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I just finished reading White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, 2009’s Man Booker Prize winner.

This narrative, chronicled over seven nights, tells the mesmerizing story of how Balram Halwai, a former Indian servent from one of the lowest castes, came to be a success in life.   This novel is thoroughly depressing; the description of modern India and the abject poverty that permeates its culture cannot be overlooked or glossed over, however, a continuous stream of dark comedy also runs through the text, providing an excellent foil to the descriptions of destitution, political corruption, and economic injustice.

I thought this was an excellent book- especially for a debut novel.  Obviously, I wasn’t the only one since it won the Booker Prize.   In so many ways, this book defies description.  Rarely have I read a book that angered me, entertained me, depressed me, fixated me, and also made me thankful to be born where running water is the rule and not an exception.

1.  I-10 has to be one of the easiest roads to drive in the entire country.  Entirely flat;  I seriously can’t remember one curve.

2.   It’s very disheartening to switch roads and to have TomTom  tell you that there’s 848 miles until your next road change.

3.  I was stopped three times at random checkpoints and asked the following question:  “Are you an American Citizen?”

4.  If you like a room that doesn’t have climate control, has towels more threadbare than ten year old pajamas, and no hotwater, then you really need to stay in the Super 8 motel fifty miles east of El Paso.

5.  Texas is a big freaking state.

6.  At least 99% of the world’s pickup trucks are located in the Lonestar State.  Just goes to show that some stereotypes are based on fact.

7.  Despite their reputation for being gun-crazy, the number of dead deer on the side of the highway (at least 30), it’s apparent that Texans are either terrible shots or just not hunting enough.

8.  Texas  is a big freaking state

I apologize for the lack of posting over the past week, but it’s really tough to blog whilst driving.  Last week I drove from San Diego to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  That was 1850 miles and I don’t even know how many hours in the car.  I drove it by myself which made the ride slightly boring, but the good news is that I was still able to read two books last week, so I didn’t fall off the pace that much.  More posts to come on the books I read and also my experience driving across the country and the New Orleans debauchery.

So, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting quite as regularly over the last week or so.  That is because I am currently getting ready to take a road trip down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras before reporting to my next duty station in Texas.  So, you won’t be hearing too much from me over the next week, and I’m also afriad that I won’t get to read much, but I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

Happy Reading.

Richard Feynman, John and Mary Gribbin

 

Richard Feynman was the greatest physicist of his generation.  Few people have advanced science further than he.  Whether it was his work on the atomic bomb, his theory on quantum electrodynamics that would win him the Nobel Prize, or his work on the Challenger Disaster Board, Richard Feynman was at the forefront of his field for more than fifty years.  And he did it all while remaining decidedly “normal.”  He was about as far from the stereotypical scientist as you can imagine- a safe cracking, practical joking, radio repairing, bongo playing genius.  Even more surprising, he was just as good a teacher as he was a theorist.

            This book is part biography and part scientific explanation, and should probably be required reading for physics majors, as well as anyone who has an interest in Richard Feynman.  That being said, this isn’t where I would recommend starting if you really want to get an idea of what Feynman was all about.  This book certainly does a good job of it, but I fear that the pretty advanced scientific parts would leave the average reader behind.  Had I not taken chemistry and physics in college, this book would have been beyond my grasp- or I would have taken so long trying to figure the science out that whole Feynman aspect of the work would have been lost.

After thirty months onboard, I have finally departed the ship.  I’ve been looking forward to this day for approximately 899 days.  Ok, so it hasn’t been nearly that bad, but after having spent literally almost ten percent of my life onboard, I am ready for a change.

          Fittingly enough, the last week was pretty brutal; I worked all seven days and didn’t get nearly as much reading done as I was hoping.  I fell a bit behind, but hopefully with this week off, I will be able to make up some ground.

 

and that’s getting up before dawn to workout.  I’m pretty sure this dates back to my high school days when we would have conditioning workouts for wrestling that would start at 6am.  I remember trudging through the hallways and running up and down flights of stairs and telling myself that once the season was over, I would never, ever be punishing myself like that again.

          Then came OCS and, of course, that promise went to hell.  Apparently, Marine Corps Drill Instructors don’t much care for personal covenants- especially those that eschew running before the sunrise.

          After I commissioned, I once again told myself “Never Again”, and this time, I was pretty good at keeping to my word.  For three years, I never saw the sunrise in anything other than pajamas or a uniform, and I was more than content with that.

          Believe it or not, my fiancée, and I always thought she was certifiable due to this, has always been a proponent of the early morning workout.  Of course, the inevitable happened, and she finally suggested that we workout together.  I resisted for years, but finally, and I’m sorry to say this, last month I cracked under her indomitable willpower and the tacit threat of her pulling a Lysistrata on me.

          There has been an upside, however.  My afternoons and evenings are now entirely free, so I have been able to devote most of that time to reading and the occasional episode (ok…three or four episodes) of 24. 

Even more disturbing- and it pains me to say this- I might actually enjoy working out in the mornings.  It’s not that I like getting up early, but I do thoroughly enjoy having the gym practically to myself.  I may have to keep this up for a while.  Of course, if anyone asks me why, it’s only so I can reach my goal of 150 books.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize, and unlike The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (the last Pulitzer Prize winner I read), this book did not suck.  Quite the opposite.  In fact, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been eleven years since Diaz’s first (and only) book Drown, a collection of short stories, hit the shelves.  However, from the first page of Oscar Wao, it is apparent that Diaz has not lost his unique voice, and his ability to captivate his audience has not suffered from over a decade of disuse.

Our title character, Oscar, is a 300+ pound nerd who has such little game with the ladies that it embarrasses his Dominican family.  His great aspiration in life is to become the Dominican equivalent of J.R.R Tolkien, Stephen King, and Robert Heinlein rolled into one.  When he’s not striking out with las chicas, he spends his time writing, watching cartoons, and playing fantasy role playing games.  This is also the multi-generational story of his Dominican family, and the “curse” that has hounded them for the past half-century.

I’m not sure what Diaz has been doing for the past eleven years, though I’m fairly positive that the majority of the time was not spent reading Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.   From page one of Oscar Wao, and throughout the entire book, the dialogue is peppered with Spanish words and Dominican slang (In case you have not been lucky enough to read Strunk and White’s seminal little book, the usage of foreign language is either #1 or #2 on their list of things to avoid while writing).  Some, particularly those whose only exposure to Spanish has been by telenovella, will find this distracting, if not frustrating.  I thought it added a certain amount of authenticity to the dialogue and helped me get more into the story and the characters.  Still, even I will admit that glossary of terms would have been helpful.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed, but which others might have been annoyed by, if they even caught the references at all, was the repeated usage of science-fiction and fantasy themes as metaphors.  Oscar is the consummate nerd- loves apanimation, role playing games, and science-fiction pulp stories, so I thought it fitting, not to mention refreshing, to see references made to Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Starwars, and Lord of the Rings.  Of course, if you’ve had no exposure to realm of sci-fi and fantasy, the scope and meaning of those metaphors would have been lost on you.

If you know no Spanish and think science-fiction and fantasy are for losers, you probably will not understand half of this book, yet you may develop a little bit of sympathy for the consummate Dungeons and Dragons nerd.

 

Why is it that despite the billions of dollars of foreign aid Africa receives, it continues to struggle or, some might say, even regress?

 

In The Trouble with Africa, Robert Calderisi offers up some answers to that question.  Drawing upon his experience as a World Bank official in Africa, Calderisi is able to augment his analysis with personal anecdotes from his time on the continent and his extensive interactions with various heads of state.

            The conclusions that he comes to are sure to surprise some.  He brushes aside the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism as non-factors.  Nor is it globalization or world trade which has brought the continent to her knees.  Rather, he argues, the problems are of Africa’s own making; they stem from kleptocracy, widespread corruption, the discouragement of private investment and new businesses, as well the ignorance of the growing AIDS epidemic.  It’s his belief that Africans are too complacent with their status and, as a cultural collective, have a defeatist attitude.

            In case you thought the Western World is off the hook, think again.  Our political correctness in dealing with the issues in Africa has only exacerbated the problems in Africa, according to Calderisi, and he feels that the kid gloves need to come off when it comes to providing foreign aid to the continent.

            I found this book enjoyable and very readable.  It provides some compelling answers to a question that comes up regularly, not only in discussion, but also in public policy.  I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.  Unfortunately, it is apparent that most of the providers of foreign aid to Africa were practitioners of Chaos Theory, rather than Relativity.

             

Well, in the past two weeks I have managed to read six books- four non-fiction and two fiction.  I’ve done a decent job identifying books that I’ll enjoy (or at least that I’ll be interested in); of the six, I’ve only struggled through one of them.  And don’t worry, more reviews are forthcoming.  I just need to figure out what I’m going to say, haha.

I still need some recommendations for both non-fiction and fiction, though for the moment I’m OK since there are at least thirty books at home which I haven’t had the chance to read yet.

At the moment, I’m on pace to read 159 books by January 19th 2010.  So far, so good.