The Rabbi's Cat 2 is the unexcitingly-named sequel to Joann Sfar's charming The Rabbi's Cat. It collects two volumes originally published separately in France, "Heaven on Earth" and "Africa's Jerusalem."
I didn't like this as well as the first volume, though it still has a great deal of charm and wonderful moments. The first story features Malka of the Lions, which can only be a good thing and which I enjoyed tremendously. But its very end contains what appears to be an explicit political comment on Israel, and then I get all dithery about not knowing enough to evaluate the comment. Your mileage obviously will vary.
The second story is introduced thusly:
For a long time I thought there was no point in doing a graphic novel against racism. That stance seemed so totally redundant that there was no need to flog a dying horse. Times are changing, apparently. Chances are everything's already been said, but since no one is paying attention you have to start all over again.
Which rather spoke to me.
The story is a road trip through Africa in search of a rumored Jerusalem with an intact Temple. The cat's master is initially dubious about the idea of black Jews ("look: blacks, they have slavery; Jews, they have pogroms. It's a lot to bear. Now imagine a people that had both at the same time. It just can't be."), but he and a number of companions eventually set out on the quest. I again enjoyed this to the end, though I have difficulty judging its didactic level. As for the end, I read it in a radically different way from a friend, who suggested (spoilers, obviously) that it was a particularly Jewish mode of storytelling. Her reading makes more sense to me, and I suspect that it is more consistent with the author's intention, but that ambiguity is worth noting.
Recommended if you like the first one, but not quite as strongly.
The ninth and tenth volumes of Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist continue to be excellent. These contain an arc of consequences from volume 4 (the Lab 5 arc and associated developments), which are exciting, emotional, and surprising. And, to my joy, include much more in the way of characters acting collaboratively, which was a thing that annoyed me about the original anime. I only disliked one thing, where I felt that drama overrode logic in the timing of a revelation, but it was minor. Read them together, as volume nine ends on a cliffhanger, but definitely read them.
I'd heard people speak highly of Neil deGrasse Tyson's science writing previously, but it wasn't until his Daily Show appearance (and sequel) that I made reading something by him a priority. Death By Black Hole: and Other Cosmic Quandaries seemed like the best place to start.
This is a collection of esays first published in the magazine Natural History, slightly edited for continuity and changes in scientific knowledge, and organized into seven sections:
- The Nature of Knowledge: The challenges of knowing what is knowable in the universe
- The Knowledge of Nature: The challenges of discovering the contents of the cosmos
- Ways and Means of Nature: How Nature presents herself to the inquriing mind
- The Meaning of Life: The challenges and triumphs of knowing how we got here
- When the Universe Turns Bad: All the ways the cosmos wants to kill us
- Science and Culture: The ruffled interface between cosmic discovery and the public's reaction to it
- Science and God: When ways of knowing collide
As this suggests, the book is at least as much about ways of knowing and approaching the world as about scientific theories and discoveries. I think this adds to its appeal and scope. For instance, I really liked the chapter "Stick-in-the-Mud Science," about what you could learn about the universe with a straight stick hammered in the ground somewhere with a clear view of the horizon—not only is it fascinating in its own right, but Tyson also points out that this demonstrates that ancient stone monuments like Stonehenge are not so extraordinary as to require extraterrestial intervention. See also the chapter "Things People Say":
The North Star is the brightest star in the nighttime sky. The Sun is a yellow star. What goes up must come down. On a dark night you can see millions of stars with the unaided eye. In space there is no gravity. A compass points north. Days get shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. Total solar eclipses are rare.
Every statement in the above paragraph is false.
Many people (perhaps most people) believe one or more of thse statements and spread them to others even when a firsthand demonstration of falsehood is trivial to deduce or obtain.
Tyson also describes straight-out science clearly and entertainingly, such as this discussion of orbits:
The most extreme example of an elongated orbit is the famous case of the hole dug all the way to China. . . . [Except that to] avoid emerging under two miles of water, we need to learn some geography and dig from Shelby, Montana, through Earth's center, to the isolated Kerguelen Islands.
Now comes the fun part. Jump in. You now accelerate continuously in a weightless, free-fall state until you reach the Earth's core—where you vaporize in the fierce heat of the iron core. But let's ignore that complication. You zoom past the center, where the force of gravity is zero, and steadily decelerate until you just reach the other side, at which time you have slowed to zero. But unless a Kerguelian grabs you, you will fall back down the hole and repeat the journey indefinitely. Besides making bungee jumpers jealous, you have executed a genuine orbit, taking about an hour and a half—just like that of the space shuttle.
I am also fond of the offhand statement that ultraviolet light (UV) is bad for you because "it's always best to avoid things that decompose the molecules of your flesh."
There are a few repetitive bits by the book's nature as a collection of columns, and even the paperback has some unfortunate copyediting goofs (e.g., mixing up "its" and "it's"), but on the whole I enjoyed this enormously and highly recommend it.
The Demon's Lexicon is the first book in Sarah Rees Brennan's trilogy of the same name. It's due out June 2; I read an ARC.
In this contemporary fantasy, there are many different kinds of magic in the world, but the strongest comes from summoning demons and allowing them to possess unwilling victims in exchange for power. Years ago, Nick's mother stole something from a particularly deadly magician, and his family's been on the run ever since. The magicians killed his father, and his mother is crazy and terrified of Nick, so it's effectively him and his brother Alan against the world. Alan is the only thing that matters to Nick, but now he's in immediate danger of possession and—even more troubling—Nick is beginning to think that Alan has been lying to him all along.
The book is tight-third from Nick's point-of-view, which is a strength and a potential weakness. I admire its tightness, but Nick's viewpoint is a difficult one—when I said Alan was the only thing that matters to Nick, I meant that literally. There's another person in danger of possession who's come to them for help, and neither he nor his sister naturally appeared in the plot summary above, because I was using Nick as the way into the story. I also felt that some of the jokes Nick cracks—perhaps all of them—didn't really fit, either the situation or my sense of his character. So while I was anxious about Nick and Alan's predicaments and eager to find out how they would resolve, I still felt a bit of reserve about the book because of its difficult and distancing voice.
This was particularly an issue early on, when I think the wisecrack density was highest, and I'm not sure I would have kept reading if I hadn't previously enjoyed the author's nonprofessional fiction and she wasn't a friendly acquaintance. But since I had that goodwill, I finished the book, and I'm very glad I did. I love the direction the story takes, and I can't wait to see how Rees Brennan meets the challenge she's set for herself. If you try the book and like any part of it, I'd recommend sticking it out until the end. (But I still don't believe in Nick's sense of humor.)
You can read the first chapter online. Also, the Japanese edition cover by Hiromu Arakawa is the very best cover in the world (much better than the U.S. cover, I think, which Chad says gives off girl cooties like whoa).
I hate it when I re-read a book and discover that it's not as good as I remember. Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld absolutely enthralled me when I first read it—I distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table in my D.C. apartment during a college internship and being dimly aware of my roommates coming and going, but being unable to stop reading to say hello or move somewhere more comfortable. I re-read it recently when I was thinking about post-Tolkien fantasy with beautiful prose.
Sybel is a wizard and the daughter of wizards who have buit a menagerie of fantastic animals by calling them—summoning them by name and binding their wills. Her only desire is to call the Liralen, a great white bird with trailing wings: until Coren, one of the Lords of Sirle, comes to her gate with an infant, her cousin and a pawn in the struggle between Sirle and the King of Eldwold. The story is about power, revenge, and what one will, won't, and should do for love.
The prose is exquisite, the characters sympathetic, the moral and emotional dilemmas gripping, and the magic numinous. But on this re-read, two things bothered me. The first was small: "Blammor" is a terrible name, especially for a thing of dread and terror. The second, alas, is large: the very ending struck me as an unnoticed undercutting or contradiction of what I took to be the moral force of the entire story. As a result, I'm not sure I can recommend this book any more, which is too bad, because it had been the one novel of McKillip's that I really liked.
Perhaps I should re-read the Riddlemaster series and see if it makes any sense to me now.
I recently asked the Internet for recommendations for personal finance education resorces, and from the resulting discussion, grabbed two books from the library (as what was in at the time): Burton G. Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, and Andrew Tobias's The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street is more theory than practice, as it is a thorough but readable book aimed at one thing: making the case that it's not a good idea to pick stocks, or as Malkiel puts it,
No one can consistently predict either the direction of the stock market or the relative attractiveness of individual stocks, and thus no one can consistently obtain better overall returns than the market. And while there are undoubtedly profitable trading opportunities that occasionally appear, these are quickly wiped out once they become known. No one person or institution has yet to produce a long-term, consistent record of finding money-making, risk-adjusted individual stock-trading opportunities, particularly if they pay taxes and incur transaction costs.
He starts by describing where stocks get their value, then analyzes traditional and more recent ways that professionals try to pick stock, all in support of his proposition. There were occasionally points at which I had to stop and re-read, but I was often reading this with a sleeping infant in my arms, which has the usual small-mammal sedative effect. On the whole, I found this an engaging and—more importantly—convincing read. The last section has recommendations at a range of detail, from general principles to a specific portfolio. Malkiel has another book, The Random Walk Guide To Investing, but it wasn't in the library, so I don't know how it compares.
Tobias's advice in The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need tracks Malkiel's as far as they cover similar topics, but Tobias also has suggestions on things like reducing spending, tax strategies, and planning for your family. His book is much chattier, but it knows that it's not always taking itself seriously (example: the appendix titled "Cocktail Party Financial Quips to Help You Feel Smug"). If you don't mind that kind of tone, it's worth a look: its greater detail on specific financial products helped me get oriented and feel more comfortable on the more concrete level. I recommend them both.