Summer reading continued

Jan 4th, 2012 | By | Category: News

N8N was interested in what books folk are burying their noses in this festive season, and all we can say is there sure seems to be a lot of reading going on.  Must be the rain.

Three cheers for Bronte
Roy Burke, Hamilton journalist and avid N8N reader

So brand me an old fashioned guy; no offence taken, for it’s true, and my reading reflects the fact. Penny’s recently yielded me (for $30) a beautifully bound 892-page volume of The Complete Novels of the Bronte Sisters. Page edges gold dusted… what a find! Weighs a tonne!

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte were a tragic trio who lived short lives. I’m in love with Charlotte, an incurable state since I first read Jane Eyre as a teen before the centre of last century. A couple of nights ago I finished her Shirley, a first-time read. It was written around 160 years ago. For anyone who loves our language Charlotte is sheer delight. Her sisters are pretty good too.

Don’t get me wrong. I also get into thrillers, romances, military history and other rough comedy.

A very recent discovery I recommend is Amazon’s Kindle, the eBook wonder. These holidays in eBook magic land I’ve raced through several thrillers, dipped into Dickens, London and the Greek classics – enough reading there to take me to my grave, but I’ll continue to build my eBook library. It’s all cheap, cheap, cheap. Heaps of it is free. Roll on technology!

Chinese history, what?
Major Blunder, Officer Commanding, Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment, Northern Command, Alf’s Imperial Army and another avid N8N reader.

One is currently wading through The Great Wall: China Against the World 1000BC-2000AD by Julia Lovell C2006.  One is reading it as one has always been fascinated by history and knows little about the Chinese aspects of it, apart from where they rub up against Imperial interests.

A little bit of a pot-boiler although less from the style of writing and more because the Chinese seem to have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that if an idea fails, then surely its time will come and be a glorious success; as evidenced by an almost unbroken stream of dynasties resorting to wall-building to keep out barbarians, only to find the walls either fail completely or ultimately contribute to dynastic collapse through their incredible expense in financial, material and human terms.  Rather an interesting read, really.

The Major, tea then books

Previously one consumed Snuff by Terry Pratchett, his most recent fantasy novel, and while not quite as sparkling in wit, certainly as bitingly satirical as ever.  Lord Vettinari moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, with Sir Samuel Vimes a wittingly unwitting tool.

Subsequently one will plunge into The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks, completing the most recent stage of converting Earth to Shannara via cataclysm and heroism.  Not the finest novels, the previous Trilogy was better crafted, these have the feel of fillers designed to paper over the cracks between one storyline and the next – old fantasy role-player’s cynicism sneaking through one is afraid.

Vexing dead German philosopher
Robert Taylor, Auckland.  A really avid N8N reader (he’s my brother, so he better be!)

Every so often I punish myself by trying to read a few lines from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. Hegel is twisty: he starts for example by pointing out that each one of us is absolutely unique. I applaud. I am with him.

Then he continues to point out that because every one of us is unique, that we all have that in common. We are all unique. Common feature. Bah! Grumble, I read on muttering… “he always does this to me!”.  It reminds me of my father who had obviously read far too much Hegel, who pointed out that “the finite is everywhere. Everywhere we look we see finite things.

“Everything is finite. So we could be excused for thinking that the finite is infinite!”  Why do I do this to myself? I don’t know. Enough punishment…. Back to that Bugs Bunny video my brother sent me for Xmas…

Skulls and braaiiinz – what’s not to like?
Alison Campbell, Waikato University biological sciences lecturer and fine cook.  And, surprise, yet another avid reader.

I’m working my way through several books at the moment.

First up is Skulls, by Simon Winchester. Strictly speaking it’s not actually a book but an interactive iPad app, based on the enormous personal collection of Alan Dudley. I bought it because I find skulls fascinating and the blurb at the app store offered me the ability to zoom in, out and around a whole bunch of bony brain protectors. This, I figured, would be quite fun and could also be a useful teaching tool (I’m looking forward to showing it to a colleague who teaches 3rd-year zoology).

Alison "Skull Lady" Campbell

The ability to examine skulls in such detail really is great, although I would have liked to be able to look at them from beneath and above as well as from all sides. You lose some definition at high levels of zoom but apart from that, wow! I would otherwise not have known that the Atlantic wolffish has quite so many teeth and such a wonderfully architectural skull.

As for the brains – I’m also working my way through a Kindle edition of Carl Zimmer’s Brain Cuttings. Zimmer is one of my favourite science writers and this collection of essays hasn’t disappointed. The first essay’s title is from a question asked by Charles Darwin of one of his many correspondents. Wondering whether people around the world expressed emotions in the same way, Darwin asked, “Does shame excite a blush?” From this starting point, Zimmer takes us through scientists’ current understanding of the evolution of the face, a feature that began to form around half a billion years ago with the appearance of the earliest fishes.

This book’s both entertaining and informative and I’m enjoying reading it, one chapter at a time.

Third on my list is an actual, print-on-paper, hardcopy book: Fifty plants that changed the course of history, by Bill Laws. I bought this because of all the topics I teach at first-year level, botany seems to be the one that students are least engaged with, and I was hoping for some nice new examples to add my list of ‘cool stuff about plants and how they changed our world’.

This book is a bit like the curate’s egg: good in parts. My copy is a beautifully presented hard-cover edition, with lovely illustrations and some fascinating snippets of information. I’m enjoying dipping into it, a couple of plants an evening.  But unfortunately that enjoyment is tempered by moments of irritation over some of its information, which means I probably won’t be recommending Laws’ book to students.

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