Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Good and Cheap (Books)! Day 8

April 9th. It's a day when I tend to contemplate the passage of time. Mortality. Specifically, it's a day year when I contemplate Gianna's mortality. Each year a moment comes when I'm reminded that 1. she's old, and 2. she thinks my singing is "horrendous." Time marches on. So, in honor of this special day, I decided to select theme appropriate books.

Einstein's Dreams is a weird little book, and I say that with great fondness. Alan Lightman's day job is as a physicist, and his writings tend to challenge perceptions of the universe. In Einstein's Dreams, the reader is treated to the musings of Einstein the patent clerk as he attempts to create a new theory of time. Most of the book consists of these dream vignettes, and while the prose is clear and elegant, the concepts demand that the reader slows down and ponders the worlds he describes. In one, time moves backward, and peaches go from rotted fruit to fresh and tasty to growing on the tree to flower, and so on. One world consists of no memories; people live only in the present, and in order to provide context for themselves they constantly take notes and read the stories of their lives anew every day. One of my favorite dreams plays with the notion that time moves slower at higher altitudes, so in order to defy the aging process, everyone moves to the tops of mountains. That's not good enough, though, so they build houses on stilts on the tops of the mountains. I love the idea of the Matterhorn covered with spindly-legged houses swaying in the wind. Time is static, time is a wave, time is a god to be worshiped. Einstein's Dreams is a physics fantasy by a brilliant writer and thinker.

And after Gianna has finished pondering the ways in which time has passed, year after year, in her life, she can turn to the afterlife.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman is another one of those super-smart guys with a day job in the sciences and another career as a writer. Sum, like Einstein's Dreams, is written as a series of vignettes, but these provide scenes of various post-death possibilities. What if, when you die, you become the background characters in others' dreams? What if God is a microbe, completely unaware of we humans? What if  God is actually a married couple? What if you're doomed to spend your afterlife in the company of all of the potential annoying versions of you that could have existed? (And can we make sure that Gianna has this fate?) David Eagleman is a brain guy who is fascinated by the workings of our most complex organ, and he's a life guy who is intrigued by the myriad possibilities of things we've yet to discover. Mostly, though, I love Sum because it's an upbeat, intellectual, literary romp.

Both Einstein's Dreams and Sum are imaginative achievements that surpass their few pages. They are quick reads--probably good since Gianna is getting up there in years--but they linger. They are books to revisit and they are books to enjoy and they are books that challenge. They are perfect reads for April 9th.

Happy Birthday G.

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