Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Martin Gardner, The Cave, Bullit

Have finished Martin Gardner's Penrose Tiles to Trapdoor Ciphers. While there were a few chapters i skimmed extremeley lightly, by and large it's a great book if you like math. I like that on the one hand he'll have a chapter about Trapdoor Ciphers (The early name for RSA encryption or Public-Key encryption) which is fairly gnarly stuff, and then he'll have a whole chapter just about the difficulty of teaching the concept that a Negative time a Negative is a Positive. eg -2 * -2 = 4.

I was happy to find a whole chapter devoted to Wythoff's Nim, a penny-removing game which thoroughly obsessed me for about two or three weeks earlier this year. The game turns out to reveal amazing, and almost horrifyingly unexpected properties of the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio folks. Fear it, love it, know it.

I continue to love Infinite Jest, but i should really stop reporting that. Unless i explicitely say that i am no longer loving I.J. to pieces, you can assume that i am. (phrase stolen from Martin Amis' line in Money where he says pretty much the same thing about 'unless i explicitely say i am not lighting another cigarette, etc.)

Saw The Cave with Mykle and Michelle. Even tho i was expecting it to be worse than i was expecting, it was still worse than i was expecting. I mean, it's a bad hollywood flick about monsters waiting in a cave for hundreds of years for humans to come along so they can eat them. I'm so sick of monsters which have no motivation but hunger. Come On. Subterranean triphibian monster things and all you can give them is an insatiable appatite. No culture, no curiosity, no nothing but hunger. Jeeze. I don't care if the human only want to blow them up, but .. anyway. i cease. I recommend it if you're into that sort of thing.

Saw Bullit in a public park in San Francisco's North Beach with Mykle and Kai and Michelle and this guy Mark. It was much better than i was expecting. Especially the photography. Nice attention i thought to light and shadow and such. McQueen's character was suprisingly convincingly sensitive. Or maybe i'm just a sucker for that sort of thing.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Infinite Jest, Martin Gardner

i'm re-reading my hands-down unqualifiedly favorite book, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
Which is about 1,080 pages of smallish type, and which is also pretty
much totally engrossing, so altho i think the hot reading action on this blog
is going to pretty much dry up, that does not mean there is no hot reading action going on! What hotter reading action is there than IJ, really ?

Where else do we get introduced to words like "Gynecopia" (Orin Incandenza's pick-up strategy #7 "..always works. It's pretty much a gynecopia.") ? How about "the terminally pulchritudinous" ? (In description of a woman who, logically enough in the interest of public safety goes around wearing a veil all the time).

You should read this book.

Don't let the crazy word-play daunt. Ignore it if you have to. It's still one of the funniest and best-written books of all time.

And it's LONG. That's 1080 pages of pure reading pleasure.

I'm writing down the words i don't know but which i think i should.
Words which, eh, so what if i don't know them, i'm not writing down.
The list is about 50 by page 300, so that's, what, a word every 6 pages ?
At this rate i can expect um 180 unknown words.
Words like "fulvous", "praxis" and "sub-rosa".


In the bathroom, i've been reading Martin Gardner's Mathematical Carnival, and am starting now on his Penrose Tiles to Trapdoor Ciphers. Mathematical Carnival is a nifty book full of puzzles from his well-known Scientific American column Mathematical Recreations. The puzzles are probably not of much interest to the non-mathematically avid, but they're really not that hard. Very few of them actually require doing any math. Penrose to Trapdoor is more mathematical, altho also gleaned from the same S.A. column. It has inspired me to finally beg my girlfriend Michelle to buy me a set of physical penrose tiles, which she more than graciously is doing. Yay!

So, that's about it. Lots of reading, not much blog-posting coming up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Finished A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, it was good. It was much less heavy-handed than i expected, which is good. That is, while it's not exactly pulling punches*, you don't walk away crying. Or wouldn't, even if you were me.

* I'm actually not entirely convinced that it is not pulling punches. The book gives little sense of the scale of incarceration in Stalin's USSR, nor the paranoia attendant in the populace. Which perhaps is reasonable, since Solzhenitsyn spent most of those years in the gulag, not in public. Amis paints a much more bleak and horror-ridden portrait of those times and places, and i wonder if Solzhenitsyn (i'm going to pronounce that "sol-zhen it sin", just so you know) was encouraged (or not) to water down the account.

Back to The Martian Chronicles.

Oh! Also !
Put it on your calendar, Monday, November 28, David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody will uh be at the Herbst Theater in SF. $18.50.

hmm - blogger here is screwing up my entries. it keeps substituting like open-font tags for close-span tags or something.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

one day in the life of ivan denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a 1962 Russian novel about life in the Stalinst Russian gulags. Apparently it was quite notable when it came out, being one of the first published and government-approved criticisms of Stalinist Russia. Solzhenitsyn was himself a gulag prisoner for about a decade after WWII, and the novel is a condensation of his experience, portayed as a single day in the life of a ten-year prisoner of. Solzhenitsyn's novel is obviously a more fine-grained account of the gulag than what Martin Amis was able to put into Koba The Dread , and surpisingly One Day in the Life is also a substantially softer, more human account of the gulags. Which is a very unexpected sentence to find one's self writing. Personally, i suspect that Day in the Life was more or less censored and watered down, either preemtively or postemtively by Solzhenitsyn.

So, a summary.

I think basically the gulag as described by Solzhenitsyn and to some degree coroborated by Amis's research can be fairly accurately compared to the Nazi centration camp but without the torture. In the gulag you weren't expected to live, you were treated like literal shit, but your basic humanity was to some tiny degree recognized. Amis might disagree.

A Day in the Life was politically approved by Kruschev, as it fit well with his program of condeming the shit that went down in the Stalin era. According to the forward and introduction, it was a pretty big deal wen published in 1963.

Also, finished Tom Sawyer; it was good. It's a lot more sugary than Huck Finn, as everybody knows. Twain's Indian-hating sure comes thru again:
"It's all plain enough, now. When you talked about notching ears and slitting noses I judged that that was your own embellishment, because white men don't take that sort of revenge. But an Injun! That's a different matter altogether."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Harry Potter 6

I have finished Harry Potter 6, and am frankly sad it ended. Is this wrong ? Possibly. But if there's one thing i'm world-famous for, it's brutal self-honesty. Can i say brutalic ? Anyhow. H.P.6 is pretty much just fine. It's the.. the what. The brie and ritz-crackers of reading material. I have to admit i'm getting a bit tired of the foibles of Harry and Ron; Hermione is much easier to hang around, readerwise.

So am now rolling thru Tom Sawyer.

I had to pretty much drop Infinite Jest because it's just too physically unweildy to bring along on my daily bike/bart commute.

I look forward to starting Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, which Kai, whom i know loves to see her name in bold, got for me and which Mykle is currently reading with every appearance of enjoying it, so that's very good.

Michelle is reading Catcher in the Rye and in talking about it last night i nearly teared up thinking about how beautiful that book is. I'm that pathetic, yes.