booknote from LBL: The Planets

Here’s Lauren Baratz-Logsted on a book that’s been causing quite a stir on planet Earth lately:

The Planets, Dava Sobel. Whence Dava Sobel’s obsession with the planets? Whence mine? OK, I can’t speak for her, but I know where mine comes from: it comes from the fact that, last holiday season, my daughter and I assembled a model of the Solar System to hang over her bed and ever since then, I’ve been trying to find something that will help me explain more about them to her. This has resulted in me reading many books on the subject this year of which I have not understood word one. So thank heavens that Ms. Sobel, author of the wonderful historical memoir Galileo’s Daughter among other books, has come along to save me just in time with a book that is both accessible and fun. Everything I remember from my brother making me as a child learn more about astronomy is here as well as much of the material I understood just well enough in college to keep my D in Astronomy 101 from being an F. It’s heady stuff, reading about the discoveries of each of these planets, imagining how headier still it must have been for each of their discoverers. There’s my old good bud Saturn – what is it about those rings? There’s the info on the moons of Uranus being named after my beloved Shakespeare’s characters. Maybe I can start Jackie on Shakespeare next? And there is tiny Pluto – as Ms. Sobel says, “People love Pluto. Children identify with its smallness” – being still for the most part treated like the planet I so romantically want it to remain. And then there’s the penultimate paragraph to this lovely book, which reads in Ms. Sobel’s simply elegant prose: “If reading these pages has helped someone befriend the planets, recognizing in them the stalwarts of centuries of popular culture and the inspiration for much high-minded human endeavor, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.”

note from Michelle: if The Planets is your cup of intergalactic tea, check out Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog.

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litquiz 1 – geographically speaking

“I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth.” His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. “I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West–all dead now…”
“What part of the Middle West?” I inquired casually.
“San Francisco.”
“I see.”

Kudos to Vince Donovan, who correctly identified Gatsby as the character who refers to our own westernmost bay city as the midwest. The above conversation takes place between Gatsby and Nick Carraway.

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oscars night

Yesterday was the litworld equivalent of Osars night–the National Book Awards. No real surprises. I mean, I suppose William T. Vollman wasn’t entirely expected to walk away with the fiction award for Europe Central, but once you’ve been nominated, you’re only a stone’s throw from winning.

Hey, no takers on that litquiz? Here’s a clue. The character’s remark was edited in many editions of this classic work of fiction, on the assumption that it was the author’s error rather than a deliberate attempt to reveal something about the character. Only fairly recently, in a text that also restored 1100 of the author’s original commas, did the San Francisco midwest comment make it back into the novel.

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