Bookshelf/floor/dresser

An incomplete list of the books that are currently piled on my desk and next to my bed (half on my dresser, half on the floor):

1.  The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Re-reading.
So, I loved this book before I went to Princeton, and  – shockingly – I haven’t re-read it since attending that hallowed institution of higher learning.  I’m expecting to reap all kinds of new rewards from Fitzgerald.  But can anything displace my favourite quote, from the second page (!):
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.”

2.  The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche.  Picking bits here and there.
This is a collection of non-fiction stories, many of which were published in the New Yorker.  They consist of medical detective stories – accounts of strange epidemics and mysterious symptoms, tracked back by the wonderful Berton Roueche, whose masterful attention to detail and straightforward yet evocative descriptions remind me of In Cold Blood. This book was a gift from my college roommate, S, who has excellent taste in books and knows me very well.

3.  Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence.  Haven’t started it.
But it’s on the pile in hopes that I will start it soon.  I do like Lawrence.  I loved Women in Love.

4.  Mind of the Raven: investigations and adventures with wolf-birds, Bernd Heinrich.  Actively reading.
I’m almost done!  This marvellous book was an impulse buy when I was at Munro’s Books awhile ago – I went in not intending to buy anything, but as so often happens, a title caught my eye and I could not resist.  Heinrich draws frequent comparison to the seminal ethologist Konrad Lorentz, and it is richly deserved praise.  I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to someone that didn’t already have an interest in animal behaviour, because there’s no getting around the fact that it’s 350 pages of observations about ravens…  Heinrich is a great writer, but he’s not a sensationalist.  If you DO have an interest in animal behaviour, this book is fantastic.

5.  Three different knitting books

6.  A collection of love poems

7.  How To Solve It, G. Polya.  Actively Reading.
This is a book about math that my dad lent me to help with the math student I’m tutoring.  My student wants to go to “Math Camp,” a competitive-entry summer camp for advanced & ambitious high school math students in the US and Canada.  Needless to say, I am not helping him to memorize SOHCAHTOA and what it means, and I am very happy to have a professional mathster in the house with me.  Anyhow,  How To Solve It is a book that helps you do exactly what the title suggests:  solve it.  It is a compact, simple, and kinda profound (for reals!) guide to heuristics: the study of the methods, processes, and rules of problem solving, invention and discovery.  It is laid out in the simplest language, by an author who is very pure of intention.
I actually wish I could include the entire introduction here, because it’s great, but I’ll just quote the first paragraph:

“A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem.  Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.  Such experiences at a susceptible age may create a taste for mental work and leave their imprint on mind and character for a lifetime.”

This entry brought to you by procrastination.  I should be working on my grad school applications…

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