2016 Book Challenge- A Book Published this Year
Maybe in Idaho March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but in Malaysia it is more like a steady fire-breathing dragon on both ends of calendar. It has been a scorcher here for the last few weeks, which really just gives me more of an excuse to hide inside with the air conditioning and my book. With that in mind, I should have gotten through more books than I did, but somehow my monthly count only comes to ten, which is the lowest for the year so far, but still not a shabby output. I strangely ended up on a WWII era reading kick, not by any intention, but rather because I was given two books to read that both fell into that time period and then my months-long hold on The Nightingale finally came through- all in the same week! But, even with my WWII-streak, I’ve opted to go with “a book published this year” for this month’s reading challenge, which means none of these period-pieces, but rather a very recent publication: A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin.
I was unsure of this book at first. I saw it pop up in several of the book publication sites I follow, as well as on the cover of BookPage, but wasn’t ready to commit to 588 pages dedicated to mathematics. (Never “math.” The protagonist, a genius in the field refused to give in to the modern, shortened nomenclature.) Enough of my trusted recommendation sites went with it in February and when I found it was ready for immediate checkout at the library, I was sold.
Milo Andret, our brilliant mathematician, dedicates his life to solving the unsolvable. He works endless hours to keep ahead of his fellow academics who are live for the same mission. After solving a famous mathematical conundrum, he gains fame and is awarded top honors, and yet he struggles to move on from that one moment of glory. His personal life is a mess and his lack of self-censorship causes problems for him with his university. At one point he seems to be on the path to ultimate success, but he sabotages himself at each turn.
The one part of this book that I really struggled with (other than the technical math, but deep understanding of those concepts are not necessary to the narrative, although I am sure it would help!) is the stereotype of a disconnected mathematician that Canin writes Andret to be. Andret is a loner, deeply focused on his work, unable to connect beyond a physical level with women and shows little connection even to his own children. Not having run in the academic circles that Andret does, maybe this stereotype is based on a well-documented personality type in the field, but from the outside it seems a bit like a play on the Asperger- kid who is brilliant in a given area but lacks all social and emotional tools for survival.
Overall though, it was a fascinating read with some narrative/literary twists thrown in the keep readers on their toes. A month ago I would not have guessed a mathematical-based novel would be one of my top picks for the year so far, but it wheedled its way into one of those spots. A bit of a tome, it is a long read and not meant for lounging at the beach, but as winter wraps up for many of you, this might be the last great sit-by-the-fire-and-enjoy book until fall.
In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge
_____ A book published this year _____A book you can finish in a day
_____A book you’ve been meaning to read
_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian
_____ A book you should have read in school
_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, best friend, child or sibling
_____ A book published before you were born
_____ A book that was banned at some point
_____ A book you abandoned previously
_____ A book you own but have never read
_____ A book that intimidates you
_____ A book you’ve read at least once