Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2013 Reading: Greed

Why do I do this - read five books all at once?  The first is an audiobook: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a book I've been dying to read for a long time having come across the author give a hugely impressive talk at at a TED conference some time ago.

The second is a non-fiction book on my kindle The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks.  So far it has been dealing with a condition called alexia where a patient suddenly finds himself unable to read.  There followed a fascinating discussion on how all human cultures seem to be able to read and that there is a part of the brain, at the back, I believe, which seems to be devoted to the process.  Even my nephew, who is badly autistic and rarely speaks, can read and write when motivated to do so.  Given that people have only been reading for thousands of years this is unlikely to be due to natural selection and therefore seems to fly in the face of evolutionary theory.  Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Darwin's co-originator of the theory, thought so.  But Sachs argues that it is not so.  Humans can read because they are using a part of the brain which was evolved to decode clues in our environment.  It develops through a lifetime's use, and when a stroke destroys it the result is word blindness.  

My third is another kindle book bought just out of curiosity: The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes - a name I hear a lot and have also been determined to read.  The first story was spiky and funny.  It concerned a couple who watch a documentary about crack cocaine and decide immediately to give it a go.  As you would.

The fourth is a yellowed copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos which I haven't really started yet...except I looked at the first page which made me want to stop doing everything else and plunge straight in, but I didn't because I am determined first to finish...

my fifth book: The Vagrants by Yiyun Li.  This one of my last books about China and I bought it about four years ago.  I recently finished the author's  book of short stories A Thousand Years of Good Prayers which won the Guardian First Book Award and enjoyed very much.  This seems darker and is based on a true story.  In the Spring of 1979, Gu Shan, a twenty-eight year old woman, is executed for her loss of faith in Communism.  It follows various citizens of the town on the day of her renunciation and reminds me so far of Jon Mc Gregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - which is odd, I know, because that book uses lyrical language and is based on a street of people in the northern English midlands and features no capital punishment whatsoever.  


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