Well, I’m Back

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks in a small cabin with no internet access (in the Texas hill country around Austin, in case you’re wondering). Thus my lack of postings. But now, as Sawise Gamgee said, “Well, I’m back”.
During that time I got a decent amount of reading done – less than I could have, but a decent amount… here’s a rather short review of the three books I read.

Book 1 – Gamma: Euler’s Constant, by Julian Havil. 4/5 stars.

I’ve read mathematical history books before, and this one was a bit more mathematically intensive than any I’ve read before. Which made it more challenging to read. it was definitely worth it, though it took me about three months to get all the way through it (I often set it down for weeks at a time for various reasons).

One of the strange things about this book, I thought, is that it is supposedly about the number gamma (0.57721… ), but halfway through the book it switches to just talking about the harmonic series in general. This appears to be because the number gamma is too mysterious currently to say much about. We don’t even know if it’s rational, algebraic or transcendental…

Book 2 – The Lord of the Rings. by J.R.R. Tolkien the Mythopoeist. 5/5 stars.

I hadn’t read LotR in a few years so I decided to sit down and go through it. I’ve obviously already read it, and my opinion on it didn’t change, but I did notice some things that I had forgotten about that are worth mentioning.

The poetry! I had forgotten how many poems there were in the books – and how much of the Silmarillion material was contained in them. It would have been very interesting, I think, to have first read LotR in the years before 1973, before you could easily figure out who exactly Elbereth was, or Earendil. As it is, I already knew what the poems were referring to before I read it.

The connection between Aragorn and Arwen is much less emphasized in the book proper than I had remembered. It must be the movies screwing with my memory. The possible romance between Eowyn and Aragorn is much more ambiguous in the books, I thought.

I read through all the appendices (yes, ALL of them – including the ones about the calendars, the languages and the alphabets). There were actually some things I had never known before – for example, about the Forodwaith and the history of Arnor. That was cool, learning that. There was also some kind of disconcerting stuff about the languages of Rohan and the hobbits. it is clear that the Rohirrim don’t actually speak Anglo-Saxon, nor the hobbits English. I understand why they are presented as doing so. Still, it seems odd to me that the characters’ names as presented in the books are not those they actually had. I’m OK with “Frodo” actually being “Froda” – but, for example, I find it odd that “Merry” was actually “Kalimac”, and that “Eomer” and “Eowyn” were almost certain something completely different. Whatever.

Anyway, the rest of the book was just as cool as I remembered.

Book 3 – Atonement, by Ian McEwan. 2/5 stars.

I honestly don’t know why I read this book. I don’t often read modern fiction, which this certainly is. My basic judgement is – extremely well written, but not very substantial. Which I guess the author intended, since the book is really about the act of writing and it’s very self-referential.

It isn’t that I think it is a bad book, because it’s not. And it deals with some issues I’m interested in (though a lot of it I’m not). But overall I don’t plan on reading more like it.


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