09 March 2010


The Book List: A Meme That Had Me at Hello
(A weekly link up hosted at Lost in Books)

The Book List is just a short and fun meme
that allows you to share books and make a list of books!

This Week's Topic is:
3 Books That Take You Back to High School

My list has three books that didn't "graduate" with me, but are still trapped in the time warp that is my high school library . . .

Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin

How fitting that my look back at time past begins with a book about time: past, present and future!

In Time and the Art of Living, Grudin writes about time the way we are used to writing about space. It's a metaphor-driven approach to the idea that time is just another dimension--and boy, is it fascinating! He notes, for example, that things which are massive in space are not necessarily also massive in time: the Sunday newspaper may be more massive, space-wise, than a sonnet, but a really good sonnet can take up more area and volume than any newspaper, time-wise. (Hmmmm. I wonder what he'd have to say about time and cyberspace.)

I think it was the cover which drew me in. Later, reading the book at home, I would be told to see the rooms of my house full of the furniture of the past, present and future--the three living in balanced, even beautiful co-existence in the same section of space. The same is true for the picture on the cover, though the strangely evocative spartan walls tilt the balance towards the future.

The Secret Melody by Tranh Xuan Thuan

Oh, how I loved this book. In the very first chapter, Thuan describes observatory telescopes as "light-gathering buckets" . . . When I read that, I instantly envisioned an enormous bucket being dipped in the Milky Way as in a lake, and all the stars speckling the liquid darkness of space running into it.

As a book on cosmology, The Secret Melody is also, in its own way, a light-gathering bucket. (The poetry of physics has no rival!) Thoroughly enchanted, I took it out several times in my third year of high school, and spent the following summer waiting to borrow it again. I ended up waiting much longer. In between the start of the new school year and the day I was finally issued a new library card, someone else borrowed it from the library . . . and just took his bloody time returning it.

By January, I was so upset that I coaxed one of the librarians into telling me the name of the mysterious and selfish borrower. Learning that it was my Physics teacher was simply the last straw near the end of four quarters of the most erratic Science class I had ever had. To this day, I can't think of him without feeling cheated of a proper scientific education.

Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson

This book is the best of both worlds: the same affinity for philosophy I found in Grudin and the same fascination with the twentieth-century's unique view of the universe I found in Thuan. And, oh, Dyson's writing style!

How many writers are there who can build an autobiography out of loosely linked intellectual essays that connect literature, history and music with nuclear bombs, the space race, and "green" technology? Dyson is a scientist through and through, but his interest in the world is more than just empirical.

It is difficult to describe this book without a chance to reread it. I remember that Dyson held up the nostalgic "little red schoolhouse" as a model to scientists and inventors . . . that he used two H.G. Wells novels to explain why physics only destroys, while biology annihilates . . . that he compared the development of romance languages to the development and imitation of original scientific ideas . . . and most poignantly, that he used the Prelude in E Flat Minor (by I can't remember which composer) to absolve Edward Teller, the scientist behind the H bomb.

When I took this book out for the first time, I was the only one who had ever borrowed it since the library had acquired it. I ended up taking it home thirteen times. There may have been another borrower since then. If so, then I'd like to meet that person.

Image Sources: a) Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin, b) The Secret Melody by Trinh Xuan Thuan, c) Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson


Rebecca :) said...

I love the way you describe the books. So beautiful! The first one really sounds interesting to me. Thanks for participating in the meme this week!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for visiting, Rebecca. =) "The Book List" is a great meme. I liked reading all the other participants' answers, too.

If you can find a copy of Time and the Art of Living, you should definitely give it a chance! It's broken down into short sections of meditations or images--some only one paragraph long--so it's easy to read for a few minutes, put down, then pick up again when you feel like it later.