s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: booklist

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I read 28 books last year (not including required reading). I know this because I keep a book diary, and have done so for over five years. It’s not much: I record the name and author of each book I read, write them down in the order I finish them, and make a note at the beginning of each new year.

This is actually the worst year I’ve had in a while. In 2002 I read 62 books, and then in 2003 that plunged to 38. You can tell that was the year I graduated – once I started working full time I came to appreciate that as a student I’d spent nowhere near 40 hours a week on my schoolwork, and that I’d probably spent most of that extra time with my nose in a book.

Of course, from sheer numbers you can’t tell if the books were hard or easy. Some were pictorial essays with very little text like Phil Borges’ Enduring Spirit. Probably it took me less than a day to “read” it. Others, like Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, took me an entire semester, or longer, to finish, although I was still reading and finishing other, easier books during that time. (Actually, it’s pretty rare that I’m reading just one book. Often I’ve got a “hard” book and an “easy” book to balance each other out.)

You can see me going through phases, like reading Kurt Vonnegut in 2001 or Maya Angelou in 2002. That was also the year I went through this weird Kurt Cobain phase; I still wouldn’t know a Nirvana song if it bit me, but I’ve read three biographies of their lead singer. You can also see me coming back to old favorites, like Oliver Sacks, Jorge Luis Borges and J.K. Rowling.

The book diary is also useful for reminding me what authors I liked (and might want to read more of), what books might be useful for presents, and for jogging my memory when BBBC selection time comes around.

I have to confess that Melyngoch finds my book diary unnerving. Probably it was that moment when we ran into one of our professors who asked me, offhand, what I’d been reading and I reached into my backpack and pulled out my neatly detailed diary. (Actually, the professor was a bit shocked, too, but recovered enough to express disapproval at one of my choices.) The reason she finds it unnerving (as I understand it) is that it’s the sort of thing that every serious reader is “supposed” to do, but of course none of them actually does it. Except for me, apparently.

Anyway, I was going over my reading list for 2005 because I wanted to pick out what I thought were the best books I read last year:

1. Six Degrees: the science of a connected age

This book, although ostensibly on mathematics or statistics, actually explained a lot to me about my social life and difficulty in making friends. (And the fact that a math book could adequately explain my social life probably says something else about me.) It comes highly recommended to anyone without a mortal fear of algebra.

2. Bono: in conversation with Michka Assayas

I bought and read this book in Massachusetts, during a particularly trying two weeks coming at the end of a particularly trying five week business trip. I had neglected to pack my scriptures during this trip, and ended up being too sick and tired to attend church meetings half the time, anyway. So instead of going to Church or reading my scriptures, I read this book. You know what? It was just as good. (Disclaimer: Huge fan though I may be, I am not suggesting that a book on U2 is an adequate substitute for holy writ in general, just that in my particular situation, at that particular time, it happened to suffice.)

Recommended for anyone with my odd, quasi-spiritual relationship to U2 and Bono, so probably no one.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

A good book, but of course it left a lot of loose ends hanging. Really, it’ll be the next book that decides if I like this book or not, because it’ll be in the next book that we find out if Harry lives (I think he will), if Dumbledore is “really” dead (I think he is), if Snape is “really” evil (I hope he’s not), and if Harry and Ginny can get back together and live happily ever after (I hope they do). To the extent that the last book fails my expectations, I will probably dislike the sixth book as well.

1a. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I decided that I couldn’t really put re-reads in the same category as first time reads, just because the re-reads would have an obvious advantage. So this is my favorite of last year’s re-reads. I checked it out to find quotes for Blue-beta, and then I had to check it out again last week to research a Board question. Both times people noticed me with it and complimented me on my literary taste.

2a. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

This is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. And I got to select it for the BBBC, and I got to re-read it and I think pretty much everyone else who read it liked it as well.

3a. Till We Have Faces

Yes, Tolkien Boy, this is a great book. And this was only the second time I’d read it, so the “trick” ending caught me off guard as completely as it did the first time. (And if I didn’t participate as much as you wanted during the discussion, it’s not because I didn’t like it or I didn’t care, it’s because you were posing these insanely deep philosophical questions, and I didn’t want to be glib. So I stayed quiet, instead. But I need to read more C.S. Lewis, either way.)


At January 21, 2006 4:28 AM, Anonymous Petra said...

You're not the only one. I keep several lists: books I've read, organized chronologically, and books I ought to read (that list you sent me, with several addenda), and books I would like to read. I had a friend who jotted down short book reviews after every book he finished; that, to me, seems like the sort of thing every "serious" reader ought to do but never does. For now, I'll settle for just author and title.

At January 21, 2006 9:55 AM, Blogger Master Fob said...

Every time I'm doing readers' advisory and my mind goes blank and I can't think of a single book I've ever read or even heard of, I wish I kept a book diary.

At January 21, 2006 9:45 PM, Blogger Tolkien Boy said...

I am kind of insanely philosophical, aren't I? I abase myself.

But I'm so glad you read it, and allowed me to share something I care about with so many people.


At January 24, 2006 1:45 PM, Blogger FoxyJ said...

For years I kept a list of books that I had heard of and wanted to read. And I used to keep track of what I had read as well. I think I'll start doing that again after I graduate. It's fun.

At January 24, 2006 6:08 PM, Blogger Th. said...


I was writing book titles and dates finished on the back of bookmarks. Book finished, make note, move mark to new book. I usually have about ten books I'm reading at a time, so that's a lot of bookmarks.

But then somehow they all got lost at once.

I've never had the heart to restart or to try a new system.

At January 25, 2006 10:41 AM, Blogger Cardinallaw said...

Do law books count? (I don't imagine so.) So sad how I planned to do so much reading when I had time later but that time never materialized! I know I should find it somewhere, but when I'm reading a book, I tend to neglect everything else (like my kids, my house, and especially my husband), so I read in spurts, with long breaks in between.

Hey--no judging until you're out of school, too. Then, since of course you'll still be reading voraciously, you may judge to your heart's content. Maybe by then I'll have found the magical balance.


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