Friday, July 31, 2015

Inherit the Wind

Today had the chance to sit on the boat and read another RA favorite book, hmm... it was a Tisch acting student, which means it was a play!  Oh well, we’ll count it.  Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s classic play, Inherit the Wind.  The play debuted in 1955 and is a fictional story based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, the fight between creationism vs. evolution.  Bertram Cates, a young school teacher, is charged with breaking the law by teaching students in his class about a different way in which the world may have begun, through an evolution of “ape to man.”  The two main characters are Brady (the conservative lawyer fighting to get an indictment of Cates) and Davenport (a well-known lawyer who is ushered into town to defend free speech and the rights of citizens).  The story is a classic of how we as a society have evolved and changed from a focus of our country on Christian beliefs to a very individual rights focused society.  The book really captures the era well and the story flows and while a period piece, it still makes you think.  An interesting twist at the end when we see that Cates is found guilty, but receives the chance to appeal, and the lawyer who fights against him dies of a heart-attack.  Cates doesn’t understand why his lawyer would be sympathetic to Brady’s death, and finds out that Davenport is really someone who supports all free speech, even if it is smothering others abilities to follow their beliefs.  The story is well known for the chilling battle between the two lawyers.  Again, it is a dated piece, but the drama is there, though the language and story itself doesn’t really fit today’s storyline.  A classic for sure, but it’s a play and not a book, so pass on this one!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Illness as a Metaphor

A different kind of book, Illness as a Metaphor, is Susan Sontag’s thoughts on how our society views diseases.  The book was penned in 1978 and provides a historical perspective on how Tuberculosis was first viewed, and then cancer.  The twist on this book is that Sontag is actually recovering from cancer so she uses her own perspectives and how she experienced what others thought and how doctors talked about it, though she never directly mentions going through treatment.  It was during that time when my own father had cancer, 1976, for the first time.  Though she notes how doctors rarely talked about it, (even the medical field was taboo on cancer as the medical records companies would send unmarked letters to send bills for payment).  Sontag goes through the 19th and 20th centuries and provides numerous examples of how society at the time viewed the diseases.  TB eventually become very romanticized by those who had it, being sent to a “sanatorium” to recover.  Many who were ill were seen as thin, but good looking.  Cancer on the other hand was viewed as the disease that tears one’s body apart.  The book is a quick read and covers the change in how disease is viewed over time.  While the thoughts shared were very much her opinions of the time, it is very interesting to see how cancer is not seen in the same light, especially with so much medical improvements in how it is treated and improved survival rates.  Interesting to note that in 1988 Sontag wrote another treatise on disease, this time on AIDS, in this book she does share her disease recovery in the book. A strange favorite book for a student to suggest.  While I always like to learn different issues, stories, etc., this was one I would not really view as a favorite as I am not sure what I learned from, though really helped me think differently about the topic.  It does provide the historical perspective, but there are other ways to gain it, plus it is really one person’s perspective. To her benefit, there are good historical quotes to support her beliefs.  Not what I would call a high recommendation to add to your list.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Three-Body Problem

During my years of reading RA favorite books, I have only made this mistake once before…. Reading the wrong book, though the right title.  I read The Three-Body Problem, a book on physics and classical mechanics, yes a text book, and fortunately my assistant emailed me saying, wrong book!  So I went to the book store and found the right version, this one by Cixin Liu and translated from Chinese into English by Ken Liu.  It is a best-seller from China and my first Sci-fi from that country.  The story mixes communist rule, religion vs. evolution, and extra-terrestrial beings.  There are two main characters, a young male scientist (Wang) who is searching for answers once he is introduced to the online game “Three-body problem,” which brings players into a new world, a world where it is freezing cold or sweltering hot.  Wang believes he has the answer to the mystery of the game, but in finding it he is led to an older scientist, the second main character, Weinje.  She is the daughter of a famous professor.  The first part of the book shares Weinje’s early life during the height of communist rule in the 1970s and how she witnessed the uprising of intellectuals and how her own father was killed educating middle-class college students.  Weinje then gets in trouble with the authorities for making notes on a book and is offered imprisonment or be sent to an undercover mission that finds the government communicating with aliens!  Fast forward thirty years and Wang encounters Weinje as he is thrust to identify how to solve the game as the clock for the end of the world (or Wang’s life to end) is moving downward.  What happens when Wang meets Weinje?  What information does she have from her ten year work with the governmental base communicating with a world far from ours?  The author does a great job foreshadowing what is to come and using Weinje’s early life as the background for how the two lives intersect.   Great story utilizing gaming, aliens, communism, and the Cultural Revolution within China.  This is a modern day sci-fi, which you don’t find often.  Great translation, nothing lost in it.  I would highly recommend this one, not the other Three-Body Problem!  I enjoyed it and all of the twists.