Category Archives: book reviews

A year of books (5): where did the summer go?

Time now for the fifth instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this. This strange pandemic summer went by in a blur.  Thank goodness for the books along the way. 

Rotherweird (Andrew Caldecott, 2017). What a marvellously indescribable book – urban fantasy, I suppose.  It’s the story of a strange town, in but not part of England, populated by eccentrics both evil and good (it takes a while to figure out which are which).  There’s a portal to another world, a mysterious threat to that world and to the town, and a generous helping of other oddnesses (for instance, a scientist who pole-vaults across the town’s rooftops at night). There’s a strong flavour of Ghormenghast, somehow leavened with a little AnkhMorpork, and… well, I did say indescribable, right?  But hugely enjoyable, and the two sequels are absolutely on my reading list. Continue reading

A year of books (4): Snow into summer

Time now for the fourth instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this. I’ve got eight books (or series) for you this time.  When I started the first, there was snow on the ground; I finished the last on a hot summer day.  And yet – a curiosity of Fredericton’s climate – it’s was only six weeks!

 

The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay, 1984-86).  This is actually a trilogy: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road.   I’ve been re-reading old favourites a lot lately and these are very near the top of my list.  They’re epic fantasy, à la Tolkien (Kay helped edit some of Tolkien’s posthumously published material) – but with much more humanity, more adult relationships, more lyrical writing, and many more surprises (revealed connections, along the lines of what made N.K. Jemesin’s Broken Earthso astonishing).  Now, “better than Tolkien” would be fighting words for many fantasy buffs (a fight best undertaken with an elven sword, of course), but if anything qualifies, to me Fionavar is it. Continue reading

Mathematics (and the rest of science) for human flourishing

I read a lot of books, both technical and not.  Some I struggle through; some I enjoy in a forgettable sort of way; and some grab me and promise to stay with me.  I recently finished Francis Su’s Mathematics for Human Flourishing, and to cut to the chase, you should read this book too.  What’s that? You’re not a mathematician?  Well, neither am I.

Actually, this book is only sort of about mathematics.  First, as Su says in his opening paragraph, Continue reading

A year of books (3): reading into the pandemic

Time now for the third instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this.  Perhaps surprisingly, the pandemic lockdown hasn’t increased my reading rate much – although it has increased my baking rate, my Wii Golf playing rate, and most recently, my cab-view-train-trip-youtube-video-watching-rate.  Anyway, on to the most recent stack of books.

The Word is Murder (Anthony Horowitz, 2017). This is a murder mystery, but a rather light and playful one (those who don’t read murder mysteries may find that a strange idea).  It’s also one with a gimmick: the author is also a character.  I don’t mean just that it’s told in the first person; instead, the author Anthony Horowitz literally appears as the narrating character, with the same name and background, frequent references to his other books, and so on.  The Word is Murder has lots of things I enjoy in a book: a carefully constructed British mystery, details of something I don’t know much about (in this case, acting school), and a connection to books and the world of writing.  But I can’t decide if I liked this book a lot or merely a little.  The gimmick seemed a bit gimmicky, and the carefully constructed mystery sometimes felt a bit, well, constructed.  There’s nothing wrong with a quick, light read; but next time, back to Peter Robinson or P.D. James. Continue reading

Sharing the unwritten lore: “Being a Scientist”, by Michael Schmidt

How do people learn to be scientists?  We’re very good at teaching our students how to titrate a solution, take a derivative, label a dissected earthworm, or calculate the p-value from a one-way ANOVA.  One might get the impression that learning these skills is an important part of training to be a scientist.  Well, arguably they’re not unimportant; but they’re more skills used by scientists that they are skills that make us scientists.  In Being a Scientist: Tools for Science Students, Michael Schmidt tackles the much more interesting question of that latter set.

Being a Scientist covers the softer skills that let scientists do what they do: philosophy, creativity, reading and writing, and so on. Continue reading

A Year of Books (2): duds and diamonds

Time now for the second instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (David Sedaris, 2010). Wow, this is a peculiar little book.  It’s a set of 16 very short stories, each one a parable featuring some human quirk (usually, a detestable one) bestowed on a heavily anthropomorphized animal that gets an extremely unpleasant comeuppance.  (I did say it was peculiar).  It took me the first third of the book to decide that this was more than just sophomoric, but once I did I was amused – albeit in a sort of stiffly disapproving way.  I’m not sure if the parables got progressively more clever, or if I just adapted to see more cleverness in them.  By the last, I was chortling.  That last parable, by the way, features a greased-up gerbil sent by an owl to evict leeches from the rectum of a hippopotamus. (I did say it was peculiar.) Continue reading

A year of books: a beginning

This year, I promised to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the non-academic books I read. Wondering why I’d do such a thing?  Click here for an explanation.

I’ve been tweeting these books as I finish them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, but tweets are constrained to be very short and are inconveniently impermanent.  So, I’ll collect them here, with slightly less “mini” minireviews, as occasional blog posts.  This is the beginning: seven books in January and early February.*  Continue reading

A year of books – and why

This year, I’ve decided to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the books I read.  I’ll tweet them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, and periodically collect them here.  Now, I’ll forgive you if you don’t care (in which case, you’ve probably already clicked away).  Actually, I expect most folks won’t care.  But for those who are still here: why?

A goodly few of my colleagues on Twitter track paper reading, often with the rather ambitious #365papers hashtag. Continue reading

Even more great reads from the history of natural history

Image: Jackdaw by ivabalk, CC0 via pixabay.com

Research for my new book has had me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Some are well known, some are obscure; some are old; some are new. (Some were borrowed, and this time around, one was blue.)  Here are four more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.

Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names (Moss 2018, Faber and Faber).  This charming book explores the etymologies of the common names of birds. Continue reading

Publishing in English as an additional language (a view from outside)

Last fall, I was asked to “blurb” – to provide some pithy promotional phrases for – a new book: Corcoran, Englander, and Muresan’s “Pedagogies and Policies for Publishing Research in English: Local Initiatives Supporting International Scholars  It’s a book about how training can be provided to support scholars who want to publish research in English, despite having English as an additional language (that is, being EAL writers).

I’m glad I agreed to read and blurb Publishing Research in English, because it turned out to be fascinating.  I’m not reviewing it here, though; instead, I want to share a few interesting points I picked up from the book.  Some are things I knew; some are things I didn’t. Some are things that may find global agreement among EAL writers; others are doubtless quite different.  If you’re an EAL writer, or if you advise or teach EAL readers, I hope you’ll share your reaction in the Replies. Continue reading