Blog Posts by Ultra Violet
Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade, The Buried Giant is a magical tale about memory, forgiveness and isolation. This is a fantasy story, but it is fantasy in the highest literary sense. The magical creatures and sense of otherworldliness serves to strengthen the very real issues Ishiguro addresses.
After devastating war, Britain has settled into a peaceful era, but at the cost of something very dear. A fog hangs over the country which robs the inhabitants of their long-term memories. An old couple, Axl and Beatrice, suddenly remember that they have a son. They can’t remember his name or where he lives or even why he left, but they are determined to search for him.
Their strange, difficult journey tests their love and devotion to each other. Ishiguro’s masterful writing gives the reader the sense of soporific confusion that the people in the story are experiencing. But that is not to say it is an unpleasant read. At the heart of it, this story calls into question how long we should remember the anger and pain of war and loss. At what point do we forgive without reserve? If we could forget wars, whether national or personal, would we want to?
Ishiguro is also known for the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.
One hundred thousand years ago, at least six distinct human species coexisted on this planet. So why has Homo sapiens come to be the sole heir of our biological heritage?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is an amazing undertaking, covering the entire history of humans on Earth. Harari starts with our earliest evolutions and poses some interesting questions about why we ended up dominating the evolutionary landscape. Examining biological changes, social changes and the advent of technology, he explains what makes us so good at surviving.
The part of the book that I found most compelling was his analysis of the role of story and religion in our civilization. The idea that money, nations, religion, law and, in fact, most things that drive our society, are “fictions” that we have collectively developed over time to maintain order was fascinating. Harari goes on to speculate about our future evolutions and how we will almost certainly have a role in determining those changes.
Sapiens combines anthropology, sociology, history, economics and science to explain where we came from and where we are possibly heading.
XKCD is 'a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language' that has grown in popularity even with non-science types. It is sometimes too technical for me, but the iconic stick-figure drawings are always a delight and creator, Randall Munroe, manages to throw in enough easy ones to keep me interested.
XKCD has a section called, “What If?” to address crazy wonder questions. This book is a compilation of some of those questions and Munroe’s perfectly scientific answers along with some adorable stick-figure comics. Some of the pressing questions answered by this book are:
If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?
What would happen if the moon went away?
What would happen if the Earth stopped turning but the atmosphere didn’t?
If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?
And my personal favorite:
What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface?
If you already follow “What If?” on the web, there are new questions in the book so it is still worth a read. It’s a fun one to read with curious older kids, too. They aren’t going to want to read the former NASA scientist’s answers in great detail, but they will enjoy the cartoons and a condensed version of the answer.
Hilarious, heart-breaking and inspiring: The Birds of Pandemonium is the story of the Pandemonium Aviaries in Northern California. The founder, Michele Raffin, started by one act of kindness to an injured dove and ended up becoming one of the world’s leading experts on aviculture and the care and breeding of rare and exotic bird species.
Throughout the narration, the personalities of the individual birds shine through. They are delightful “people” with rich relationships with each other and the humans in their lives. The tales of the challenges to the safety of birds caused by environmental issues, abuse, neglect and harm caused by human ignorance are eye-opening. I never thought about the fate of the white doves released at many wedding ceremonies. They are bred to be pure white, but that makes them more noticeable to predators, not to mention that they are not prepared for life in the wild.
Raffin’s enjoyable prose reads like a chat with a friend rather than a preachy book about the importance of protecting endangered species. The photos of the birds are fantastic. It makes it all come alive. This is a great choice for animal lovers and memoir readers.
A witty, fun, surprising detective story. What at first seems to be a bit of a Sherlock knock-off, quickly takes an original turn. R.F. Jackaby is a detective in 19th Century New England, but he isn't a classic detective. In fact, he misses many obvious clues that his sharp assistant, Abigail Rook, picks up on. Jackaby can see magical creatures. Not so useful in run of the mill cases, but invaluable when the murders being investigated are being perpetrated by an ancient paranormal creature. Jackaby's ability to recognize a banshee and elicit help from a ghost make up for his awkward ways.
This would be a great light read for fans of Doctor Who. There is a lovable, unflappable quirkiness about Jackaby and Abagail is a worthy assistant. Even though this book is in Kids' World (no foul language, sweet romance, light on the gore) it is suitably intelligent for teen or adult readers as well.
Powerhouse of rock and roll energy straight out of Chicago.
Ezra Furman's earlier work, "Mysterious Power" 2011 and "Year of No Returning" 2013, were both great in different ways. The first being more Bob Dylan-ish and the second being a bit darker and hard to classify, but "Day of the Dog" is an intense, beautiful, hard-edge melodic masterpiece. Furman's lyrics are fascinating enough to hold up to multiple listenings; each time you catch a bit more of his poetry. Having read that he was inspired by Lou Reed, it became appearant, but Furman's much higher voice gives that style of music an entirely different sound. I would liken it most to the Violent Femmes or the Pixies.
The songs on this album and his others are all so different, that if you don't care for the first one, give another one a try. "My Zero" is a particularly lovely, mellow song, while "I Wanna Destroy Myself" is a straight-up punk song. It's always exciting to me to find a new favorite performer, but even more so when it is a Chicago native.
Imagine losing one of your senses. Now imagine losing all except one. Now imagine that you lost all but the sense of touch when you were only two years old.
That was the unimaginable circumstance of the life of Laura Bridgman. What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins is a heart-rending, thought-provoking novel based on Laura Bridgman’s life and the lives of the many fascinating people who surrounded her. Laura Bridgman was taught to communicate at the age of seven by the use of alphabetical sign language pressed into the palm of the other person. Her teacher was Samuel Gridley Howe, husband of the poet and activist, Julia Ward Howe. Charles Dickens was a personal friend of the Howe’s along with Longfellow and Senator Charles Sumner.
Laura Bridgman was world-famous in her lifetime and was the teacher of Annie Sullivan. And although her fame for having no sense of sight, sound, taste or smell was soon eclipsed by Helen Keller learning to speak, Bridgman was no less an amazing woman for her lack of speech.
Elkins uses this phenomenal historical figure to craft a novel that is much more about isolation, love, and communication than it is about the individual in question. Her writing is lyrical but also a bit stark at times.
As Laura muses over her relationships she says, “Love, I think, is by necessity constructed of a ladder of lies you climb together.”
To learn more about the true Laura Bridgman visit the Perkins Institute’s website.
And to read about Laura Bridgman and Dickens’ other impressions of the United States check out American Notes: And, Picture from Italy by Charles Dickens.
If you enjoy entertaining nonfiction about the history of brain science, this is the book for you!
Each chapter starts with a rebus that describes the part of the brain which that chapter addresses. No prior knowledge of neurology is needed to understand Kean's work, but he doesn't dumb it down either. The stories from throughout history are fascinating and fun. Some of the descriptions get a bit icky (there were several references to the "custardy" consistancy of a fresh brain) but he doesn't dwell on it or go into gorey detail. And cringing through those moments were worth it to learn about the various characters of medical history who contributed, often through great sacrifice, to our knowledge of the human brain.
When was the last time you read a book full of giants, cannibals, and jousting kings... and it was all true?
Martin Strauss has a severe memory disorder. His doctor explains that he will get increasingly worse. Strangely, Martin will not just lose his true memories, but he will also "remember" things that never happened. Adding to his psychological discomfort, Martin is disturbed by his guilt. He was the man who punched Harry Houdini, causing his death.
While this is a mysterious historical fiction about the life and death of Houdini, it is also about the fictional character Martin Strauss who struggles with anxiety, uncertainty, guilt, and regret. So, pretty much, the human condition. Martin Strauss and Harry Houdini cross paths repeatedly in a twisting story of reality and illusion. It is an exciting and suspenseful novel, but also a pleasure for a fan of Houdini. Among the many wild speculations and fictionalizations, there is some solid fact about the life of the brilliant illusionist. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his spiritual medium wife make a cameo. And by the end, the reader has been lead on a crazy, fun journey with a surprising and meaningful ending.
If you hate math as much as I do, but have an interest in astronomy and physics, this is the book for you. Tagmark clearly explains his theories of a multiverse and how our physical reality is mathematical in nature, without being boring or overly academic. The math is presented in a manner that enables you to see it in a whole new way. This book is a synthesis of popular science, hard science and autobiography.
Tagmark's obvious exuberance about his subject shines through and stokes the reader's excitement about these facts and theories as well. Not only is Our Mathematical Universe a fun book to peruse if you are a novice science geek, like me, but someone with a serious interest and understanding of astrophysics could read it cover to cover and have quite a bit of food for thought.