Books, Professional Development

Book 507: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? – Alan Alda

Only two ARC/Galleys left and I am all caught up! The same publicist who sent me Finally Out reached out about this book and the title had enough humor in it I figured it was worth a shot.* I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would!

What Alan Alda—I didn’t even recognize him from M*A*S*H (IMDb link), I just recognized his caricature—is doing is what the Plain English Campaign (website) has been trying to do since the late 70s, just through a different venue: improv. Both are trying to get things translated from the indecipherable jargon of science or government into easily relatable language. Alda, has basically made a side career out of this with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where the observations he made from his many years on Scientific American Frontiers are put into practice to teach scientists how to talk to non-scientists.

Continue reading “Book 507: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? – Alan Alda”


Book 54: The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman - Simon WinchesterThe complete title of this work is The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary and it fully lives up to this title. It is the history of Professor James Murray (the Professor) and Dr. W.C. Minor (the Madman) and their serendipitously linked lives through one of the greatest feats of the English-speaking world.

It’s a fascinating combination of historical novel about the Oxford English Dictionary and Biography of its longest editors (Murray) and greatest contributors (Minor). If there’s one major critique I have is that it often felt like the author purposefully used a ridiculous synonyms when a simple word would suffice. However, with his obsession for lexicography and the OED in particular, it’s not too surprising.

Click here for the recommendation, quotes and the rest of the review.


Book 9: Bella Tuscany – Frances Mayes

You can’t help but love the way Frances Mayes writes her books. You can tell she has a background in literature, but truly loves writing. Her rich descriptions and colorful asides take her beautiful memoirs from just being books to being journeys. Having read Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in the World, when I found out Ms. Mayes was speaking as part of the Lowell Lecture Series at the Boston Public Library I had to go and listen. I had a brief opportunity to speak with her after the lecture about A Year in the World and her growing up in the South, however it is her time and writings in Tuscany which brought her into the public eye and to Boston in particular.

In Bella Tuscany we once again join Ms. Mayes and her partner Ed and their various friends, acquaintances and neighbors in Tuscany. We are immediately reintroduced to Bramasole, their house, which is almost a character in its own right with a unique and quirky personality. Although it has been a few years since I read Under the Tuscan Sun, the similarities in the beautiful writing style and the ill temperament of Bramasole remain. There are a couple of sad portions of the memoir, but the ebb and flow of life in San Francisco and Cortona, Italy show that with sadness comes change and the future.

Click here to continue reading.


Quotes from You Shall Know Our Velocity – Dave Eggers

“They were dressed magnificently, one in the yellow of a rose, one in a rich and ancient orange, the third in a late-evening blue–three queens sitting on folding tables…” – 50

“He wants to make sure God wants him to live. So he spends a lot of time asking. He brings himself close to the edge and he feels God’s breath on his back. If God wants to take him, all he needs to do is blow.” – 72

“They were busy devoting their attention to traveling, to watching the progress of the boat–instrumental in traveling is the witnessing of passage. And I was traveling, too, I was serious about it.” – 160

“I grew up obsessed with dragons, knew everything, knew that scientists or people posing as scientists had calculated how dragons might have flown, that to fly and breathe fire they’d have to be full of hydrogen, at levels so dangerous and in such tremulous balance that– I wondered quickly if I’d give my life so that a dragon could live. If someone offered me that deal, your life for the existence of dragons. I thought maybe yes, maybe no.” – 180

“Her English was seamless. Everyone’s was. I had sixty words of Spanish and Hand had maybe twice that in French, and that was it. How had this happened? Everyone in the world knew more than us, about everything, and this I hated then found hugely comforting.” – 220

“We knew nothing; the gaps in our knowledge were random and annoying. They were potholes–they could be patched but they multiplied without pattern or remorse. And even if we knew something, had read something, were almost sure of something, we wouldn’t ever know the truth, or come anywhere close to it. The truth had to be seen. Anything else was a story, entertaining, but more embroidered fib than crude, shapeless fact.” – 238

“To travel is selfish–that money could be used for hungry stomachs and you’re using it for your hungry eyes, and the needs of the former must trump the latter, right? And are there individual needs? How much disbelief, collectively, must be suspended, to allow for tourism?” -253

“There is a corner of the sea that is deep but not so deep that it’s black. It’s the blue of a blueberry, violet in its heart, though this blue allows light through its million unseeable pores. The hue is evenly painted but electric, a klieg light pushing through a gel of cyan.” – 310