Manly Must-Reads

I’m not sure where I found the link, probably on Twitter, but I ran across this list of must-read popular science books. It’s definitely not the list I would have compiled (though I admit that my pop-sci reading history is somewhat paltry). I count only two books on the list that I’ve read completely (John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy and The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, though his follow-up is on there, and I expect to devour that when it’s in paperback), four other books that I’ve started and not finished (Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish, Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics, Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces, and Richard Wiseman’s Paranormality, which I’m going to go back to when I finish Richard III), and four more that I either own or wanted to read before seeing the list (The Selfish Gene, Mistakes Were Made, Supersense, and Nonsense on Stilts).

Many of the authors are recognizable, though the choices seem a little odd. Take Dawkins, for instance: I typically see Climbing Mount Improbable and Unweaving the Rainbow on lists like these before River Out of Eden. I would think The Panda’s Thumb or Full House would top Stephen Jay Gould’s list before Wonderful Life.

Then there are the glaring omissions. Not one Carl Sagan book? No Death from the Skies? No Neil deGrasse Tyson or Lawrence Krauss or Michio Kaku? No A Brief History of Time? No women?

Okay, that last one isn’t fair. There are indeed women on the list. Two of them: Carol Tavris and Mary Roach, out of 34 different authors, by my quick count (some books had multiple authors; some authors were on the list multiple times, including Marcus Chown, a name that was previously unknown to me). Somehow, when compiling “must-read” popular science books, three books by Marcus Chown and two “very short introduction” books merit inclusion when books like Silent Spring and Gorillas in the Mist don’t.

Off the top of my head and Amazon wish-list, I came up with this list based on books I’ve read, bought, seen elsewhere on “must-read” lists or in prominent bookstore shelves, or known because of their huge impact on science and society:

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
  • My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics by Jennifer Ouellette
  • Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox
  • Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World by Lisa Randall
  • Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

That’s really not much, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that a world-altering book like Silent Spring doesn’t merit mention over, say, The Violinist’s Thumb, which has been out for less than a year. It isn’t a matter of intentional sexism, but it’s this sort of casual blindness to gender imbalances that helps to create and perpetuate the myth that science is “more of a guy thing.” Correcting that image is going to take a good long time and a lot of work, but little steps–like making sure that your “must-read” popular science book list isn’t a giant sausage fest–are not that difficult, and do add up just as the little omissions and microaggressions add up on the other side of things.

On Interpretation

I see an old lady!--No, wait, a young girl!--No, I mean, two faces eating a candlestick!I thought I’d talked about this before on the blog, but apparently I’ve managed to go this long without really tackling the issue of interpretation. Consequently, you might notice some of the themes and points in this post getting repeated in my next big article, since writing that was what alerted me to my omission.

I don’t generally like absolute statements, since they so rarely are, but I think this one works: there is no reading without interpretation. In fact, I could go a step further and say there’s no communication without interpretation, but reading is the most obvious and pertinent example.

Each person is different, the product of a unique set of circumstances, experiences, knowledge, and so forth. Consequently, each person approaches each and every text with different baggage, and a different framework. When they read the text, it gets filtered through and informed by those experiences, that knowledge, and that framework. This process influences the way the reader understands the text.

Gah, that’s way too general. Let’s try this again: I saw the first couple of Harry Potter movies before I started reading the books; consequently, I came to the books with the knowledge of the movie cast, and I interpreted the books through that framework–not intentionally, mind you, it’s just that the images the text produced in my mind included Daniel Radcliffe as Harry and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. However, I plowed through the series faster than the moviemakers have. The descriptions in the books (and the illustrations) informed my mental images of other characters, so when I saw “Order of the Phoenix,” I found the casting decision for Dolores Umbridge quite at odds with my interpretation of the character, who was less frou-frou and more frog-frog.

We’ve all faced this kind of thing: our prior experiences inform our future interpretations. I imagine most people picking up an Ian Fleming novel have a particular Bond playing the role in their mental movies. There was quite a bit of tizzy over the character designs in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” movie, from Marvin’s stature and shape to the odd placement of Zaphod’s second head, to Ford Prefect’s skin color. I hear Kevin Conroy‘s voice when I read Batman dialogue.

This process is a subset of the larger linguistic process of accumulating connotation. As King of Ferrets fairly recently noted, words are more than just their definitions; they gather additional meaning through the accumulation of connotations–auxiliary meaning attached to the world through the forces of history and experience. Often, these connotations are widespread. For example, check out how the word “Socialist” got thrown around during the election. There’s nothing in the definition of the word that makes it the damning insult it’s supposed to be, but thanks to the Cold War and the USSR, people interpret the word to mean more than just “someone who believes in collective ownership of the means of production.” Nothing about “natural” means “good and healthy,” yet that’s how it’s perceived; nothing about “atheist” means “immoral and selfish,” nor does it mean “rational and scientific,” but depending on who you say it around, it may carry either of those auxiliary meanings. Words are, when it comes right down to it, symbols of whatever objects or concepts they represent, and like any symbols (crosses, six-pointed stars, bright red ‘A’s, Confederate flags, swastikas, etc.), they take on meanings in the minds of the people beyond what they were intended to represent.

This process isn’t just a social one; it happens on a personal level, too. We all attach some connotations and additional meanings to words and other symbols based on our own personal experiences. I’m sure we all have this on some level; we’ve all had a private little chuckle when some otherwise innocuous word or phrase reminds us of some inside joke–and we’ve also all had that sinking feeling as we’ve tried to explain the joke to someone who isn’t familiar with our private connotations. I know one group of people who would likely snicker if I said “gravy pipe,” while others would just scratch their heads; I know another group of people who would find the phrase “I’ve got a boat” hilarious, but everyone else is going to be lost. I could explain, but even if you understood, you wouldn’t find it funny, and you almost certainly wouldn’t be reminded of my story next time you heard the word “gravy.” Words like “doppelganger” and “ubiquitous” are funny to me because of the significance I’ve attached to them through the personal process of connotation-building.

And this is where it’s kind of key to be aware of your audience. If you’re going to communicate effectively with your audience, you need to have some understanding of this process. In order to communicate effectively, I need to recognize that not everyone will burst into laughter if I say “mass media” or “ice dragon,” because not everyone shares the significance that I’ve privately attached to those phrases. Communication is only effective where the speaker and listener share a common language; this simple fact requires the speaker to know what connotations he and his audience are likely to share.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re not telepathic. What this means is that we cannot know with certainty how any given audience will interpret what we say. We might guess to a high degree of accuracy, depending on how well we know our audience, but there’s always going to be some uncertainty involved. That ambiguity of meaning is present in nearly every word, no matter how simple, no matter how apparently direct, because of the way we naturally attach and interpret meaning.

Here’s the example I generally like to use: take the word “DOG.” It’s a very simple word with a fairly straightforward definition, yet it’s going to be interpreted slightly differently by everyone who reads or hears it. I imagine that everyone, reading the word, has formed a particular picture in their heads of some particular dog from their own experience. Some people are associating the word with smells, sounds, feelings, other words, sensations, and events in their lives. Some small number of people might be thinking of a certain TV bounty hunter. The point is that the word, while defined specifically, includes a large amount of ambiguity.

Let’s constrain the ambiguity, then. Take the phrase “BLACK DOG.” Now, I’ve closed off some possibilities: people’s mental pictures are no longer of golden retrievers and dalmatians. I’ve closed off some possibilities that the term “DOG” leaves open, moving to the included subset of black dogs. There’s still ambiguity, though: is it a little basket-dwelling dog like Toto, or a big German Shepherd? Long hair or short hair? What kind of collar?

But there’s an added wrinkle here. When I put the word “BLACK” in there, I brought in the ambiguity associated with that word as well. Is the dog all black, or mostly black with some other colors, like a doberman? What shade of black are we talking about? Is it matte or glossy?

Then there’s further ambiguity arising from the specific word combination. When I say “BLACK DOG,” I may mean a dark-colored canine, or I may mean that “I gotta roll, can’t stand still, got a flamin’ heart, can’t get my fill.”

And that’s just connotational ambiguity; there’s definitional ambiguity as well. The word “period” is a great example of this. Definitionally, it means something very different to a geologist, an astronomer, a physicist, a historian, a geneticist, a chemist, a musician, an editor, a hockey player, and Margaret Simon. Connotationally, it’s going to mean something very different to ten-year-old Margaret Simon lagging behind her classmates and 25-year-old Margaret Simon on the first day of her Hawaiian honeymoon.

People, I think, are aware of these ambiguities on some level; the vast majority of verbal humor relies on them to some degree. Our language has built-in mechanisms to alleviate it. In speaking, we augment the words with gestures, inflections, and expressions. If I say “BLACK DOG” while pointing at a black dog, or at the radio playing a distinctive guitar riff, my meaning is more clear. The tone of my voice as I say “BLACK DOG” will likely give some indication as to my general (or specific) feelings about black dogs, or that black dog in particular. Writing lacks these abilities, but punctuation, capitalization, and font modification (such as bold and italics) are able to accomplish some of the same goals, and other ones besides. Whether I’m talking about the canine or the song would be immediately apparent in print, as the difference between “black dog” and “‘Black Dog.'” In both venues, one of the most common ways to combat linguistic ambiguity is to add more words. Whether it’s writing “black dog, a Labrador Retriever, with floppy ears and a cold nose and the nicest temperament…” or saying “black dog, that black dog, the one over there by the flagpole…” we use words (generally in conjunction with the other tools of the communication medium) to clarify other words. None of these methods, however, can completely eliminate the ambiguity in communication, and they all have the potential to add further ambiguity to the communication by adding information as well.

To kind of summarize all that in a slightly more entertaining way, look at the phrase “JANE LOVES DICK.” It might be a sincere assessment of Jane’s affection for Richard, or it might be a crude explanation of Jane’s affinity for male genitals. Or, depending on how you define terms, it might be both. Textually, we can change it to “Jane loves Dick” or “Jane loves dick,” and that largely clarifies the point. Verbally, we’d probably use wildly different gestures and inflections to talk about Jane’s office crush and her organ preference. And in either case, we can say something like “Jane–Jane Sniegowski, from Accounting–loves Dick Travers, the executive assistant. Mostly, she loves his dick.”

The net result of all this is that in any communication, there is some loss of information, of specificity, between the speaker and the listener (or the writer and the reader). I have some specific interpretation of the ideas I want to communicate, I approximate that with words (and often the approximation is very close), and my audience interprets those words through their own individual framework. Hopefully, the resulting idea in my audience’s mind bears a close resemblance to the idea in mine; the closer they are, the more effective the communication. But perfect communication–loss-free transmission of ideas from one mind to another–is impossible given how language and our brains work.

I don’t really think any of this is controversial; in fact, I think it’s generally pretty obvious. Any good writer or speaker knows to anticipate their audience’s reactions and interpretations, specifically because what the audience hears might be wildly different from what the communicator says (or is trying to say). Part of why I’ve been perhaps overly explanatory and meticulous in this post is that I know talking about language can get very quickly confusing, and I’m hoping to make my points particularly clear.

There’s one other wrinkle here, which is a function of the timeless nature of things like written communication. What I’m writing here in the Midwestern United States in the early 21st Century might look as foreign to the readers of the 25th as the works of Shakespeare look to us. I can feel fairly confident that my current audience–especially the people who I know well who read this blog–will understand what I’ve said here, but I have no way of accurately anticipating the interpretive frameworks of future audiences. I can imagine the word “dick” losing its bawdy definition sometime in the next fifty years, so it’ll end up with a little definition footnote when this gets printed in the Norton Anthology of Blogging Literature. Meanwhile, “ambiguity” will take on an ancillary definition referring to the sex organs of virtual prostitutes, so those same students will be snickering throughout this passage.

I can’t know what words will lose their current definitions and take on other meanings or fall out of language entirely, so I can’t knowledgeably write for that audience. If those future audiences are to understand what I’m trying to communicate, then they’re going to have to read my writing in the context of my current definitions, connotations, idioms, and culture. Of course, even footnotes can only take you so far–in many cases, it’s going to be like reading an in-joke that’s been explained to you; you’ll kind of get the idea, but not the impact. The greater the difference between the culture of the communicator and the culture of the audience, the more difficulty the audience will have in accurately and completely interpreting the communicator’s ideas.

Great problems can arise when we forget about all these factors that go into communication and interpretation. We might mistakenly assume that everyone is familiar with the idioms we use, and thus open ourselves up to criticism (e.g., “lipstick on a pig” in the 2008 election); we might mistakenly assume that no one else is familiar with the terms we use, and again open ourselves up to criticism (e.g., “macaca” in the 2006 election). We might misjudge our audience’s knowledge and either baffle or condescend to them. We might forget the individuality of interpretation and presume that all audience members interpret things the same way, or that our interpretation is precisely what the speaker meant and all others have missed the point. We would all do well to remember that communication is a complicated thing, and that those complexities do have real-world consequences.

Our First Last Supper

So, everyone else has already blogged about our Monday night mayhem, even including someone who would have only been there in spirit, if such a thing existed. I’m a little late to the game, admittedly, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

As I mentioned, last Monday ’roundabout 3:15, Jon and Jess climbed into my station wagon, and we barreled down the rural roads to arrive about 40 minutes before Google Maps suggested. Which put us there an hour and a half early.

After wandering around like fools for a bit, I gave UofI alum Eric a quick call, and we were soon in the right building. Along the way, I picked up a weird Christian newsletter called “Christ is Victor,” which I assumed would lead to hilarity later (it did). Now, I’m not much of a Christian, but I seem to recall Christ’s name being Jesus, not Victor. Is there another Christ I haven’t heard about? Besides Craig, I mean. Maybe Victor Christ is the one responsible for bringing Jesus back from the dead! “It took three days, Igor, but look! It’s alive! Aliiiiive!”

Once in the right building, I began an epic quest for the men’s room, meeting Ben from the Gateway Skeptics along the way. Turns out that Ben and Flavin (at least) were both attendees was an attendee of the Society of Physics Students meeting that was held at Augie a couple of years ago, so this is the second time I’ve met them him. This time was better, as I wasn’t conducting an awkward trivia contest at any time during the evening.

We decided to go find seats, and it’s a good thing we did. The place was fairly empty when we got in, which meant we were able to get seats close to the front. While going up the stairs, I noticed that we passed a guy in a black trenchcoat and hat. I can’t say I thought much of it, until he came down toward the stage and I realized that beneath the oh-so-theatrical outfit was The Amazing Randi himself. That was pretty cool.

While Randi and the techies started setting up, I was just enjoying the feeling of being in an auditorium where I could be reasonably certain that the vast majority of people around me believed the same things I did. Just in my immediate vicinity was someone wearing a Champaign-Urbana Freethinkers t-shirt and two people in the “Science: It works, bitches” t-shirt from XKCD (which I want desperately). It was tremendously liberating; someone remarked at the ease with which 80-year-old Randi hopped onto the stage, I said that it was because he knew The Secret, and we all shared a hearty laugh. I was even able to tell the “why women love Jesus” joke, out loud in a room full of people. Yeah, it’s a small and fairly childish thing, but damn if it didn’t feel good.

Not much happened until I noticed Akusai, Magus, and (though I didn’t know who he was yet) Wikinite come down the aisle. We traded introductions and handshakes, and they sat behind Jon, Jess, and me (carefully avoiding the obviously broken seat). We all talked a bit about various things: our favorite trolls, the new waves of atheist/skeptic bloggers, what we expected from the evening, and so forth.

At some point, a girl in an “Atheists, Agnostics, & Freethinkers” t-shirt sat down near our group, and joined in various conversations going on around us. She seemed nice and all, but…she was really into being an atheist and really trying hard to impress everyone with how much of an atheist she was. Yet, she seemed kind of clueless; now, I don’t expect all atheists to be active in the blogohedron or anything, but she seemed genuinely surprised by some of the really, really basic arguments and names and so on. I don’t know, I kind of got a “protest too much” vibe off her; the Action Skeptics crowd got more of a “trying to seduce someone/anyone” vibe. Both seem like valid hypotheses, but I’m not in a hurry to validate either one.

Anyway, the first speaker of the night was Nobel prize winning biologist Richard Roberts (HT to Akusai and Wikinite for the link), who while interesting, clearly didn’t win his Nobel prize in public speaking…or anthropology, or history, or psychology. It would be easy to say that I’m only drawing the comparison because of the “white-haired British biologist talking about atheism and religion” connection, but he really was like Dawkins-lite. To the point where he was saying a lot of the things that Dawkins says, or saying things that sound like what Dawkins says, and not understanding why Dawkins says those things. The most egregious mistake (on that particular front) was his mention that he thinks religious indoctrination is child abuse. He didn’t elaborate, and it was pretty clear that he was trying to echo Dawkins, but Dawkins’ contention is with religious labeling–calling children “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Jewish” or even “Atheist” children–not with parents’ rights to raise their kids to believe what they want. While I’m sure he’s got issues with that too, it’s much more morally muddy territory, and there’s no good solution to indoctrination that doesn’t remove essential parental rights.

There were other problems with his speech as well; his definition of Bipolar disorder was, in a word, wrong, and his ideas about the development of religion were overly simplistic at best. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a variant on the Courtier’s Reply (in this case, “how much have you studied religion”) and thought it was a valid criticism. On a more technical note, it’s clear that Roberts was working without notes, and while I found the brevity of his PowerPoint presentation refreshing, it was a little too brief, offering him little guidance with the points he wanted to cover (and leading him to decide on occasion “I don’t want to talk about that”). He could have done with a little more of everything, and consequently we all could have done with a little less of him. At least his anecdotes were entertaining, and it’s always nice to listen to British men talking about biology and atheism.

After Roberts, someone from the UofI Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers group gave an overly long introduction for the man who needed none, James Randi. I’m not sure entirely how much I can say about Randi’s speech; he did some neat tricks to underscore our collective assumptions and imperceptions, he did a neat bit of magic, and he brought out a nice homeopathy debunking that taught me things I didn’t know about Zicam (not actually homeopathic, that’s why it works) and HeadOn (apply directly to the trash can). He was funny, informative, terse, and incredibly sharp, and it was just an absolute joy to listen to him.

Highlights of the Randi talk: calling Montel Williams a “whore,” talking about an Israeli mentalist (“no, not that one”), talking about that Israeli mentalist, and propositioning his magic trick volunteer for coffee and dinner as if he were a shy schoolboy. Randi? Awesome.

After Randi spoke, they opened up two mics on the floor for questions. I don’t remember if this kid was first or second, but one guy–heretofore referred to as “The Preacher”–started off with (some variant of) those dreaded words “before I get to my question…” It seems to be a rule that 95% of the time, people who say “before I get to my question” are going to hog the mic talking about stupid shit that no one wants to hear for a very long time. The Preacher didn’t disappoint. He began with a lengthy, rambling story about how he was involved in a hit-and-run car accident, which he survived “by the grace of God,” and how he was so ashamed of it (so ashamed that he decided to spend five minutes telling it in excruciating detail to a roomful of people). He said we all have things we’re ashamed of, something about God, and (as nearly everyone in the room was calling for him to get to the point) finally ended with “can science prove love?”

Roberts and Randi answered in unison: “No,” then moved on to the next question. I could write a blog post parsing out a longer answer (and touching on the inanities inherent in the question), and Bronze Dog already did, but that was adequate for the time allotted. Akusai wrote a bit more to give context to the answer, and mentioned his brilliant “Someone taze him, bro” comment, but since you’ve already read his post, you already knew that.

The Preacher stood at his mic for a good long time, periodically asking “can I just finish point,” and at one point screeding* off into John 3:16. As if no one in the room, no one on stage, had heard “For God so loved the world yada yada yada” before. What is it about (certain) Christians that either makes them think that “John 3:16” is some magic convert-the-heathens incantation (see also: John 14:6, the “Sinner’s Prayer,” etc.), or that they’re the first people to ever mention it to atheists, despite its omnipresence in our Christianity-soaked culture?

Other people (at the other mic) asked more relevant questions while they cut The Preacher’s mic. That wasn’t exactly the end of his tenure at the head of that line, sadly. You almost have to admire his tenacity; he stood there for a good ten minutes or more, even after someone else took the mic away from him to ask a question. A few other theists asked questions (including the girl in front of me in line), but were generally more polite (if not more coherent) about it.

When I got to the mic, I briefly thanked both of the speakers for coming and mentioned how much I enjoyed Flim-Flam, then asked how they deal with having to answer the same questions and debunk the same things over and over, year after year, without losing hope. There were some noises of approval and understanding around the audience, so I clearly wasn’t the only person with that particular experience (obviously, since Akusai and Magus were in attendance). Randi mentioned the importance of education, and that we do make some progress. I can’t hate Roberts, for all his speech’s flaws, because his answer was more-or-less tailor-made, comparing it to education and “if you reach even one student, then it’s a success.” Like everything else he said, I have some reservations with that as well, but it was a surprisingly apt answer.

After the Q&A was done, I stuck around, thanked Dr. Roberts, and humbly asked Randi for a picture and an autograph. He very kindly obliged, though his fountain pen didn’t work (that wasn’t a joke about his age–he actually had a fountain pen) and he was forced to use a ball-point. He expressed surprise that I owned a hardcover of the book, and I mentioned that I got it on Amazon after his column talked about the problems in the Prometheus Books printing. And then this:

It’s not the best quality picture, but it’s not the picture that matters. It’s the memory of doing something I’ve dreamed of for years–something that, given average human lifespan, I doubted I would ever do. I met James Randi. How cool is that?

After the picture taking and autographing, we met back up with the various skeptics and followed a pirate treasure map toward an initially-elusive pizza restaurant called Papa Del’s. The conversation continued more or less non-stop from then until we got back to our cars at the end of the night, encompassing everything from “Preacher” (the comic series, not the microphone troll) and the current status of Spider-Man to the truth value of cake and the morality of pirated video games, among other things. And the pizza! Oh man, the pizza would have been divine, if there was such a thing. In any case, it was easily the best deep-dish I’ve ever laid tongue on.

As soon as we saw the tables at Papa Del’s, Jon suggested that we take our very own Last Supper picture, something that Jon and I do whenever we get a chance. This time, though, there were almost enough people for the whole crew.
I'm pretty sure this picture means that Magus and I fathered a line of holy descendants or something.
I got to be the big guy, by virtue of how we sat down, but I personally think it should have gone to Magus, who has a much more Jesusy look. I will maintain, however, that Jesus was an avid drinker of Mountain Dew, and that any Last Supper is made better by having a James Randi book in the middle of the table.

The whole thing was a blast. I was incredibly glad (and a little relieved) that I got along with the Action Skeptics guys as well in person as online. But I’ll talk more about that in another post. Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic experience, far better even than I’d hoped, and I hope we can do it again. I’m probably not going to WizardWorld this summer, so that leaves me with a free weekend and a little spending money. Maybe next time we can move it a little farther south, maybe bring Bronze Dog and Bob in on the action.

Anyway, I leave you with the words of Randi:
Just like on the Swift columns!

*Yes, “screeding.” I made it up, and I like it.

Post-Potter Updates

So, I finished the book ’round a quarter to 4 today. You can see my spoiler-free reactions here. I thought everything tied up quite nicely. Rowling has said not to rule out another book, and I’m against it wholeheartedly, with one exception. Text is whited-out for the spoilerphobic: SPOILERS POSSIBLE
I wouldn’t mind a book following Ginny and Neville at Hogwart’s over the course of the “Deathly Hallows” year.
And even that should be pretty spoiler-free, but beware just in case. Other than that, I’d prefer that Rowling close the book on the Potterverse. But, yeah, great book. Possibly the best in the series, definitely the best since Goblet of Fire.

In other news, as per your recommendations, I swiped The Mote in God’s Eye last time I was at home, as well as a couple of Samuel Delaney novels. I bought Isaac Asimov’s Robot Dreams, since I’m not quite ready to jump into another novel just yet, and I’ve got quite a few other sci-fi novels waiting on my bookshelf, from Bradbury to Zelazny. I haven’t made much progress in The Color of Magic, I’m sad to say, and The God Delusion has sat unread on my desk for a week or two now, due to class readings and then Harry Potter. But I’ve got a couple of weeks coming up that appear to be mostly empty, and I’m hoping to fill them with a book or so a day. Considering I plowed through 400-plus pages in Harry Potter yesterday, and that was just between classes and for a couple of hours at night, I don’t think it’ll be much of a problem.

So, I’m declaring open thread for the comments of this post. Feel free to rant and/or rave, share your thoughts about the book, and feel free to be spoilery. From this point onward, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!