I aim to minimize the amount of un-commented-on books in 2020, so here follows some housekeeping!
Back in February, I read Braving the Elements: The Stormy History of American Weather. It opened with the importance of climate to the various peoples of the American southwest, shifted to the settlers’ growing appreciation of how diverse the North American continent was, and then trailed off with the growth of weather forecasting in the United States. It falls into that dreaded “Interesting, but Forgettable” category.
More recently, I read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Letters from an Astrophysicist, which…boy, I’m glad I borrowed instead of bought. It’s a mix of the personal and the scientific, and though I bought it hoping for enough astrophysics commentary to justify filling my Astrophysics and Cosmology category for the 2020 Science Survey, the only piece that really stood out were his letters penned in the wake of 9/11, as he shared his experience just four blocks away from the towers. There’s other content here, but it seems the sort of thing only of interest to people who really like Tyson. I’ve read and listened to him for years, but whenever he leaves the planetarium and starts writing about history or anything else I have to grimace and bear it. I still plan on reading his book about astrophysics and the military, though!
Lastly, C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Gasp, you say? Not reviewing properly something by Lewis? Well…I’ve read it before, y’see, and was reading it again for Lent. For those who’ve never encountered it, it’s an allegory about God and eternity, as a narrator finds himself wandering a grey city that is the residence of those who have not taken the hard road into paradise. Although those experiencing the lackluster existence of the grey city all have various reasons for lingering where they all, focused on their private idols, in the end it all comes down to self-worship. The intellectual who is more interested in making impressive speeches about truth instead of acknowledging it, the artist who keeps insisting his painting of the heavenly paradise would be better than paradise itself, the woman whose morbid fixation on her dead son would see her insist he be brought out of heaven and down to her — — all of them come down to the subject’s inability to get over themselves. At one point, a heavenly person who is trying to guide one of the lost into heaven asks wearily — “Could you, even for a moment, think if something OTHER than yourself?” I found it much more interesting this time around than ten years ago, largely because I’ve read a lot more of Lewis since then and frequently made connections between this and his other works. His The Four Loves frequently comments that the love we experience on Earth is merely a taste of God’s love for us — that we are seeing through a mirror only darkly, to borrow from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church. That comes up again here, when people remain focused on their mortal attachments.
I’m really tempted to throw Are We There Yet? in here, because it definitely won’t be getting a full, chatty review, but I’ll give it a couple of days.