A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 280 pages
Read from September 26, 2018 to October 5, 2018.

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant man, I don’t think there are many that can deny that (well, maybe a few religious fundamentalists). All over the world, the science community mourned the loss of Hawking this last spring when his struggles with ALS came to an end. Hawking made powerful contributions to the realms of physics, he was also an accomplished author and was one of the most recognizable faces of a modern-day genius. After his passing, I meant to finally read one of his books and while it’s a bit delayed I did finally manage to. I clearly did not know what I was getting into.

Despite being an English major, I have always enjoyed the sciences. That is, except for physics because I fucking suck at it. That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the questions that physicists have, it’s that my brain isn’t capable of doing the equations to solve them. I’m still interested in the process and the conclusion, just when someone else does them and then I can read about it later. Having said that, this book was by no means a cakewalk and I would be lying if I said I understood it all. The first part of the book gently sucks you in as the content feels like a nice refresher on high-school level physics. You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope. sh I do not know the target audience that Hawking was aiming for as some parts of this book break down the concepts so well that any beginner can grasp them but the once the quantum physics comes in and Hawkings starts talking about black holes, he just assumes that his brief intro to physics basics will be enough to understand the hard concepts and theories he then elaborates on for the rest of the novel.

Would I say this book is enjoyable? Not really. Is it worth reading? Yes. Is it important? Yes. Despite its challenges this book is probably as simple as these complex concepts are going to get and it’s mind-blowing to look at our world, space and the universe from this perspective.

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”

 

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

“Everyone may be ordinary, but they’re not normal.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from August 14, 2018 to September 11, 2018.

Further down the rabbit hole I go as I try to read all of Murakami’s extensive list of published works. I picked this one up because a friend had read it an enjoyed it and well, the title; it’s definitely peculiar but it is an understatement to the strangeness of this plot.

There are two parallel narratives with many unnamed characters that take place in this book; The End of the World is full of whimsical beasts and a town where everyone is content, though neither joyous or unhappy because they do not have shadows. The End of World is narrated by a newcomer who is trying to figure out how to rejoin with his shadow while also continuing his work as the dream reader at the local library. The other realm, Hard-Boiled Wonderland, is set in a futuristic world and the narrator is a divorced loner and data processor who comes to help a rogue scientist with his data while meeting his chubby, attractive daughter. The curious and scandalous events with the scientist, bring the data processor to his local library to try and learn more about his experiences, in which he meets the attractive librarian that will help him unravel some of his questions. Little does the data processor know, that the events that take place with the scientist will alter his reality and leave him with an unfathomable choice. As this extensive metaphor unfolds, you come to realize that the choice the data processor makes mirrors of that of the newcomer in The End of World…

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Micah Lidberg
Image created by Micah Lidberg. Source: Paddle8

I’ll just say this now. This has been my least favourite Murakami novel so far. While I appreciate what Murakami was trying to draw on with the conscious and the subconscious mind, he failed on delivering it in an enjoyable and cohesive manner. Murakami literally spent pages, trying to explain all the details to get the reader to understand his complex metaphor and the differences between the two worlds. The setting and the characters were not that engrossing and the metaphor was too forced and waaaaay to drawn out. The End of World was the most fascinating place but I also found the nuances and complexities of Hard-Boiled Wonderland less so. I also got really tired of the way the data processor viewed the chubby underaged daughter of the scientist (especially with the emphasis on her weight) and the sexualization of the librarian. I know it wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without weird sex, that is something I like about Murakami, but this scenario just did not work for me.

I still enjoyed enough aspects of this book to give it a fair rating but it is not a book I would partake in again (even if it meant potentially understanding and appreciating it more) nor would I recommend it as a go-to Murakami read. It is a whimsical read with fun and intriguing aspects but it is also an ambitious read as it’s literally a 400+ page metaphor. If you’re up for the challenge and are prepared for its intricate strangeness and philosophy you might find more enlightenment and enjoyment from this book than I did.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from July 22, 2018 to July 29, 2018.

Is there a book list out there that doesn’t have this book on it somewhere? Probably not. This book has been awarded numerous accolades, most recently the Golden Man Booker prize for this year. As a Canadian, this book has been on my to-read list since my university days, especially since I have already read In the Skin of a Lion, which I sadly have no recollection of. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what this novel was about prior to picking it up so I was happy to see that the plot is set during WWII as I do enjoy historical-fiction from that era.

WWII may have just ended but not in the minds of those who were deeply involved in it Hana is a nurse who has refused to leave her post at a war-time hospital in Italy despite it being abandoned and still within the vicinity of landmines. She will not leave a burn patient who is barely alive and has no memory of who is he or how he got here. A family friend, who also served, comes to find Hana and ends up staying with her at the hospital. They are then joined later by an aloof stranger who is also can’t stop being a soldier and is having trouble letting go of the war that has traumatized them all.

As a reader, you are kept at length from all the characters in the book, despite their dire emotional states thus following how the characters themselves keep each other and their feelings also at a distance. At first, I was intrigued by the approach and eagerly read my way through the first half of the novel, however, the last half felt like a slog as the intrigue wore off and I realized how the story and the characters were going nowhere. The burned patient, this unknown person who has lost their memory, was initially very compelling especially with the relationship he had with Hana, but I felt the details of his story got too messy and drawn out that by the end that I didn’t end up really caring who he was despite his eventual connections to everyone. The story of this book is like a slow-moving dream including the muddiness that often comes when you dream.

With all that said, I did enjoy Hana’s character and story and there were aspects of this novel that I loved. The story transported me to the historical setting and I did find myself wrapped in that world long after I finished the novel. Many readers feel that this book is somewhat of a love story and I find that is a bit of stretch. I feel the story is more about on the characters trying to heal through each other from their individual traumas and the unique bond of the war that connects them in the strange abandoned hospital.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel I just wanted more out of the story than what was provided but it was still a worthwhile read. This story would suit any historical fiction fan and while I cannot remember much of the plot from In The Skin of a Lion, I read that the two are more meaningful if paired together.  Perhaps a re-read is in order?