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Reading, First Installment

There have been a few books that I’ve read over the past few years that have had measurable impact on the way I think or rationalize the world or … Whatever, they are books that I want to share with you. I also decided to post pictures of the covers corresponding to the copies I read. I don’t know why, but there you go.

Jorge Luis Borges — Ficcionnes 

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library

I figured I’d start off with, if you didn’t guess from the anthology’s title, fiction, because I haven’t really been much of a fiction-reader as of late, yet this is still something I love. It was several years ago that I was first introduced to this work, but now that my inner-linguist has fully blossomed, I know why this book was important to me. I love the idea of reifying language. Also as someone interested in philosophy this book has really excited me. Some of my favorite short stories are Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the Circular Ruins, the Library of Babel, & Funes, His Memory. And of course a title like the Garden of Forking Paths should make any linguist perk up.

Richard Dawkins — The Selfish Gene

Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence

I just happened to have read this book a few years ago without really understanding its importance or impact. Evolution, & human evolution, are not easy concepts but they enter public debate quite often so I think it’s a good idea to have a handle on what the theory seeks to explain & what evidence there is for it. This book is particularly significant for the field of biology because of its assertion that the gene is the unit of selection, not the group, kin, or species. Of course it also gave us the concept of social phenomena replicating as genes do which he called memes. If this sounds interesting, but you want something more digestible, I would recommend Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth.

Stephen Meyer — Signature in the Cell

 

I’ve been teased for wasting my precious time on obvious garbage like Stephen Meyer’s book touting intelligent design, but I’ll remind you that there are people out there reading Twilight. But seriously, I saw this book at Barnes & Noble at the Mall of America a couple of years ago & bought it because I figured it would be interesting & possibly even intellectually healthy to expose myself to an opposing perspective. And Meyer’s voice was supposedly as sound as it could get when it came to scientifically literate arguments for intelligent design. That & it was my first exposure to information theory. Well, I guess I have to say it is indeed a horrible book with horrible arguments & I should probably find a real book to read if I want to learn anything about information theory. It’s also excessively long which is likely a symptom of its meandering, flimsy delineation of evidence for ID. But in the end it was a trip reading this & I’m glad I did.

David Foster Wallace — Infinite Jest

What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic

A man of infinite jest, indeed. I read this book on my Kindle so it didn’t exacerbate my back problems as I was traveling Europe, but I can recommend this book highly in any form despite its ‘verbal onanism’. One of the characters is memorizing the OED which is of course fantastic to me. And related to this, I guess I am glad I read this book on my Kindle thanks to its built-in dictionary which proved very useful. From a variationist’s perspective, this book is very interesting as DFW changes his voice radically between chapters depending on who’s talking. I found myself mesmerized by his language use as much as I was by the story. This is a crazy book. It’s a trip. Read it.

That’s all for now. I didn’t want this to be too long. I’ll post more recommendations later.

Megan L. Risdal

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