Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, by Steve Strogatz

I love this book. My only regret is that I couldn't read it in high school, when I was *actually* struggling with math. At this point (having degrees & math & math education & have spent over a decade teaching the subject and/or teachers of it), I read it more from the point of view of, "How could I use pieces of this with students and/or the teachers that I work with?"

In these 30 short essays--a couple of which I had read before in his Time column--Strogatz begins at the beginning (with the concept of counting) and winds his way through everything from basic algebra to calculus to advanced topics like group theory and topology, discussing each topic in a way that is not only friendly and approachable for the mathematical neophite (or phobic), but fascinating. And for all that the book is aimed at a general audience, I have to admit that I learned a few fascinating things about some topics that I didn't even learn in my advanced semester-long college classes. (Did you know there are real-world applications from infinite series? I didn't!)

So yes, this is a book about math, but it isn't just for math lovers. In fact, it's probably more for people who felt like they "never really got it" in school but are maybe just a little intrigued and kind of want another crack at it (in a way that doesn't involve doing homework). I also think it makes a GREAT resource for math teachers. (I used the two calculus essays as introductions to each semester of the course, differential & integral respectively. They give a really great, 30,000 ft overview that I thought might help the students see what it was we were really doing and why before we got bogged down in problem sets.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Broken Eye (Lightbringer #3), by Brent Weeks

Friends, you know my bar for epic fantasy is feet-tinglingly high. By which I mean, I hate 75% of it, find 10% of it somewhat passable, 10% reasonably good, 4% excellent, and maybe 1% utterly astounding. Three books in, Lightbringer is still a one-percenter. How does Mr. Weeks continue to impress me? Let me count the ways:
• Many complex, dynamic characters with layers of back-story. Usually I'm impressed if this is more than the main, say, 2-4 characters. In Lightbringer it's, like, half the cast of characters.
• A wide range of POV characters, and it actually works. In fact, I might even go so far as to say it's kind of critical.
• Multiple (YES!! Like MORE THAN ONE!!) amaaaaaazingly ass-kicking female characters that defy tropes & stereotypes.
• Really, really excellent writing. Gorgeous & poetic without getting flowery, & whirlwind snappy when necessary.
• The Bechtel Test. 'Nuff said.
• New spins/fresh takes on what seem at first like old tropes; he doesn't use many, but when he does, there is a narrative purpose that quickly becomes apparent.
• Some of the best dialog I think I've ever read.
• Characters you just can't pin down. You kind of love them and kind of hate them, and just when you think you get who they are and what their narrative purpose is, everything is turned upside down.
• Large-scale narrative planning that is clever, artful, and occasionally makes you think back two books & go, "Oh, SHIIIIIT."
• You will never stop guessing.

My only regret? That I didn't know going in that the last book is scheduled for 2016. :P