Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Recommendations (Bet You Thought I Had Forgotten)

Wow, putting together these lists of recommends (for yes, there will be multiple lists) takes a lot of time. Not so much finding the right recommends (although that’s a part of it), but tracking down the links, counter links, and typing out my explanations. Without the ability to ask for extra information (like why did you like these novels) or the freedom to ramble out explanations that (upon closer examination) might have holes the size of Yugos. Y’all are making me think! So here are a few recommendations in no particular order.

Marta, feeling like something new (as opposed to from the sixties)? If you loved A Confederacy of Dunces, you might want to check out the new book by Paul Neilan, Apathy and Other Small Victories.

A debut author, Neilan’s book may not have quite the command that O’Toole did, but Ignatius J. Reilly, Neilan’s Shane has a focused aimlessness that sends him into a spiraling world of crazy characters and social observations. Give the first couple of pages a read to see if you believe that this ’00 slacker captures you in the same way O’Toole did. If not, there is always Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, in which he riffs on the topics that still apply today (sex, love, America and war) through his beleaguered character Kilgore Trout.

Susan Wilbanks listed Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond as one of her five keepers, a treatise on why some societies survive and flourish while others fail. I remember reading this back in college for a class and it always makes me wonder if Professor Diamond is still as accessible as he was four years ago when you could email him at Berkeley and he would email you back. The logical recommendation to this would be for you to check out his follow-up, Collapse, where he looks at why dominant societies (the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, etc) eventually collapse under their own weight.

Chances are, though, that those of who liked Guns, Germs and Steel have already discovered collapse and maybe even gone out of your way to pick up The Third Chimpanzee (Diamond’s first book on evolution). If so then I highly suggest anything by entomologist Edward O. Wilson. In The Future of Life, Wilson, an entomologist and the founder of the study of sociobiology, uses his scientific studies to focus on the future of life as we know it. Is environmental conservation really at odds with our economic well being, and what will happen to the world with the reduction in biodiversity? Layer Wilson’s work over Diamond’s and an interesting, but frightening future lies before us.

If you’re looking for something scientific, but more from a layman’s stand-point (both Diamond and Wilson can get a bit complex in their explanations), then check out Black Bodies and Quantum Physics: Tales from the Annals of Physics by Jennifer Ouellette.

Ouellette makes physics eminently approachable by using pop culture and real life to explain such theories as the Golden Ratio through to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As an English major who ended up working as a science writer, it appears that she teaches the theories much the same way she had to learn them to write for her new job.


Kate R said...


Of course he belongs on that list.

Robin Brande said...

Okay, wow. I'm impressed. You're really good at this game!

Can't wait to see what you'll come up with for the rest of the challenge.

Susan Wilbanks said...

I have indeed already read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee, and I'll look for the EO Wilson. I'll consider the Ouellette, too, though physics has never interested me the way biology or anthropology does, and what particularly fascinates me about Collapse and Guns, Germs & Steel is the fact they bring together science and history, which is an even stronger abiding fascination of mine. (A good 90% of the fiction I read is either historical fiction of one subgenre or another or the alternate history strand of fantasy.)

Susan Wilbanks said...

And thanks for the recommendations! I've never actually asked a bookseller for a recommendation while in a bookstore, but I'll think about doing so in the future.

quiche said...

You rock, BC.

Penny L. Richards said...

Hey Susan, have you read Andrea Barrett's short story collections? They might appeal to the interests you describe: biological sciences (with a strong interest in genetics, evolution, taxonomy), and history, and the stories all start to intertwine across collections, in various time periods, so that the sum is more than the parts (where the parts are already pretty terrific).

Susan Wilbanks said...

I hadn't heard of those, Penny, but I'll keep an eye out for them. I'm not usually much of a short story reader, since I like to really immerse myself in the story world and in the characters' lives (nothing makes me happier than a LONG series like the Sharpe or Aubrey/Maturin books!), but maybe the fact that these are intertwined would make them more to my liking.

Doug Hoffman said...

I'll probably rant about this on my blog, but I figure there's a decent chance you've read the book in question . . .

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (same guy who wrote The Book Thief)

I can't think of a book that let me down quite as precipitously as this one. Wonderful book. I'm raving about it to my wife. It's GREAT. Better than The Book Thief.

And then he flubs it in the end. I mean, FLUBS it. Undermines the whole experience, trashes the contract between author and reader.

Am I the only one who feels this way?