Friday, January 14, 2005

Mid-winter reading

At the moment, three books are stashed in strategic locations around the house, for reading in-between composing, writing, cooking, childcare, and assorted crises:

(1) Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. This is my big, fat, serious book, and at 1000-some pages, it's the book that'll either take up the most time, or so rapidly defeat my modest preparation in math and physics that I'll be properly embarassed for the rest of my blogging career for ever mentioning the damn thing. So far, it's much better than Penrose's earlier efforts for general audiences, despite the fact that he really doesn't hold back on any of the techniques needed for his arguments. I especially like his honesty about matters of opinion and speculation.

(2) Lady Muraski, The Tale of Genji. This is a re-read of an old favorite. While I'm not in any position to judge the accuracy, Seidensticker's translation is simply a great read, and the comfortable strangeness of the world described is unlike anything else in literature I know. This is both much better social-science fiction and much better English prose than anything on the sci fi/fantasy shelves.

(3) Julian Rubinstein, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts. This is my just for fun reading. Rubinstein captures much of the spirit of post-change-of-system Hungary, but for all of his enthusiasm for his subject, my impression (after almost five years here) is that his hero, Attila Ambrus, is actually representative of a fairly common stock figure in Hungarian society: an unintentionally funny, super-patriotic displaced transylvanian macho, surviving by holding down multiple jobs, and wondering exactly how's he's supposed to fit into a system where the rules are anything but clear.

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