Birthday Swag for Hardcopied Book Challenge

Birthday swag

Birthday book swag

I wasn’t planning specifically to buy any books for the Hardcopied July print-only challenge. After all, I  have six large bookcases full of actual print books, many of which I haven’t read yet. (Remember my “Reading Through the Bookcase” plan? I’m not done with that, and I’ll be getting back to it.) So it wasn’t like I didn’t already have lots of books to choose from.

But my mom died in April and left me a little bit of money. And if she were here, now would be about the time that she’d be mailing a cheque for some birthday money for the end of July.

So I bought these things yesterday, on Canada Day, to celebrate my mom and my birthday and the print-only reading challenge. I miss being able to buy books whenever I want. And two of the books were recently recommended in a book discussion, while the third is by one of my favourite authors, Joanna Trollope. So, bonus!

And those beautiful needlecrafted bookmarks I’ve got sticking out of the books? Those were done by my mom (just two small examples of some really marvelous work she did over the years). So she’ll be there while I’m reading.

 

First Hardcopied Book: The Diary of Lady Murasaki

MurasakiI have already finished my first book for the Hardcopied July print reading challenge: The Diary of Lady Murasaki. Yay! Now, granted, it’s quite short, but it still counts.

You have to be in the right mood for this sort of book. This is not fiction, but a document written by a historical figure in Japan during the Heian period (late tenth/early eleventh centuries). It’s a translation (by Richard Bowring) of a document written by a lady-in-waiting of the Japanese empress, Shoshi, around the years 1008 to 1010 or so. (For context? Around fifty years before the Norman Conquest.) It provides a lot of insight into how court events were planned after the birth of the youngish Emperor Ichijo’s first son. We get to see how the ladies who surrounded the empress behaved and comported themselves, we read detailed descriptions of how they dressed, and we get a senior lady’s opinion of the goings on. We also see  just a bit of the machinations that the men are involved in.

This is apparently one of the earliest insights into how Japanese court etiquette operated, especially since this was in a time period when people’s court roles were not quite as rigid as they later became. Historians find this period really interesting because it was right when Japan was pulling away from Chinese influence and was developing its own distinctly Japanese culture–especially a written culture. It was the Japanese women in particular (who were shut out of the official and governmental writings, still heavily influenced by Chinese) who did the most to codify and spread the newer Japanese writing. So this account (along with two other women’s accounts from the same general period–The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon and Izumi Shikibu’s diary–is very important in showing that new cultural development. One of the most important elements in this culture and in the court was the ability to create simultaneous lines of poetry, responding to moments as they happened and particularly responding to another person’s initiating of their own poetic lines.

What’s also interesting is how little actual power the emperor had and how much power the strongest families surrounding the court had instead. Yet the only way they could really get this power was to get as many family members as possible either married into the royal family or married into other powerful positions that surrounded the court. So the current (at that time) patriarch of the Fujiwara clan, Michinaga, was the one who got his daughter married to the emperor, and he is in control of a lot of the rituals that follow the birth of the baby prince. And it’s kind of amusing how, whenever the attending officials are named, you might get seventeen of them with the name “Fijiwara” and perhaps four of them with other names. Murasaki herself was from another less influential branch of the Fujiwaras.

The translator, Richard Bowring, wrote an excellent introduction explaining the historical and cultural context, and he also added Appendices that showed detailed floor plans of the rooms, apartments, and garden areas of the buildings in which the events took place. This added a lot of rich context.

So! Short but sweet. But as I say, you do need to be in the mood to delve into history in some detail. (And also, thanks to my friend, Tim, who originally sent me this book. :-) )

Hardcopied: A July Print-Reading Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt starts tomorrow! The Hardcopied challenge (see the Hardcopied Facebook page or the Hardcopied Book Club on Goodreads), in which a person decides to read only print books for the month of July, 2015. I’m doing it — are you?

A friend was ruminating recently about reading print books verses reading ebooks. There really doesn’t need to be the word “versus” in there, because both are of value. But we do read differently in each medium, and believe it or not, there are always likely to be print books in the foreseeable future. (That’s what head Harvard librarian, Robert Darnton, certainly believes, as I discuss in a review of his book.) So it’s probably a good idea to keep up our print reading skills as well as our ereading skills.

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that's another story...)

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that’s another story…)

One of the things that researchers have noticed–in general, so individual people may vary on this–is that when one’s primary reading is done onscreen, we tend much more to read in quick “jumps.” We flit from one thing to another, and our attention span does not seem to be as long. I’ve noticed this myself; I get a bit restless and start feeling an itch to go look at something else. With our screens, tablets, and smartphones, we can do this all too easily, and we never sit on one thing for all that long.

With print reading, we have to spend time. We are concentrating on one thing only, and we have to concentrate to stick with it. This makes us go deeper. It also gives us time to really think about what we’re reading. (And interestingly, some studies show that we retain things we’ve read in print form much more readily than things we’ve read onscreen. Hm.)

So I’m in! I’m going to read only print books in July. Want to join me?

The Most Wanted particle, by Jon Butterworth: A Wild, Exciting Ride

Picture of cover of the book, "The Most Wanted Particle"If you want a fly-on-the-wall view of the project that finally discovered the Higgs boson, are you ever in for a ride! It just doesn’t get better than Jon Butterworth’s new book, “Most Wanted Particle: The Inside Story of the Hunt for the Higgs, the Heart of the Future Physics” (or, as it is known more succinctly in the UK and elsewhere, “Smashing Physics: The Inside Story of the Hunt for the Higgs”). Butterworth is a physics professor at University College London and, important for this book, a member of the ATLAS project team at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). So when he talks about the “inside story,” believe me, he’s not kidding.

He describes the slow buildup to the big discovery so that, sometimes, you almost feel as though you were there yourself. You feel the dismay when, nine days after the LHC is turned on, there is an explosion, and it has to be shut down again till they find the problem and repair it. That takes 14 more months, and you understand why some people begin to wonder whether this gigantic experiment, already several years in the conceiving and building, will ever get off the ground—and whether it was worth the enormous cost. But on July 4, 2012, when the people from the various project teams are gathered together in an auditorium and the leaders understatedly begin to show the most recent data and everyone suddenly realizes what it means—that’s a wonderful day, and you want to leap up and cheer. And maybe cry, too.

Butterworth himself is heavily involved in the ATLAS project to research highly massive particles and particle physics at energies that will take us beyond what is called the Standard Model of physics. Interestingly, he himself began as somewhat sceptical of the Higgs boson and wasn’t sure it would be found. In a way, that adds a whole new layer of authenticity (as though he needed that), because it was the LHC data itself that convinced him. ATLAS and its “sister project,” called CMS, have particle detectors located across the LHC ring from each other. So the results were confirmed twice, independently, making the conclusions strong. Humanity has found the Higgs boson.

While this is a fascinating and exciting book, be prepared: you will need to gird your intellectual loins for this one, because even though it’s a “popular” book, there is a lot of physics detail. If you are not a close follower of these things, it will be easy to get lost in the various particles and what they do, what they decay into and from, whether they have mass or spin—all the quarks and leptons and gluons and Z bosons and photons and W bosons (and let’s not even get started on the antiparticles!)—not to mention charm, up, down, and strange particles. Sometimes, reading Butterworth’s descriptions of all these particles and how they behave and are detected, the best thing you can do is smile blankly and nod and keep reading. Because the basic story is very exciting, and you won’t want to miss a moment of this adventure in which one of the greatest scientific discoveries that have ever been made is brought to vivid life by one of the actual participants.

Most Wanted Particle: The Inside Story of the Hunt for the Higgs, the Heart of the Future Physics, by Jon Butterworth

2015, The Experiment

287 pages USD $33.53/CDN $33.49 (hardcover)

ISBN: 978-1615192458

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