Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reading Lolita In Tehran, The Runaway Universe, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman (Notes)

I've developed the habit of writing notes and miniature reviews whenever I finish reading a book. Rather than let the notes languish in anonymity inside a USB flash drive, I've decided to publish the notes here in batches.

The Runaway Universe by Donald Goldsmith (2000) - This is a rather dense book. Because it’s filled with scientific terminologies, components of mathematical equations, and other things that can only be understood by a person who possesses at least a basic understanding of astronomy, reading it can be a very difficult exercise. But if you are one who holds fascination over the cosmos, it can be an equally fascinating read.

The Runaway Universe focuses on a particular topic – the discovery by two groups of astronomers that the universe is expanding in an accelerating rate. This is considered as one of the most important discoveries in the field of astronomy. The author also delves deep into sub-topics like the exploits of famous astronomer Edwin Hubble, the dilemma encountered by the great Albert Einstein in his attempts to understand how the cosmos works, how galaxies are formed, and what the future holds for the universe. This is one of those books that will either bore you to death or grip you with interest. Your response to its contents will solely depend on whether you like studying how the universe works or otherwise.

Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi (2004) – While reading this book, I kept on wishing that Nafisi sat at the teacher’s chair in my literature classes back when I was studying at Saint Louis University. Nafisi's passion for literature is infectious. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a masterpiece. It’s a beautiful work of art. Beautiful prose. Beautiful characters. Beautiful backdrop. Beautiful everything. And here’s the most beautiful thing about this book – it’s all true.

Mostly set in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it’s a memoir by a bold and dangerously courageous teacher who secretly gathered some of her students to read banned literature. Nafisi and her students immersed themselves in the worlds created by the likes of Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. All the while, Iran dug itself deeper into war, turmoil and instability. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a testament to the power of literature to change people and shape the course of their lives. The pen is mightier than the sword, indeed.

Nafisi often trudges down the halls of philosophy as well as she muses about literature. Take for instance the following excerpt from the book: “In his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov describes a watercolor that hung above his bed when he was a young child. It is a landscape, an image of a narrow path disappearing into a forest full of trees. His mother read a story to him about a boy who disappeared one day into the painting above his bed and this became young Vladimir’s wish as he prayed every night. As you imagine us in that room, you must also understand our desire for this dangerous vanishing act. The more we withdraw into our sanctuary, the more we became alienated from our day-to-day life. When I walked down the streets, I asked myself, Are these my people, is this my hometown, am I who I am?

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (2006) – Murakami is one of the most influential storytellers to come out of Japan. The man has proven over and over again that he is a master when it comes to knitting together stories that are unquestioningly fresh and memorable. In this collection of twenty-four short stories, Murakami tells tales populated with unique characters that include animated crows and criminal monkeys.

Murakami is a man of dark surprises. You’ll never know what out-of-this-world character will jump at you when you open another page. To describe Murakami as a man with a wild imagination would be quite an understatement. Most of the stories in this collection originally appeared in magazines that publish cutting-edge fiction like Granta, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, and The Yale Review.