Monday, 20 June 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Number Mysteries
by Marcus du Sautoy

"In ‘The Number Mysteries’, Marcus du Sautoy explains how to fake a Jackson Pollock; how to work out whether or not the universe has a hole in the middle of it; how to make the world's roundest football. He shows us how to see shapes in four dimensions – and how maths makes you a better gambler."
I felt the book was specifically aimed at young people: each chapter starts simple, but leads up to a problem that is associated with a million dollar prize for the mathematician who solves it. I was reading it in the run-up to my exam, and there were quite a lot of proofs involving equations that needed thinking, which I wasn't prepared to do in my spare time.

Image of the book cover
The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins

narrated by Ian Holm
"Late one moonlit night, Walter Hartright encounters a solitary and terrified woman dressed all in white. He helps her on her way but later learns that she has escaped from an asylum. Walter goes to work in the service of the selfish and unpleasant Mr Fairlie as a drawing instructor and in doing so meets his niece Laura who strongly resembles the mysterious woman in white. The cast is finely characterised, from the intelligent and resourceful Marian Halcombe to the corpulent villain Count Fosco, and the enigmatic woman herself."
This is the second Wilkie Collins I have listened to, the first being another Audible download of The Moonstone, and I have enjoyed both books much more than I was expecting. I believe the author is one of the earliest writers of 'mysteries', living around the same time as Charles Dickens and the Brontë sisters, so I was expecting a certain dryness to the Victorian era writing. In fact, I understand that this novel was published as a serial immediately after 'A Tale of Two Cities'. I found it much more engaging than Dickens, and the audio narration was outstanding, as you might expect from Ian Holm.

Image of the book cover
Life on Air
by David Attenborough

narrated by the author

"His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned nearly five decades and there are very few places on the globe that he has not visited. In this volume of memoirs David tells stories of the people and animals he has met and the places that he has visited."
I listened to the whole 19 hours and 26 minutes in about a week, courtesy of several long car journeys and the kitchen cleaning ordeal, plus the fact that he's a great writer and narrator. Presenting the natural history programmes that he's most famous for was his third career, after a brief post-university stint in a publisher's office followed by time at the BBC as a producer and then Controller of BBC2. While I wouldn't begin to compare myself to the great man, it's encouraging to think that it's never too late to start a new career.

Image of the book cover
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"From the beginning we are locked into the frenzied consciousness of Raskolnikov who, against his better instincts, is inexorably drawn to commit a brutal double murder. From that moment on, we share his conflicting feelings of self-loathing and pride, of contempt for and need of others, and of terrible despair and hope of redemption: and, in a remarkable transformation of the detective novel, we follow his agonised efforts to probe and confront both his own motives for, and the consequences of, his crime."
I blame the translation for making this a more difficult read than it needed to be. Fair enough that language in the 1860's was not the same as today, but Wilkie Collins managed to write in a style that I could comprehend and enjoy. But the subject matter was a bit depressing too - I should have heeded the title - by the time we'd had the two murders, an alcoholic killed by being run over by a cart and his wife dying shortly afterwards of consumption, it is fair to say I was hoping it would end soon. And it did, but not before another unpleasant chap had shot himself and the murderer had been incarcerated in Siberia for eight years, although peculiarly he was able to sit on a hillside with a woman whom he had previously scorned and suddenly appeared to fall in love with. Avoid.

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