Monday, July 25, 2011

One-sentence book reviews

For some of my recent reading:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: I know this wasn't your intention, but now I really feel like a loser for how little my garden is producing.

The Aeneid (trans. Sarah Ruden): This translation is clear, memorable, and moving; it made me wish that Vergil had finished the poem, just so I could read more.

The Phantom Tollbooth (in progress): Why did it take me so long to discover this book?

The Trumpeter of Krakow: I'm not actually reading this one--my wife is. But this book smells like a happy childhood.

Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics (in progress): I feel the ceiling of what is possible for me to learn about math rushing precipitously toward my head.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Potter Challenge

So, you're put off by the Harry Potter hype. You had to live through "the end of HP" back when the seventh book came out, and now the media is filled with the same recycled stories. The breathless devotion of the fans is annoying. You just don't get what all the fuss is about, and you're not planning on reading the books yourself any time soon.

Well, I was once just as put off as you. And I'm now one of those breathless fans. I have a hard time formulating how much I love these books. I turn into a cliche factory: they're about good and evil, about love conquering all, about growing up, about learning how to die.

Yeah, I wouldn't want to read them on that description.

But I really think you should read these books. Not so you can wring some enjoyment out of the mediocre movies or catch esoteric references. It will improve your life to have this narrative walking around with you.

So as an incentive for you to read the series, I'm going to put my own reading time on the line. There are plenty of supposedly "great" books that I don't see what the fuss is about. I've written these authors off; I'll never read them. Unless you read Harry Potter.

Here's what I propose. If you pledge to read a certain number of pages in the HP series, I'll match those pages with something that you love from my Never Gonna Read It list.

Feel free to choose works by any of these authors:
Ayn Rand
David Foster Wallace
James Joyce
Kurt Vonnegut
Karl Barth (or pick your favorite systematic theologian)
Sylvia Plath (I don't even know what she wrote. Just her name annoys me.)
Virginia Woolf (I'm not sure I know the difference between her and Sylvia Plath. Also, her name has too many o's.)
Kate Chopin (let's just make a category called "Depressing Lady Books")
Stieg Larsson
Leo Tolstoy
Stephanie Meyer
William Faulkner
Thomas Hardy
Marshall McLuhan
Any French Novelist (Proust, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola)
Any of the Brontes
Suggest something you know I'll hate!

Suggested page pledges:

Sorcerer's Stone: 309
Chamber of Secrets: 341 (650 cumulative)
Prisoner of Azkaban: 435 (1085 cumulative--you should go at least this far)
Goblet of Fire: 734 (1819 cumulative--you really should go at least this far)
Order of the Phoenix: 870 (2689 cumulative)
Half-Blood Prince: 672 (3361 cumulative)
Deathly Hallows: 759 (4120 cumulative)

This is a genuine offer. I honestly loathe the thought of reading any books by these authors. But I'm willing to make the sacrifice. Let's make a deal.