Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Musing Mondays (on Tuesday?)

Do you keep track of what and/or how many books you read? How long have you been doing this? What's your favorite tracking method, and why?If you don't keep track, why not?

I started keeping track of my reading in 2006 when I became a stay at home dad. Before retiring, I was a software developer. Most of my reading was technical reading: manuals, programming books, computer science books, etc. But when I stopped working, I had much more free time to read non-technical literature. Of course, now I am a freelance software developer and that is beginning to take up more of my time ...

I use a free web service called Backpack to keep track of my reading. The service allows you to create pages that contain lists and other things. So, I just have a page that contains the list of everything I have read, broken down by month, since February 2006. I used to keep track of the title, author, publishing information, ISBN, and number of pages. But, lately I have gotten down to the title, author, and number of pages. I have considered moving the list to my laptop or a notebook just in case Backpack goes away. But, I have never gotten around to it. I just backup the page on my laptop occasionally. Of course, now I also have the book reviews on this blog if I need.

On a related matter, I also have a page on Backpack that has books that I want to read. But, there are so many of those that my TBR list is not just on Backpack. I have several notebooks in which I keep lists of books to read, as well as notes from books that I have read. Where to you keep your TBR list?

Monday, March 30, 2009

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide is what I wish every book about science could be. Lehrer approaches a complicated topic and makes it understandable without losing nuance. In How We Decide, Lehrer explains the latest discoveries in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics in order to tease out some insights on how we make decisions, and how those decisions can be improved.

Lehrer begins each chapter with a riveting story about a very difficult decision. He then explains what science has to say about the decision. Generally, it appears that we have two different brain mechanisms for making decisions, our emotional system and our logical system. Each is located in different portions of the brain, and with new techniques like fMRI, scientists can actually watch these areas of our brains as we make decisions. Lehrer investigates each system and discusses the relative merits and weaknesses of each, ending up with some clear recommendations on how each of us can make better decisions.

  • Simple problems require reason, or the use of our logical system.

  • Novel problems also require reason.

  • Embrace uncertainty

  • You know more than you know.

  • Think about thinking. (Metacognition)

I would highly recommend this book for the riveting stories alone. But, I think Lehrer does really provide some important insights on how we can make better decisions. The most enlightening one being the last in the list above. If you are more mindful of how you make decisions, you will make better ones.


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

One of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a novella of a mere 23 pages. However, it is a hauntingly spare depiction of the descent into madness. The Victorian narrator has been removed from her home to a cottage in the country in order to recover from a nervous breakdown. However, the "resting cure" is foiled when her husband, a physician himself, chooses to situate their bedroom in the former nursery, a room with walls covered by a wallpaper the narrator describes as repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, with patterns in it that commit every artistic sin. Supposed to be resting, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and its pattern. Eventually it begins to drive her mad. (Or does it?) She begins to see a women caught behind bars formed by the wallpaper's pattern. She soon becomes wild and violent, tearing at the wallpaper; biting the bedposts. At the conclusion of the novella, she locks herself in the room, the madness overcoming her completely.

This short novella was quite creepy. Not in a BOO! scary kind of way. But instead, in a raise the hairs on the back of your neck way. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed it all that much, so I would not necessarily recommend it to anyone. I certainly wouldn't characterize it as something you must read before you die.


The Housekeeper and the Professor

I picked this one up at the library on the recommendation of 3M at 1morechapter. It was absolutely sublime! The novel tells the story of a housekeeper contracted to keep house for a math professor. The professor was involved in an auto accident that damaged his brain. He can no longer form long term memories and his short term memory lasts only eighty minutes.

What follows is the touching tale of how the housekeeper and her ten year old son befriend the kindly old teacher, despite his mnemonic handicap. It is a wonderful story of math, baseball, and unconditional love. I second 3M's high recommendation!


Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Challenges

Sometimes I think I may be starting to obsess about reading challenges as much as I do about books themselves. Because I haven't got enough challenges (or books) already, I decided to sign up for a few more.

First, the Colorful Reading Challenge hosted by Rebecca. The point of the challenge is to read 9 books with 9 different colors in the title. Six colors are required, while the last 3 can be your choice. Books may be overlapped with other challenges. At least 6 of the books should be new to you (doesn't matter which 6). They must be read between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009.

  • Blue: Blue Angel by Francine Prose

  • Red: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammet

  • White: A Heart So White by Maras

  • Black: Black Swan by N. Taleb

  • Silver: Silver Swan by B. Black

  • Gold: The Golden Ass by Apuleius

  • Purple: The Riders of the Purple Sage by Z. Grey

  • Green: Green Knight by Iris Murdoch

  • Yellow: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Second, the Numbers Challenge. Five books with numbers in the title between January 1, 2009 and August 1, 2009. Three can overlap with other challenges.

  1. 39 Steps by John Buchan (overlap)

  2. Number9Dream by D. Mitchell (overlap)

  3. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by J. Barnes (overlap)

  4. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

  5. Arcanum 17 by A. Breton

Finally, the Orbis Terrarum Challenge hosted by Bethany. For this challenge, the reader should choose 10 different books, written by 10 different authors, from 10 different countries, and read them between March 1, 2009 and December 31 2009. A list is not mandatory, but I do have a tentative list in mind already.

  1. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa - Japan

  2. The Plague by A. Camus - Algeria

  3. All the Names by Jose Saramago - Portugal

  4. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - Russia

  5. A Heart So White by Javier Maras - Spain

  6. Madame Bovary G. Flaubert - France

  7. Number9Dream by D. Mitchell - England

  8. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by M. Atwood - Canada

  9. Silver Swan by Benjamin Black - Ireland

  10. The Golden Ass Apuleius - Ancient Rome/North Africa

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is a graphic novel by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba. One of the many book bloggers that I read reviewed it several months ago (I cannot remember who now). I thought nothing of it at the time, but while at the library, I noticed it on the new books shelf. So, I picked it up.

I am not really a graphic novel person per se. However, I will read them on occasion. I was not overly impressed with this one. It was mediocre, at best. So, I would not necessarily recommend it to anyone. There are probably better things out there to read. But, if you have a little time to kill, there are worse ways to do so.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?

Most recently, On Beauty by Zadie Smith. I found this to be an absolutely horrible read. I am one of those people that will usually stick it out to the very end once I start a book. But this one ... it was so awful I don't even think I made it to the 50 page mark. Before reading it I had read so much good press about Smith. This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker and won the Orange prize. But wow! I thought it was a stinker.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A Canticle For Leibowitz, winner of the Hugo Award in 1961, is a post-apocalyptic tale in three parts. The novel begins soon after the flame deluge when the world has lost most of its technology. The second part tells of a new awakening, a second renaissance when much of our technology is being rediscovered. The final part, however, tells of how that technology is once again put to use to re-destroy the world. The one constant throughout the novel is the church. In particular, the novel concerns itself with the monastic Order of Leibowitz.

One would expect much from a Hugo Award winning science fiction novel. However, I found A Canticle For Leibowitz incredibly disappointing. Perhaps the post-cold-war reduction in the threat of nuclear annihilation makes the novel less frightening. Perhaps it was how each section skipped forward a millennium. Or perhaps it is just a matter of personal taste. Whatever it is, I found this novel quite difficult to finish, and would not recommend it to anyone.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Group Theory In The Bedroom by Brian Hayes

I know what you are thinking. But Group Theory In The Bedroom is about nothing more risqué than the mathematics of group theory applied to flipping a mattress. Brian Hayes book is a collection of previously written articles and afterthoughts all of which articles concern topics in mathematics or computing. I enjoyed some them, but found others uninteresting; I found the collection uneven. Chapters I enjoyed were about clocks, the genetic code, mathematics and gearing, and ternary computing. There were several moments where the math challenged me, but overall it was a pretty good read.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Grand Inquisitor's Manual by Jonathan Kirsch

The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror In The Name Of God was the second book by Jonathan Kirsch that I have read. It is a horrifying history of human cruelty that is full of fascinating details. Kirsch discusses the three phases of the Inquisition: the Medieval Inquisition that persecuted the Cathars and other heretics; the Roman Inquisition, a later push against heresy motivated by the Protestant revolution that included the trial of Galileo; and the Spanish Inquisition that persecuted conversos, Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity. Kirsch goes on to discuss other Inquisition-like persecutions. He talks about the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, which stressed purity of the blood just like the Spanish Inquisition. In the U.S., the New England Witch Trials and the House Un-American Activities Committee stressed the naming of names before a confession was deemed acceptable, just like the Medieval Inquisition.

Though covering a dark chapter in human history, this book was a great read. Kirsch includes citations of actual records from the Inquisition, giving a human face to both the absurdity of it all, as well as the suffering. I am definitely going to look for more books by Mr. Kirsch!


Monday, March 09, 2009

Musing Mondays

What is your policy when it comes to new authors? Do you feel comfortable purchasing a book or do you prefer to borrow new authors from the library? How often do you 'try out' a new author?

If at all possible, I like to check out a book from the library before purchasing my own copy. I will relax this rule if the author is recommended by a source I trust, usually another author or reviewer that I like. For nonfiction books, I will also purchase books without previewing them as library books if I have heard or seen the author give a lecture that I enjoyed. For example, I bought Niall Ferguson's books the The World At War and The Ascent of Money based on some of his lectures I viewed.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Why Read? by Mark Edmundson

In Why Read? by Mark Edmundson laments that teaching of the humanities no longer involves students struggling with great works of literature. Edmundson alleges that the teaching literary theory that now passes for education in the humanities is actually an impediment to the real power and use of great literature. Edmundson argues that books should not just be read, and certainly not read as a mechanical exercise in which to apply your pet literary theory -- marxism, psychoanalysis, feminisim, etc. -- but instead a book should read you. Edmundson believes, with Milan Kundera that great works of literature provide experimental selves, people that we could be or become. Edmundson elaborates by with a lengthy quote from Proust:

I thought more modestly about my book, and it would be inaccurate even to say that I thought of those who would read it as 'my' readers. For it seemed to me that they would not be 'my' readers but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers -- it would be my book but with it I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.

What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

My first though was, Wow! What a tough question. I have my TBR List, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 501 Must Read Books, among other books on books in my library. I have also been eyeing 501 Great Writers. How am I supposed to pick one book from that kind of pool?

Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that there is one great book that I haven't read yet. A book that some think was the very first novel. A book that languishes on my bookshelf despite my best intentions.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How This Blog Got It's Name

So, what does "Peace of Brain" mean. Well, like many men in the United States, I have the uncanny ability to communicate using only movie quotes. And this blog get its name from a movie, Major League: Back To The Minors to be exact. I don't remember the exact quote but it goes something like this:

Taka: Family bicker. Customers complain. Everyone blames Taka. Have no... peace of brain.

Gus: You mean peace of mind?

Taka: Same difference!

Taka goes on to add that in order to find peace of brain he must:

Listen to innnnnnnner voice!

So, this blog is my innnnnnner voice, with the added bonus that you get to listen to it too.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Musing Monday

When reading do you read every word? Do you ever skip chapters or skim over parts?

I read every word. I never skip chapters or skim over parts. I have a strong belief that if you are going to read a book, show the book and its author the proper respect by reading what is written. On the other hand, if what is written is so boring or poor, show yourself the proper respect and find something else to read. (And yes, I realize this goes against Pennac's Reader's Bill of Rights you see in the sidebar of this weblog.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

How to Enjoy Shakespeare by Robert Thomas Fallon

How to Enjoy Shakespeare is aimed at the theater-goer about to attend a Shakespearean play. Mr. Fallon attempts to briefly give enough exposition about the language, themes, staging, characters, and plot of Shakespeare as to provide the reader with a more enjoyable experience at the theater. Personally, I found only the chapter on language particularly useful. Despite having read only a few of the Bard's plays, I was quite familiar with much of the material covered in the chapters on themes, staging, characters, and plot.

The chapter on language, however, was quite enlightening. I was surprised that in all my education, I do not remember being taught much about Shakespeare's language. One item I find key: Shakespeare's use of language is in large part determined by his having to fit his words into whatever type of pentameter he was using. This means that he omitted syllables, or even whole words, as well as changed word order to fulfill his rhythmic requirement. From the quotes provided by Mr. Fallon, it is abundantly obvious that this one fact will grant me a much greater enjoyment of Shakespeare.


February Round-Up

I ended up with a fairly decent number of books read in February, especially given that it is the shortest month. I reviewed all of them, save one. I still have a draft to be revised for The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, but I have yet to get around to it.

  1. Who's Been Sleeping In Your Head? by Brett Kahr (493pp)

  2. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (410pp)

  3. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (140pp)

  4. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (103pp)

  5. The 39 Steps by John Buchan (149pp)

  6. The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity by Matt Miller (258pp)

  7. Malinche by Laura Esquivel (191pp)

  8. Being Written by Wm. Conescu (196pp)

  9. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicky Myron with Bret Witter (271pp)

  10. The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia by Bernard Suits (178pp)

  11. The Trillion Dollar Meltdown by Charles R. Morris (194p)