Filtering by Tag: WHAT I'M READING

Science Writing That Doesn't Stink

I don't care much for most science writing. I can be stiff, unwieldy, heavy, dead. Oftentimes, it looks more backwards than forwards, or it looks so far forwards so as to leave the reader unmoored, or it's so preoccupied with some micro-entity that the bigger picture is lost. But when you find yourself in a bookstore -- a Barnes & Noble, no less -- that's housed in a 1930s Art Deco theater in the San Fernando Valley, what are you going to do ... not buy something? I bought a copy of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017 and a copy of Sy Montgomery's The Soul of An Octopus. I didn't have high hopes; the anthology was edited by Hope Jahren, whose science memoir Lab Girl I deeply disliked. Jahren exhibits the problem most scientists-as-writers have; they can analyze, but they cannot express. I figured if I liked one piece in the collection, that would suffice. As it turned out, I liked two: one that I'd read previously and one that I hadn't. If you haven't read Elizabeth Kolbert's "Greenland Is Melting," do. (In the anthology, it's entitled "A Song of Ice.") It's the kind of science writing I like: person goes off on adventure to discover something astonishing, told in a somewhat outsider way, with a bit of head shaking disconcert at the great unknowability of the world. The one I hadn't read previously that I liked was David Epstein's "The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene." Everything in the story is as it shouldn't be: the scientist isn't a scientist, the story itself arises from happenstance, and the scientific advance far out sprints its convoluted, humble start. So much science writing seems like snobbery, like an exercise in exclusion, like an homage to the superiority of the author. But the good ones, it seems to me, are probably what people tell you science writing shouldn't be: subjective, inexplicable, magical. They make it less esoteric, more human.

What I'm Reading

Typically, I wouldn't read a book like Don Winslow's The Force, yet here I am. I read someone writing about it somewhere, and they described it as in some way Joycean, so there you go. It's about a dirty cop, and a city in disorder, and the blurry line between the supposed good guys and the purported bad guys. It's long and engrossing and a suitable summer read. 

Here's a snippet:

"A strong wind finds its way through every crack, into the project stairwells, the tenement heroin mills, the social club back rooms, the new-money condos, the old-money penthouses. From Columbus Circle to the Henry Hudson Bridge, Riverside Park to the Harlem River, up Broadway and Amsterdam, down Lenox and St. Nicholas, on the numbered streets that spanned the Upper West Side, Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, if there was a secret Da Force didn't know about, it was because it hadn't been whispered about or even thought of yet." 

What I'm Reading

โ€œLet's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.โ€ -- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Support the arts! Buy a digital copy of THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by me, Susannah Breslin.

What I'm reading

โ€œIt's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take 'good,' for instance. If you have a word like 'good,' what need is there for a word like 'bad'? 'Ungood' will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of 'good,' what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like 'excellent' and 'splendid' and all the rest of them? 'Plusgood' covers the meaning, or 'doubleplusgood' if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there'll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words -- in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston?โ€
-- George Orwell, 1984

What I'm Reading

Currently I'm reading The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry by Legs McNeil.

Entertainment weekly called it "eloquent and sleazy."

I opened a page at random, and here's what I read:

JOHN WAYNE BOBBITT: But she'd had it all planned out already. The week before she'd threatened me with a knife, but she didn't point it at my dick. She knew exactly what she was doing when she sliced me. Believe me, it was premeditated.

[Amazon]

For the Sad

I spent a long time reading this very sad piece, "Five Hostages."

"According to several freed hostages, Kayla was not tortured or sexually abused. Didier Franรงois, the French journalist, sometimes heard Kayla asking her jailers for fruit or sanitary napkins. The male hostages wondered who she was. At one point, they heard a guard say that she was Muslim, and Kayla corrected him. The guard was impressed. 'Sheโ€™s stronger than you,' the guard told another prisoner. 'She doesnโ€™t pretend.'"

Buy THE TUMOR! "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."