What I’m Reading

As I crawled into bed last night, I reached over and grabbed the book I’m currently reading from my shelf. This book is on my own personal bookshelf, of course, much to the surprise of my husband who looked at me and said, “You’re reading that for fun?”

688 pages of things I should already know

Yes! Then I blabbered on about all I had learned in just the first three pages (sadly, I don’t have a lot of free time these days for fun reading). What isn’t entertaining about hearing how Christopher Columbus set into motion the complete extinction of the Arawak people in the Bahamian Islands beginning in 1492? He was a schmuck, a liar, and a manipulative bastard who managed to pocket an annual pension away from a sailor named Rodrigo. Apparently a reward was to be given to whoever spotted land after more than a month at sea and Rodrigo saw white sand on the horizon on October 12th, legitimately having claim to the reward. Well, here comes Christopher Columbus who swore he’d seen land the night before. C’mon, really? What a jerk.

How Columbus managed to persuade the king and queen of Spain to completely finance his wackadoodle sea voyages to capture gold and slaves (and slaves were way more plentiful than this gold he kept yammering on about) astounds me. Was he like the Rasputin of the New World or something?

Moving on…

Matt is sometimes baffled by how I can manage to read more than one book at a time. He is faithfully committed to finishing any book he starts and never gives attention to another until the current book’s last page has been read. Aside from my textbook readings that require about three hours of my time a day, I have four books on my current bookshelf. These are the books that I read at night to decompress and I’m honestly pretty thrilled when I can manage to get through more than two paragraphs before I fall asleep.

Howard Zinn: The People’s History of the United States – I only read the first page yesterday while waiting in the car pick-up line to get my daughter after school. Three pages in, I was hooked. I know history books are usually written by the victors of wars or the mentors of a struggling government and everything comes out in the end hunky dory, but I have a feeling this isn’t one of those books. Do I believe everything Zinn writes? Of course not, and therein lies the responsibility of the reader – research, research some more, then research even more! There will always be people who disagree with your conclusion.

Sarah Vowell: Take the Cannoli – I love this woman. Sometimes I find her writing style difficult to appreciate when she tries too hard to describe certain events with run-on sentences that I have to read more than once. This book is more about her personal life, though, and includes often hilarious essays such as how her Cherokee ancestry affects her opinion of Andrew Jackson or how she hid her obsession with The Godfather movies from her roommates so they wouldn’t think she was weird (if only they’d known she used to ride her bicycle to town as a teenager to hear presidential debates). Her book Assassination Vacation is one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. I only wish it had been around in my D.C.-livin’ days. Ford’s Theater will be seen with fresh eyes the next time I visit.

Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time – The simple fact that Hawking is a scientist intimidates me but I read this book for an astronomy class years ago and actually enjoyed it! I wouldn’t have this on my bookshelf again were it not for the fact that I’m taking yet another universe-evolution class. Hawking has a unique writing style that reaches out to those of us who don’t understand even the basis of how stars are born and he explains everything clearly. On the flipside, he adds personal touches to his narrative by discussing his earlier fears regarding his ALS diagnosis and (false) life expectancy and at one point even admits that even he no longer believes in the theory he worked for 20 years to prove. It is now one of his goals to convince all those other scientists that he was wrong. You gotta love a guy who can admit he’s wrong, amirite?

Jonathan Weiner: The Beak of the Finch – Again, this is another book I am reading for a class on biology and evolutionary progress, but it is very well written! I have enjoyed this book more than I expected and I actually packed it for our camping trip (and no other books). My spring break vacation was spent camping, hiking, and reading about the evolution of finches’ beaks while the campfire roared away. Weiner is sometimes repetitive with his information but I don’t find it distracting. In fact, I quite appreciate it. Perhaps this is why the book is so popular – not only does it break down the decades’ worth of work put in by the Grants on the Galapagos Islands, but it is written so that anyone can understand it. Have you ever read an entire chapter on how a single millimeter can make or break the evolutionary cycle of bird’s beak? Neither have I but it was fascinating! Evolution doesn’t take millions of years. It can happen over the course of one or two generations.

Behold! The finchy beaks of Darwin’s darlings:

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4 thoughts on “What I’m Reading

  1. An interesting collection of reads Dena. I think I’m with Matt though, I like to read one at a time!
    I’m a bit tempted by the The Beak of the Finch. Friends of ours went to the Galapagos Islands recently and Darwin has always fascinated me.

    • It is on my to-read list. Apparently, my family came over with Roger Williams (John Throckmorton was the first of us to make it) so I’m hoping to learn a bit more about him and his buddy, Roger, through Sarah Vowell’s retelling. Thanks for the suggestion!

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