The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, 4/5
A nuanced and well-written story, told from the perspectives of four individual middle schoolers and their teacher, who discover the transformative power of love and friendship as they compete in an academic bowl. Even though it is written for younger readers, the author doesn’t talk down or preach. This, combined with the varying first person perspectives and nonlinear timeline make for a challenging and meaningful reading experience at any age.
Why I read it: a recommendation from one of my students.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, 3/5
I have never read a more enjoyable book about a less likeable person. In fact, I could not put it down and finished it in one day; the story had all the fascination and horror of a slow-motion train wreck. I’m generally a big fan of people doing their own thing, and if your thing is starving to death in an abandoned bus 30 miles from a major highway in a poorly-planned attempt to commune with the essence of Existence or whatever, that’s fine. But what is not fine is being a melodramatic, inconsistent, ignorant, self-righteous douchebag who hurts the people who care for you. Or renaming yourself in all seriousness “Alexander Supertramp.” That is also not fine.
Big shout-out to author Jon Krakauer, who is not only a fantastic writer, but, despite obviously feeling sympathetic towards his ill-fated protagonist, did not refrain from revealing unflattering facts and details about him. I hope Krakauer made a ton of money off the movie (which I will not be watching).
Why I read it: Found it in my boyfriend’s old high school stuff.
In around 1637, Fermat hinted that he had “discovered a truly marvelous proof” that an + bn = cn cannot be true for n>2. Proving this deceptively simple theory required the contributions of dozens of mathematicians over a span of some 350 years. Unfortunately, while biographical aspects of the story are competently told, the author is unable or unwilling to explain important mathematical concepts in layman’s terms. If the following paragraph makes sense to you, then you probably fit the target audience of this little book:
Here, a periodic function could be conceived as having a periodicity both along the real axis and along the imaginary axis. Poincaré went even further and posited the existence of functions with a wider array of symmetries. These were functions that remained unchanged when the complex variable z was changed according to f(z)——>f(az+b/cz+d). Here the elements a, b, c, d, arranged as a matrix, formed an algebraic group. This means that there are infinitely many possible variations. They all commute with each other and the function f is invariant under this group of transformations. Poincaré called such weird functions automorphic forms (82).
If, like me, you were completely nonplussed by that description, then the only thing of value you will likely get from this book is a deeper understanding of the fact that concise ≠ comprehensible.
[Why I read it: I came across it while sorting through some of my Dad’s books.]