Tag Archive | House of Anansi Press

The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos

Neil Turok — House of Anansi Press, 2012 — 9781770890152

This book was 2012′s Massey Lecture, written by Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Turok looks at technological revolutions of the past several hundred years, and how they changed our understanding of the world. He then looks to the future and the possibility of quantum computers, which could process information on a scale much more vast than what we are used to now and again change our perception and interaction with the world around us.

Limited understanding or fear of physics need not be a deterrent from reading this book. Luckily for me, the last chunk of The Information had a basic explanation of the notion of quantum physics, but Turok also does a decent job of explaining relevant concepts to the reader. I found some of the text to be repetitive from chapter to chapter, but since this book is a series of lectures that are each delivered in a different city across Canada, some repetition is necessary.

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of the book, and the lecture Turok delivered in Toronto, was his contagious enthusiasm for physics and his belief that, despite its inherent complexity, anyone can come to understand it. The Perimeter Institute holds regular free lecture nights open to the public, and they consistently sell out. During the Q&A portion of the lecture, several of the (rather intelligent) questions were from young children, and Turok answered each of them with the respect and explanation they deserved.

Less of an explanatory text book, but rather a passionate call to learn more about the world of physics. Not to mention, infinitely better than last year’s lecture. (In 2013, the lecturer will be Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes.)

[#108_10.18.12–11.11.12]

Winter: Five Windows on the Season

Adam Gopnik — House of Anansi Press, 2011 — 9780887849749

For the past few years, I’ve attended the annual Massey lecture when it comes to Toronto. This year marked the first time I had gone without reading the book ahead of time. I really tried with this one: I even purchased five copies of the book so I could own all five unique covers, and had them all signed. And yet, despite suggesting it for my bookclub I could barely start it, much less finish: I only made it half way through the first essay.

A friend sent me this article profiling Gopnik, and I think this quote perfectly sums up my thoughts.

At their best, the Massey Lectures have served as a forum for major thinkers to present the core of their vision, and it’s unclear as yet whether Gopnik as a thinker rather than as an agile stylist has the depth and breadth to meet the high standards the series has established.

Gopnik selected an incredibly general (yet fittingly Canadian) topic and, while he can certainly demonstrate his breadth of knowledge, I’m not sure he has the depth (at least with this book) to strengthen any arguments he makes about winter in our culture. Saying, for example, that explorers conquered the winter of the north when they opted to name geographical features means nothing. The same thing happened in the south, and it happened anywhere that was “discovered” and needed to be named. Also distracting was the introduction dedicated to examining the problem of writing down a lecture that is going to be delivered verbally, yet one that people may read beforehand. Every single Massey lecturer had this problem before you, Gopnik, and they managed to surmount it! For that matter, so do speech writers! Deal with it!

Perhaps I’ll have to wait until there is a fresh layer of snow on the ground to be in the mood to try this one again.

[#88_11.18.11]

Player One: What is to Become of Us

Douglas Coupland — House of Anansi Press, 2010 — 9780887849725

This is the 2010 edition of the CBC Massey Lecture Series. For the first time, the lecture was a novel as opposed to a 5 part non-fiction essay. (Although I think Margaret Atwood set somewhat of a precedent with Payback, since one of the chapters included a short story.)

This was my first time reading Coupland, and the novel itself was interesting. The premise is that five people are isolated in an airport cocktail lounge while a disaster takes place around them. Coupland explores themes of identity in a time of omnipresent technology, religion, story telling, and society in general.

However, I’m not sure a novel suits the format of this lecture series. If you buy the book and read it all at once, you’re fine. But for those attending the lectures (which take place in five different Canadian cities with one chapter read per city, always ending in Toronto), I think it must have been frustrating to hear only a part of the lecture and wonder what happens next in the novel. In the past, each chapter of the book has tended to be it’s own case study, allowing for individual consumption. I’m not sure Coupland was focused enough in each chapter to allow for this type of lecture. Perhaps in the end he felt the same way, since he spent a good deal of time explaining what happened in the previous chapters of the book before launching into the final reading.

Then again, since story telling is one of Coupland’s themes, maybe that was the point of the book. To look at how a novel differs from an essay when it comes to spoken performance, and how it is affected by being separated into pieces. If so, then that’s pretty brilliant.

In any case, it was nice to see the Massey Lectures shaken up a bit.

[#43_9.20.10–10.16.10]

Annabel

Kathleen Winter — House of Anansi Press, 2010 — 9780887842368

I tried to read this book twice. Each time I was put off by its sombre tone. I just wasn’t in the mood to read it, despite wanting to find out what happens in the story (intersex child who is raised as a boy in remote Labrador).  I’ll give this book one more shot, but it will probably be a while.

[#32_7.14.10; 11.2.10]

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

Wade Davis — House of Anansi Press, 2009 — 9780887848421

I’ve read the Massey Lectures every year since 2004 (although I missed the 2005 title by accident and the 2006 on purpose). My goal is to read all the titles in this annual lecture series.

[#5]

Cockroach

Rawi Hage — House of Anansi Press, 2009 — 9780241144442

Not bad. A bit bleak, but that’s the point. I suppose, upon further reflection, it’s a good account of the immigrant experience. These are the types of books I struggle with most — what I call “plot-less” books. But this one has more of a plot than others. The parts where the main character “is” a cockroach were nicely written, I think. At least, they stick in my mind.

[#3]

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