To Kill A Mockingbird

Read the book To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I’d heard much about it and am glad now that I read it. The book is narrated through Scout, a 6 year old girl. It is set in the 1930s in Maycomb, a sleepy Southern US county. The novel is a Bildungsroman, as we follow the adventures of Scout, her elder brother Jem and their summer vacation friend Dill through their years, we also see significant events happening in the county and how these events shape their thinking. Scout’s dad is Atticus, a honest free thinking lawyer. About half of the book sets the stage by introducing the county, the neighbours of Scout, her adventures in school and most importantly the society of the America of those years. The real deal is when Atticus has to defend a black named Tom who has been charged of raping a white girl. As Scout and Jem follow their dad’s court ordeal, they also perceive the change in the county towards them (this is Southern USA remember?). It changes their thinking about people and society and starts moulding them into maturity.

The book won a Pulitzer Prize. It was also made into a highly acclaimed movie which I’m now eager to see. I loved the book, couldn’t keep it down once I started on it. There are several aspects in the book which endeared it to me — of lost innocence, of racism in the USA, of small town America, of the 2-tone view of a child’s world and of how the world is a total complicated mess. Through all the hell around him, Atticus stands as steady as a rock for his children, always making them think about the answers to their queries of the world around them. Lee was apparently inspired by the Scottsboro Boys trial for this book. From what I know, under its shiny veneer racism still lurks in the richest nation of the world. This book is just as relevant today as it was in 1960. Eminently readable.

[ Cover of the 1967 Penguin Edition reprint, this is the one I read from.
I couldn’t find a better cover pic on the internet. ]

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Getting What You Came For

I read the book Getting What You Came For (The Smart Student’s Guide To Earning A Master’s Or Ph.D.) written by Robert L. Peters. This is a revised edition published in 1997, but most of the stuff holds good even now. The author gives tips for everything from the time you are in undergrad, applying for grad studies, choosing your adviser, doing research, getting your thesis done, dealing with stress and managing time. The book is quite comprehensive in its coverage. I skipped over chapters which weren’t relevant for me. The ones which I found most useful were the tips about managing time and stress. Hopefully, I should be able to deal with this better now. I think this book helped me quite a bit (if only I can apply whatever I’ve learnt in it). I recommend it to all who are finding grad school hard and stressful. The only downside of the book was that it has very few engineering/science specific advice.

The Crying Of Lot 49

Trying to put into words the experience of reading The Crying Of Lot 49 is extremely hard. This is an early novel from Thomas Pynchon. Set in 1960s California, the story is said from the viewpoint of one Oedipa Mass. She is called upon to co-execute the will of her former rich boyfriend Inverarity. While working on that, she comes across an intriguing symbol of a muted post horn in a bar bathroom one night. She begins to try to find out what it represents. Over the next several days as she doggedly pursues the real meaning of the symbol, she discovers an underbelly to the world around her, an alternative postage system that has existed since medieval times and still being used today. In the end, the existence of her discoveries is left hanging in the air. It could be real or she could be imagining things.

The book is quite thin. Had it been any thicker I might have given up. Pynchon’s work is dense, complex, bizarre, dreamy, funny and sarcastic. The reader discovers slowly page by page, bit by bit along with Oedipa a bizarre world and what the symbol might mean. The world presented by Pynchon is rich in detail and here the real and imaginary combine and become indistinguishable. What the book leads to might be either gibberish or prodigal, but the journey is damn tripping. I’ll bet not everyone can describe this book or what it really means in a definite way. I need to reread this book someday.

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

I read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” (Adventures Of A Curious Character) this weekend. In this book, physicist Richard Feynman recollects various interesting and funny anecdotes from his life. Such as his physics research, childhood, beautiful females, topless bars, art, music, languages, winning the Nobel Prize, universities, life as a professor etc. This guy is surely one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across. I’m a Feynman fan now!

Thanks to all of you who commented so much about Feynman and this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your recommendation.

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