themes — now that sounds like an interesting category! I’d enjoy reading those I’m sure. A science challenge might be fun, if I hadn’t sworn off challenges for a while …

    Stefanie — I love it when rereadings make me appreciate something more, and particularly when I start of not liking something and learn to love it. There’s something satisfying in experiencing that shift.

    Hepzibah — well, I’ll have to! I’m not starting it right now, but soon …

    Emily — WH definitely benefits from some discussion or reading around in the criticism on it. The first time I read it, I read it on my own with no help and didn’t quite get it either.

    Litlove — I’m looking forward to the Gass so much — it arrived in the mail today. And I’ll have to read Einstein’s Dreams; it sounds wonderful.


  11. You may want to try “Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta”. I read it in college, the authors are Einstein and Infeld: who better to write such a book. I think it was published in 1938. Time affects memory a lot, but I found it very interesting and not so hard to grasp.


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