I’ve written about the book an embarrassing number of times before, but I’m very excited about the upcoming movie adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. If you haven’t read it, you should do so. Now. It’s a beautifully written, deeply moving mind-blowing adventure. I’m tempted to read it again for the, what, third or fourth time now?
Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I. It’s this handwritten, illustrated manuscript that turned up in 1912. Some Italian book dealer, Voynich, had acquired it. 240 pages of illustrated prose. It appears to have sections on botany, astronomy, cosmology and pharmacology, among other subjects.
And not a word of it is in any known language. Even the letters are alien. Nobody knows what they are. Even the botanical drawings are of unknown plant species.
Carbon dating seems to validate the book’s antiquity, placing its creation somewhere in the early 1400s. As for what it means–who wrote it and why–the best cryptographers and linguists have come up with no clear answers.
Utterly fascinating! I think I’m going to read a book on the subject. The original manuscript is at Yale, but they’ve just placed high res scans online, so dig in.
So, what’s your theory? Here’s a fun one.
I was about 17, staying up late drinking coffee with some artsy friends, when I had a very odd book put into my hands. Not a word of it was in English. Or any other language I recognized. It was filled with drawings. It resembled a naturalists notebook, the kind of thing Darwin might have written in when sailing the Galapagos. The drawings of flora and fauna were mesmerizing–and completely alien. Absurd, even. It was a catalog of plant and animal life from another world, written in a non-human language.
Long after that night I remembered that mesmerizing art book and wished I could have another look at it. But I never got one. I didn’t know the author or even the title. Years later, Google searches turned up nothing. I guessed I would never know what it was or ever see it again.
Boingboing.net wrote a piece called “Codex Seraphinianus: semi-licit copy of a semi-legendary book of the weird.” I had found it. That blog post led me to a download of the entire book in pdf format. This makes me very happy.
Since then, however, the links have stopped working. You can no longer download the book. Armed now with the title, you can see there are two bound books on Amazon purporting to be it: both selling for hundreds of dollars.
Anyway, I got mine.
Or whatever it’s called. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Where Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple went, Google has now followed with their own eBook store.
I’m glad, actually. My only real complaint after having read a dozen or more eBooks is that sometimes the book I want isn’t available electronically at all. The price, the software, the whole experience, is very satisfactory otherwise. And perhaps a new player on the field means number of titles for me to choose from will increase.
A note for traditionalists. I know. You like real, honest-to-God books. The ones made of paper. You like holding them. You like the way they smell. You like folding the corners of pages or scribbling in the margins with pencils. And by God you aren’t going to give all that up for a bunch of beeping, heartless ones and zeroes. I get it. But you know what? Before eBooks? I myself read one or two of these paper things. And I feel the sentimentality as well. Here’s the thing, though. There are two kinds of books. There’s the kind you want to collect and keep on a shelf, and there’s the kind you just read and then store in a dusty cardboard box somewhere in your crawlspace, never to be looked at again until the day you put them on your front lawn and sell them two for a buck next to your old kitchen gadgets and some chipped Christmas mugs. No one wants to take away your right to a high quality book. But not everything you want to read is of the collectible variety. So get over it.
Back to it. Google is selling their new service as unique in that it stores your books in “the cloud,” allowing you to read them on a variety of different devices–even a web browser.
Yawn. In truth the web browser thing is neat, but I can already read my Kindle books on a wide variety of devices–including a Kindle. And it took exactly one day for Amazon to announce that they too will now allow Kindle books to be read via your favorite web browser. So, like I said: Yawn.
The only really unique thing about what Google is doing is that they’re allowing small booksellers to front-end their library–while taking a cut for themselves, naturally. Some people are saying this is a good thing, as these sellers are an integral part of the publishing industry and if books become largely electronic, this model gives them a place in it. Me, I’m undecided on that point. But it is the one truly interesting thing that Google is doing that nobody else is.
Incidentally, where are the college textbooks in eBook format? Anyone? Methinks there is a lot of vested interest in keeping it from happening. Otherwise wouldn’t they be all the rage by now?
This is relevant to my interests: The Walking Dead, a zom-polcalypse comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. When I unexpectedly got my hands on the entire series the other day, I dug in. And boy is it good. I’m halfway through it now and I keep thinking “this would make great TV.”
Which is a good thing, because AMC is developing a television series out of it, set to premier on October 31 of this year. Will it be good? You tell me.
I can’t wait.
What do you get when you take A Wrinkle in TIme, wrap it in Harriet the Spy and drizzle on some Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? I don’t know either, but if the idea intrigues you I know you’re going to love When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. It won the Newberry Medal earlier this year and it won me over yesterday.
Sixth-grader Miranda lives with her mother in 1970s New York City. Like all 12-year-olds, she has to deal with school, friends and all the usual coming-of-age type stuff. Unlike other 12-year-olds, she also begins receiving anonymous notes from someone who appears to know the future. Amidst the bullies, best friends and mean girls, Miranda tries to solve the mystery of the notes. On top of all that, her mother is trying to win The $20,000 Pyramid game show.
Put this book into the hands of the young readers in your life. They’ll thank you later. Better yet, it would be great read aloud together.
A couple of months ago I downloaded the free Kindle application for iPhone. E-readers seem to be taking off right now what with the success of the Kindle device itself and competitors from Sony and Barnes & Noble. Plus there’s the coming juggernaut, iPad. I figured I better give this phenomenon a try.
Reading a book on your iPhone seemed like a pretty silly idea. The screen’s too small.
But it isn’t. I mean, it’s not optimal. But it’s acceptable. This is not just a quick judgement, either: I’ve now read six and a half books on the iPhone using Amazon’s Kindle application. Six and a half. That includes the first six of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series plus half of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.
Two things I’m particularly enjoying about the experience: First, I get instant gratification, downloading a book in about 30 seconds; second I can shut off all the lights and read in bed using white text on black so as not to blind myself.
Note: I specifically chose King for my first e-reading endeavor because I know his stuff accessible and engrossing. Whatever challenges awaited me in e-reading-land I did not want one of them to be the reading material itself.
I want to swipe my credit card at a computer kiosk, search through a database of every book ever written in any language on earth, make my selection and have the freshly-printed result tumble out a chute. Nothing will ever be “out of print” or “not in stock.”
Or who needs a kiosk? Maybe I want to do the search and the ordering at home, have the book printed on-demand and then shipped to me.
And if I’m one of those brave e-reading souls, just downloaded digitally to my reader.
I want this. And I don’t see any reason why I cannot have it. So why do I not have it? The technology is already in place.
If you haven’t read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, you really should. Some people disliked it, I know. But I think it’s marvelous. This passage caught my eye this morning. You must first understand that the main character is a castaway in a lifeboat, alone except for a Bengal tiger. (How? You should read it!)
Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love–but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.
At such moments I tried to elevate myself. I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S HAT!”
I would pat my pants and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ATTIRE!”
I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud “THIS IS GOD’S CAT!”
I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ARK!”
I would spread my arms wide and say aloud, “THESE ARE GOD’S WIDE ACRES!”
I would point at the sky and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S EAR!”
And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.
But God’s hat was always unraveling. God’s pants were falling apart. God’s cat was a constant danger. God’s ark was a jail. God’s wide acres were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn’t seem to be listening.
Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they ere spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.
In my late teens and into my early adulthood, I was a genuinely religious person. It’s true that I didn’t often attend religious services of any kind, nor did I openly subscribe to any one tradition or another. But I was, nonetheless, a firm believer–a devout practitioner of a faith system all my own.
Some years later I eventually arrived at a point where I said “it’s as true to say that I do not believe in God as it is to say that I believe.” From there it was a short jump to calling myself what I had obviously become: an atheist. The journey of how I got there is another story. Suffice it to say at the moment that I did in fact get there.
I think it is this personal history which allows me, a nonbeliever, to enjoy Pi Patel’s “better story” more than some of my commenters did. I think the better story–the religious view of things–has value, beauty and sometimes even powerful moral import. This should be no surprise. I spent many an hour in prayer, many moments in my day-to-day life finding god in all things, and many a year in college studying those better stories. I immersed myself in them, milked them for all they were worth–and they were worth a lot.
Still, the chief difference between Pi and myself is that I don’t think his “better story” is interchangeable with the empirical facts. Finding value in a story isn’t the same thing as the story being real, or interchangeable with what is real.
Pi’s story is remarkable and worthwhile. He is wrong, however, in asserting that it’s exchangeable with the evidence-based truth.