Friday, August 27, 2010

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

Written By: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

First line: During the war, a colonel received a letter from his wife.

Why you should read this book: The scary fairy tales of this anthology are overcast, rather than dark, existing in a landscape that mirrors the shadowy reality of Soviet Russia, with its dearth, privation, and fear, but through which a single beam of hopeful sunlight may pierce. Through the collection, ghosts of dead loved ones appear in unexpected forms or places to offer succor to the living or easy passage to the next world, while soldiers and mothers struggle through confusing foreign regions that do not quite match up with their understanding of the shape of the universe. There is much beauty to be found in the gritty unreality and the bright passion of love that run through this translated collection.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You suspect your neighbor has been trying to kill your baby.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Written by: Robert J. Sawyer

First line: The control building for CERN's Large Hadron Collider was new: it had been authorized in A.D. 2004 and completed in 2006.

Why you should read this book: The search for the Higgs Boson goes horribly wrong, resulting in everyone on earth blacking out for almost two minutes; many people experience visions of themselves twenty-one years in the future, and many people die in the blackout. Scientists Llyod Simcoe and Theo Procopides need to contemplate the results of their experiment, including their own culpability in the deaths of millions and their beliefs in the immutability of the future: Theo must work to solve his own murder, while Lloyd worries incessantly about an impending divorce from a woman he hasn't even married yet. Some interesting discussion of free will and physics in a sort of light speculative novel that comes off as Michael Crichton on laughing gas.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The writing is pretty bad, with distracting and redundant exposition and stuffy dialog, and some of the science fiction elements have not held up over time. Occasionally, a passage which is clearly meant to demonstrate the author's efforts to embrace a multi-cultural perspective come off as racist. With the exception of a few themes and elements, this novel has almost nothing to do with the television show it inspired.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Written by: Carl Sagan

First line: It was a blustery fall day in 1939.

Why you should read this book: Popular and charismatic scientist, author, and television personality, Carl Sagan bemoans the gullibility of modern audiences and advocates greater funding for science education and experimentation as a bulwark against ignorance, superstitious hysteria, and pseudoscience. Along the way, he advocates for the scientific method, debunks most every popular belief about aliens, UFOs, and New Age thinking, and includes, for the reader's convenience, his "Baloney Detection" kit: a detailed explanation of various types of logical fallacies that impede intelligent thinking about the world. Advocating for equal parts wonder and skepticism, this book is a call for reason in an age where reason is increasingly held in disdain.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only need one book to tell you about the nature of reality, and you think it was written by an ephemeral, bearded old white guy who lives in the sky.

The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History

Written by: Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

First line: When I grow up, I want to be a detective, just like my dad.

Why you should read this book: The true story of the so-called Wolf Girls brought to an Indian orphanage in 1920 is dissected by an objective child searching for the truth. Each page contains some of three different elements: a yellow box telling the story as it is known, a white notebook page withe the child narrator's explanations, and a series of colored boxes containing definitions of unusual words. Were two children really raised by wolves until rescued by a kindly missionary? This book asks readers to examine the evidence and decide for themselves.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer legends.