Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2 Books Down, 28 To Go for the Word Nerd

I knew it would happen, but I didn't see the *reason* coming 'til it got here: I posted every day in 2009 until Friday, the 16th. Yep, I posted FIFTEEN DAYS IN A ROW! Not bad for someone that only posted 69 times in all of 2008. (No joke, I counted.)

What I didn't expect was why I would break my streak: I was too caught up being a word nerd to post all weekend! Finished The Botany of Desire on Friday, and read all of Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa over the weekend, wrapping it up late last night. I bet no one even saw the Death in the Andes cover in my sidebar, it was up for such a short time!

So, what do I think of these tomes? I really enjoyed Botany; an easy read, very informative: did you know that the apple is originally from Kazakhstan?; that the word 'tulip' is derived from the Turkish word for 'turban', or that at the height of 'tulipomania' in Holland, tulips cost more than gold?; did you know that the bulk of the monies that municipalities receive to fund law enforcement come from property seizures resulting from marijuana drug busts?; And, most disturbing, did you know that the natural pesticide Bt toxin, a naturally-occurring bacterium, has been genetically spliced into potato genes by Monsanto, and when pests (inevitably) develop resistance to the genetically engineered, Bt-laden potato leaves, it is likely that natural Bt bacteria will no longer be effective in organic farming? Harrumph. But I also picked up some new vocabulary words in the bargain: redoubt, entheogen, synecdoche, feckless, chthonic - just to name a few.

I particularly enjoyed the ongoing presentation of Apollonian vs. Dionysian themes throughout the book; the tug-of-war between humanity's desire for linear, masculine order and chaotic, fecund abandon.

"The Greeks believed that true beauty (as opposed to mere prettiness) was the offspring of these two opposing tendencies [profusion plus symmetry], which they personified in Apollo and Dionysus, their two gods of Art. Great art is born when Apollonian form and Dionysian ecstasy are held in balance, when our dreams of order and abandon come together." (p. 106)

That description of "what is art" or "what is beautiful" got me thinking about my own aesthetic when it comes to creating, admiring, and using "art" yarn. Form and function, creativity informed by technique, those are my goals.

As for Death in the Andes, that one was quick, and I enjoyed the novel, but it's not my favorite from Vargas Llosa (In Praise of the Stepmother gets that honor.) An extremely violent tale of love, terrorism, and witchcraft set in mountainous Peru, it is told from the perspective of multiple narrators, each of whom might be speaking in each paragraph, so at times simply following the action required deliberate concentration and a bit of re-reading. Mostly it just made me glad that I don't live there, and sad that such a beautiful and culturally-rich nation experiences such unrest and violence.

This morning, I started Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell on the recommendation of my friend Reuben. I'm only 50 pages in, but I'm already struck by the realization that if Gladwell's contention that much of success is a matter of likability, I'm sunk. Ha ha!

What are you reading right now?


  1. I always admire people who read "thinking" books. I'm a huge fantasy novel fan so right now I'm reading The Hobbit (again). I also really like young adult fiction. I find some "adult" novels so involved and verbose that I can't even enjoy them. Kudos to you for your mad reading skills :)

  2. Wow, you're really going for it! I'm still stuck on my second book, but hope to get it done soon! I've heard about blink. Mr H read it and keeps recommending it to me. I think I'm going to have to pick it up this year :)

  3. i have too short of an attention span these days- currently i'm reading: the elephant vanishes by murakami. short stories that are thought-provoking and contain strong visual imagery are right up my alley. :)


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