Monday, 10 December 2012

December reading - Parisian nights and mathematical obsessions

With the reading room nearing completion, the thought of settling down with a book on a winter's evening has never been so appealing.

It's hardly surprising that Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is so popular as a high school set text. Its central characters, George and Lennie, are migrant American labourers during the Great Depression. George, intelligent but uneducated, has to look out for his companion Lennie, a kindly but simple-minded giant of a man who doesn't know his own strength. From the start, Steinbeck makes us fear the worst for the unlikely duo. The pitfalls are many and we wonder how, rather than when, the two men will be undone. At a mere one hundred pages it's a quick and satisfying read. The dialogue and pace are excellent and the ending is very moving. It thoroughly deserves its place on my Classics Club list.

Inspired perhaps by Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris, my two recent purchases have a definite Parisian flavour. My first purchase was The Ladies' Paradise which was recently televised by BBC TV. I'm intrigued to see if Zola, who wrote so convincingly about the appalling conditions of the miners in Germinal, can be equally at home in a Parisian department store. Rumour has it that there will be a Zola readalong in the new year, so this will be a good starting point.  The second was The Parisian Wife by Paula McLain. This tells the story of the troubled marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson. It promises 'nights awash with absinthe in the giddy company of F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.' What's not to like? Incidentally, if you haven't seen Midnight in Paris, I would recommend it.  Entirely self-indulgent, but also great fun.

My husband, The Mathematician, is often to be found with his head in a book. Generally speaking it's a maths textbook or 'How to Play Poker', but he's branched out a little recently and joined an all-male book group. Their first two choices, The Psychopath Test and Casino Royale, haven't impressed him greatly. He's been rather more taken with books on a mathematical theme. Firstly The Newtonian Casino, a true story of a group of talented physicists and mathematicians who developed an early computer to predict the results of roulette and smuggled it into Vegas casinos in the sole of their shoe. The second, Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh, tells of one of the most notorious mathematical problems and the man who thought he'd solved it.  Both books have gripped TM, but on closer examination I've found them far too mathematical for my tastes. Still wanting to share in TM's enthusiasm, I chose instead Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis. This novel describes one man's obsession with a simple but dastardly challenge - to prove that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. It's proving to be an interesting insight into mathematical obsession, but not at all intimidating for a non-mathematician like me.

Last, but not least, I have our own book group choice - Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. I read this many years ago and I'm looking forward to revisiting it.

All in all, an excellent month.

What's on your reading list?


  1. I'm completely unmathematical, but I absolutely loved Fermat's Last Theorem. I thought it was a wonderful story.

    Currently I've got Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger at the top of my pile, but I've tried to read it before and struggled to get into it. I'm hoping this time I'll succeed.

    1. I've just finished Uncle Petros and enjoyed it immensely. Perhaps I should give Fermat a go. Certainly it's a cracking story.

      I haven't read Moon Tiger, although I've heard it's very good.

  2. I am impressed by the Mathematician's literary bent but it seems to me he needs to read The Outsider.


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