Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Brief Dissertation Break!

And ... the dissertation rewrites continue.  I am in the midst of redoing the conclusion (chapter 6) and I will hopefully hear back about the revisions to the previous two chapters soon.  Honestly, right now I am super nervous about whether or not I will be able to graduate in May which is keeping me up at night, constantly thinking about my research (How in the world you you turn "worrying" off?!).  But there is a positive to being up in the wee hours of the night -- I have been reading like a man woman!  And, luckily, there are a stack of books sitting right next to my bed.

So I have a goal with this blog entry -- not only will I "write," something I need to be doing all the time but I also have two books to recommend that were sent to me via the fabulous Indiespensable Subscription program through Powells Books (one of the best independent book stores EVER over in fabulous Portland, OR).  Basically how this program works is like this:  About every 6 weeks, the good folks at Powells pick a newly published book usually from an independent press.  The book often comes in a slip box and is signed by the author.  Along with the book, Powells packages your read with some other goodies that have some connection with the book (even if that connection is not super clear to the reader).  For example, the last book I got -- Orfeo by Richard Powers -- came with some super cool "Hot Chocolate on a Stick" and some yummy popcorn.  The character in the book, Peter, eats a few times so maybe that is the connection?  No fears, though -- both of these treats were delicious (and long gone).

The first of the two books that I want to mention came a few months back and I just finished it recently (it spent its first few months in my house living on my bed side table since I was already reading a few other books).  But wow!  What a book!  The book I am talking is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (and she signed the front page o f my copy in purple ink!).  

You may have heard of this book before -- I think it has won a ton of prizes.  Here is what Powells has to say about it:

This story about a boy named Theo Decker, who loses his mother in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, does so many things well, it's hard to know where to begin. Its sprawling Dickensian plot? Its extraordinary cast of characters? Tartt's sublime sentences? Or complex, compelling, heartbreaking Theo at the center of it all? As Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times put it, The Goldfinch is "a novel that pulls together all [Tartt's] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading."   Tartt's fans old and new will devour it.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot -- so I don't give anything away -- but I was mesmerized by the characters right away.  And once I hit the last 80 pages or so I literally could not put the book down.  It isn't the type of read that I usually get into but it was amazing.  Simply breathtaking and amazing.   I haven't read Tartt's other critically acclaimed books -- The Secret History or The Little Friend -- but I am putting this on my "To DO" list!

We had yesterday off from SWIC (Lincoln's Birthday!) so instead of jumping into revising that chapter I needed to be working on, I slept in (something I don't usually do) and then took a long, leisurely bath in which I finished the book I had been reading until about 2 AM earlier that day -- Orfeo, the book I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry.  

This was a book that -- at first -- I had a hard time getting into since the plot has much to do with musical compositions.  But then it hit me -- Powers' main character, Peters Els, is a composer of music much in the same way that I am composing language.   Like I did above, here is the short summary from Powells:

Peter Els, a classical composer who dabbles in microbiology, gets fingered as a bioterrorist and, after a national manhunt is launched, spends the rest of the novel on the lam. He revisits the seminal people and music from his past and contemplates the decisions that shaped his life's work. A gorgeously written, masterfully plotted, deeply moving story of one man's quest to create something genuinely new, Orfeo is both a thrilling read and a deeply satisfying novel of ideas. 

Anyone who is into classical music -- or composing -- is going to latch on to this book right away.  It took me a little longer to connect to the whole thing but the idea is amazing -- Peter Els is using chemistry as a way of composing music.  As someone who is deeply interested in how people "compose," I am so disappointed with myself that it took me a hundred pages or so for me to recognize that what Els is trying to do with chemisty and classical music is what I am trying to do, in some small way, with my dissertation (so does that mean reading this novel equals dissertation work?).  How we compose -- heck, even what we compose -- is a brilliant place to think and write.  

So the lesson here?  Powells is doing a great thing with their Indiespensable project -- I don't think that I would have ever read either of these books on my own.  Sigh ... back to Chapter 6 now!

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