Time To Read


By Richard Davis

Some people see opportunity in a crisis. If we put in even a little bit of effort we will find many opportunities to pursue endeavors we have put off, or have never made enough of an effort to engage in, in this time of quarantine and pandemic.

On the less glamorous side, house cleaning may be at the top of the list for some. Gardening and yard work have the potential for a special kind of soulful renewal and I suspect more people are now doing outdoor projects they have been putting off for a long time.

Another opportunity is for people to read more books. In this age of online access there are some who embrace platforms such as Kindle and find that kind of access to books satisfying. I have always been someone who needs to have a physical book in hand. I don’t think I will ever change that habit because it fulfills a unique kind of need.

I try to support local bookstores as much as possible and consider my two local go-to venues, Everyone’s Books and Brattleboro Books, meccas of refuge in a crazy world. As far as I know they are not open during the pandemic and we have also lost access to our local libraries.

Everyone’s Books is taking phone orders and arranging curbside pickup.

As a last resort there are many online booksellers, although delivery times are now at least two weeks. I fall back on Amazon when necessary because of such cheap prices for used books and because, in normal times, delivery is quick.

Everyone has different tastes in reading but I would like to share some of my recent reading to serve as a review and a suggestion for people who might find my suggestions worth pursuing. A book that completely took over my life for a time was a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.

I do not usually read thick books and this one ran to 524 pages. I took a chance because I have always read biographies and I felt I did not know enough about the life of DaVinci. I was not disappointed. I could not put the book down. It followed the life of one the most remarkable men who has ever lived and the writing style was engaging enough to never be boring.

A masterful biographer will give you a chance to get inside the mind and spirit of their subject and that is exactly what Isaacson did in this tome. It was easy to understand much of the nature of DaVinci’s unique kind of genius and it was also educational to learn about his multitude of inventions. One of the most stimulating aspects of the book was how Isaacson used the questions that DaVinci raised in his own mind as steppingstones to explanations of how his inventions evolved and how they contributed to the progress of civilization.

DaVinci lived from 1452-1519. He spent many years dissecting human bodies and that pursuit informed much of what he did, from painting to engineering. He came up with an explanation of how the aortic valve closes during his studies on fluid dynamics. His theory was dismissed by his peers and by the medical community for centuries. It was not until 2014 that Oxford scientists using a magnetic resonance imaging technique were able to prove that DaVinci did indeed correctly describe how the aortic valve closes.

Despite seeking refuge from the pandemic, I could not help myself and felt obliged to learn more about the biology of viruses. “A Planet Of Viruses” by Carl Zimmer is a book that is not technical and not geared toward scientific professionals. It is easy to read and provides a sketch of the history of viruses and their behavior.

I find books by Malcolm Gladwell usually worth a read because he comes at everyday occurrences from a variety of new angles. “Blink” had a lot of interesting things to say about how we make decisions by providing insightful and scientifically supported conclusions by way of stories of decision-making in a variety of settings.

I am now reading “Overstory” by Richard Powers. He is one of the most original writers to come our way in a long time. It takes some effort to read his books, but now might be the best time to find one of his books and engage with a truly gifted mind.

Comments | 3

  • Henry Bemis at last

    During the holidays I received 9 books. I’d gotten thru 4 before the virus, and with Winter over, expected to be too busy to finish the rest anytime soon. But there is time now. Even with phone calls, internet time, and a lot more cleaning than usual, there is time.

    Extra credit to those who know who Henry Bemis is.

  • Einstein + katakana

    I’m always reading. For this period of time I have a huge Einstein biography by Issacson. He had the first access to all of Einstein’s papers, it seems, and is able to tell a full story of the guy.

    Einstein did some of his most amazing work in a short 5 week or so period, publishing a series of revolutionary papers on physics. He spent much of the rest of his life trying to shoot holes in the quantum uncertainties he discovered. He ended up making quantum mechanics more solid in the process.

    Einstein had affairs, he divorced his wife to marry his cousin, and he had mixed relationships with his kids (alternately getting along quite well and then being apart for extended periods.

    I’m just getting to the part where he warns Roosevelt about the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction being used for, maybe, a bomb. This was also the juncture where he was kept out of the US atomic program because he was on watch lists for being a peaceful socialist. A group of concerned women whipped up a frenzy about his possible motives and there FBI built up a file.

    I also have a little book of “how to remember your katakana” which I picked up as a review. I like occasional reminders of writing in Japanese, and this book offers up hints and memory aids for remembering all the katakana. The od thing is the book’s organization. It has you start in the middle, then jump around all over the place. You’ll read a paragraph, then be told to jump ahead 15 pages, or back 20. I haven’t found the system underlying this organization, but I do find it amusing. Katakana, by the way, are a series of basic Japanese sounds that can be written out to spell Western words. They compliment the hiragana – the same basic sounds written for spelling out Japanese words. And all of this supports the kanji – the characters used for words.

  • Re-reading White Noise

    I finally began to re-read Don DeLillo’s White Noise which I’ve been threatening to do since the pandemic began. The only thing I remembered about my first reading of the book was the Airborne Toxic Event, which hangs over the book and its characters like a radioactive cloud. Although the book is about the anxieties of modern life and the vague menaces that threaten us, it’s also really funny in a gallows humor kind of way. Blending surrealism and philosophy, White Noise is a perfect book for these times. If in you’re into that sort of thing.

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