Monday, June 29, 2009

Recommended Reading: William Poundstone

I've just found this blog owned by William Poundstone. He's one of my favorite nonfiction writers. I've read eight-and-a-half of his eleven books (I'm in the middle of reading one), and all of them have been good. He writes a lot about the implications of mathematical ideas, but it's in an entertaining way, not dry at all. He also likes uncovering inside information (secrets).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Recommended Reading: Life With Father by Clarence Day

Find it here. Laugh a lot.

Recommended Reading: His Dark Materials

I finally got around to reading the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. It was marketed as "young adult" literature--a marketing category to which I have never paid attention--so I didn't hear about it when it first came out. When I did hear about it, I was in no great rush to read it, but I eventually saw it being sold at a discount, picked it up on a whim, and added it to the to-read pile.

Now I have read it. If I hadn't known it was marketed for kids, I never would have guessed. It doesn't much read like books for kids, other than the most important characters being young. Furthermore, I'm surprised that the publishers chose to market the trilogy to children. The subject matter is heavy, and the message is strongly anti-religion.

Anyway, Pullman is inventive, and the narrative is absorbing. The third volume, The Amber Spyglass, doesn't tie everything together as tightly as I would have preferred, and I'm not convinced that some of Pullman's narrative choices were necessary, but the books are nevertheless excellent. To my taste, they are far better and more creative than Harry Potter, which I suppose, in its later volumes at least, is the most obvious fantasy series for comparison. (The Narnia books might be an even more natural comparison, but I haven't read them.)

Christians of a more dogmatic sort probably should avoid the trilogy. It will upset them. Also, despite the marketing, I would hesitate to give it to anyone under fifteen or so, and only to someone that young if they are relatively well read. Pullman draws upon Christian texts considered as mythology, Christian apocrypha, Greek and Roman mythology, Gnosticism, animism, archaeology, anthropology, modern physics, and no doubt stuff that I failed to recognize. Therefore, much in the books will be over the head of someone who has not done a lot of reading. For people who are familiar with most of the stuff in the preceding list, or have picked it up indirectly by reading the canon of fantasy literature, I recommend the trilogy highly.