In the past month or so I’ve finished reading four pretty good books. Don’t mistake that with me having read four books in a month. I just happened to finish four I had been reading for a while in the same month. I’m actually a pretty slow reader. At any rate, here they are with a quick sum up of what they were and if I enjoyed them.
#1 – The Universe Next Door by James Sire
The subtitle of this book is A Worldview Catalog and that’s the line that caught my interest. Ever since a history class I took at Sonoma State University a couple years ago, one in which the teacher focused quite a bit on the various philosophies that shaped the period we were studying, I’ve had a vague interest in that sort of thing. Philosophy that is. Not because I’m searching for something new to believe in, but just for the general knowledge of how thought has changed over the past few centuries so better to understand human history. And so I can sound really smart when I can give correct Jeopardy answers like “Who is Nietzsche?” Incidentally, this is something I never thought would remotely pique my interest. Anyhow, Sire’s book covers most, if not all, of the various philosophical perspectives and worldviews that have influenced Western society for the past several centuries. Everything from theism to deism to naturalism to eastern thought to post-modernism and more. Written honestly but critically, Sire describes the basics of each, including its logical (perceived) strengths and weaknesses. Sire makes no bones about his own worldview (a theistic/Christian one), but does not talk down to the other outlooks, while still giving an honest critique of each of their shortcomings. The one exception may be the chapter on New Age. He hits them pretty hard. But can you really blame him? If Shirley McClain is your best spokesperson you know you’ve got trouble.
Its not a real easy book to read, not because of uninspiring writing, but because the subject matter to pretty heady. I had to re-read paragraphs a few times to really wrap my head around some things, but then, I’m not that smart. Honestly I did feel like I was out of my league sometimes, but I figured its not such a bad thing to read over your head sometimes. Challenge yourself intellectually you know? If you are at all interested in philosophy I recommend this book.
#2 – The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
This started out as an assigned reading for an English class, but I only needed the first couple of chapters for that. But I enjoyed those chapters so much I decided to go back and finish it. Glad I did. The Right Stuff is the story of the first astronauts, the Mercury astronauts. At least that was Wolfe’s original intention. Quite a bit of the book is actually dedicated to high-performance jet test pilots, some of which went on to become astronauts, but many chose not to for fear that they would lose their standing on what Wolfe describes as the “invisible ziggurat” of the pilot hierarchy. The reason being that the first astronauts did little to no actual flying. In fact, the original designs of the capsule (not even a plane or a ship, but a capsule!) didn’t even have a window. How can you be an acutal pilot without being able to see?
Wolfe captures this rivalry very, very well and how that even though perhaps the test pilots’ work was more dangerous and involving, the public lifted the astronauts to hero status. The dynamic between the seven original spacemen is interesting also, as the orbits increased so did the prestige and the rivalries.
The descriptions of the actual fights, both orbital and sub-orbital, are incredible as well. While I may get excited at a real page-turner of a book, I’m rarely genuinely moved by reading. I think of only two exceptions. The first was Michael Shaara’s description of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels (an incredible book) and the second is Wolfe’s account of Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier-breaking test flights. Fascinating stuff. Great book.
So what does the “right stuff” mean exactly? What is it? Funny you should ask. I wrote a paper about that a while back. Check it out.
#3 – The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway
When I was in Colorado last month, I had brought the above two books with me to read, but finished them both and wanted something to read on the plane ride home. I read quite a bit, but most of it is non-fiction, history type stuff, so I haven’t read a lot of what would be considered some the classic literature. Haven’t big really big on literature. But I decided I should read some, and I knew TOMatS was pretty short so I picked it up at the local Borders in Littleton. I really liked it.
The story is pretty simple. An old Cuban fisherman has been down on his luck, but one day hooks a huge marlin and battles it day and night for a couple of days. I don’t really want to say much more than that. I don’t want to give anything away. While reading it I remember thinking that there was probably some important metaphors I was missing, but after finishing and reading a few reviews I got the impression that that wasn’t necessarily the case. People can read whatever they want into any story, but more than anything Hemmingway just tells a simple, compelling tale.
Its not a long book, only about 100 pages, so if you’ve got a couple of free hours pick it up and enjoy.
#4 – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Things I Liked:
Relatable, slice-o-life coming of age stories
Captures mid-century, Midwest America very well
Things I Didn’t Like:
A little more cursing than I’d like, though I wouldn’t call it gratuitous
Soft on Communism
That last one is a joke, sort of. Bryson and I certainly don’t hold a lot in common politically I’m guessing, but since that wasn’t the focus of the book it didn’t really bother me. Some of the funniest parts were his descriptions of the absurdities, some warranted, some not, that came from the Soviet threat. Its not malicious necessarily, people honestly had no idea what to expect, but it definitely reveals his bent, which is fine because its his book.
While reading this I kept thinking what a fun movie it would make. Something in the vein of A Christmas Story. A good coming-of-age period piece. As it is a memoir of a young boy growing up, there’s a fair amount of time devoted to the curiosity toward and pursuing of the opposite sex. Or at least the pursuing of naked pictures of the opposite sex. So, beware if that kind of thing bothers you. A good read if you grew up in 50’s or even if you didn’t.