SarahMichigan (sarahmichigan) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books #39-40

Book #39 was "Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math" by Daniel Tammet. I love books about the history of math or books about math theory that are written for the average person, and this is a wonderful addition to that genre. Tammet is an autistic savant who has written two previous books about being autistic; I haven't read them but I'd be tempted to after reading this book because he's an elegant and intriguing writer. This book is a collection of essays about math and how he sees math in everyday situations. He writes about how numbers crop up in literature, such as Shakespeare's obsession with zero (a "cypher" in Shakespearian texts) and about the history of mathematical ideas. I chuckled over the essay about trying to make a working behavioral model of his mother so he could try to understand her better. His insights into how cultural differences affect the way people use and think about numbers was interesting, too. I think the most outstanding chapter is the one where he recounts reciting the digits of pi for over 5 hours, setting a European record in 2004. It sounds like it should be boring but it isn't - his prose is lyrical and it's wonderful to get a glimpse of how his mind works. Loved this book and recommend it whole-heartedly.

Book #40 was "The Bellini Madonna" by Elizabeth Lowry. I don't even remember where I got the recommendation for this book and it's been in my "to read" list for a while. Our narrator, Thomas Lynch, is a promiscuous lothario who gets kicked out of his college professorship for having affairs with students of both sexes. He's an art expert specializing in the artist Bellini, and so he goes on a hunt for a lost Bellini based on some rumors to distract himself from his troubles. He gets mixed up with an English and Italian family that may or may not be hiding the Bellini and then finds an old diary that gives him some clues about what might have happened to the painting. He sets out to do whatever it takes to get the Bellini, including seducing the women of the house if necessary, but ends up being manipulated by them instead. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book at first. Our main character isn't always easy to like, and he is so blinded by his own assumptions that he doesn't see some obvious things staring him in the face. I did end up enjoying the book quite a bit, though, and liked that the author did her research about Bellini and his friend Durer, the poet Robert Browning, who ends up being featured in the diary, and other period details. I've read criticisms of the book, and people tend to love it or hate it. Some can't relate to any of the characters (as I said, I had a hard time with our viewpoint character as well), while others found the pace too slow. Others criticized Lynch's flowery prose, but it felt right for the subject matter and for the character as portrayed. This is Lowry's debut novel, and I'd be interested to see where she goes next.

1. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood [non-fiction]- James Gleick
2. Stones from the River [fiction]- Ursula Hegi
3. The Penelopiad [fiction]- Margaret Atwood
4. Woman Warrior [non-fiction/memoir]- Maxine Hong Kingston
5. The Son of Neptune [ficiton]- Rick Riordan (unabridged audiobook)
6. The Poe Shadow [fiction]- Matthew Pearl
7. Nat Turner [non-fiction graphic "novel"]- Kyle Baker (illustrator)
8. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception [fiction]- Eoin Colfer (unabridged audiobook)
9. The Daughter of Time [fiction]- Josephine Tey
10. Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) [non-fiction/biography]- Stacy Schiff
11. Gilgamesh: A New English Version [literary criticism/epic poetry]- Stephen Mitchell
12. Back When We Were Grownups [fiction]- Anne Tyler
13. Red Azalea [non-fiction/memoir]- Anchee Min
14. The Mark of Athena (#3 in the "Heroes of Olympus" series) [fiction]- Rick Riordan (unabridged audiobook)
15. The Mosquito Coast [fiction]- Paul Theroux
16. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis [non-fiction]- Arthur Allen
17. The City of Devi [fiction]- Manil Suri
18. The Lovely Bones [fiction]- Alice Sebold (unabridged audiobook)
19. The Office of Mercy [fiction]- Ariel Djanikian (unabridged audiobook)
20. A Thousand Acres [fiction]- Jane Smiley
21. The Snow Queen [fiction]- Joan Vinge
22. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian [fiction]- Sherman Alexie
23. Memoirs of a Survivor [fiction]- Doris Lessing
24. Moral Disorder, [fiction/short stories]- Margaret Atwood (unabridged audiobook)
25. Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father [non-fiction]- John Matteson
26. The Wasp Factory [fiction]- Iaian Banks
27. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony [fiction]- Eoin Colfer (unabridged audiobook)
28. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing [fiction]- May Sarton
29. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day [fiction]- Pearl Cleage (unabridged audiobook)
30. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction [non-ficiton]- Annalee Newitz
31. Free Enterprise [fiction]- Michelle Cliff
32. The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory [nonfiction/memoir]- Kenny Fries
33. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void [non-fiction]- Mary Roach (unabridged audiobook)
34. Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir [non-ficiton/memoir/graphic book]- Roz Chast
35. Two Serious Ladies [fiction]- Jane Bowles
36. Herland [fiction]- Charlotte Perkins Gilman (unabridged audiobook)
37. The House of Hades  (Book #4 in the Heroes of Olympus series) [fiction]- Rick Riordan (unabridged audiobook)
38. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books [nonfiction/memoir]- Azar Nafisi


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