Thursday, March 28, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Book club book #4

Although a little contrived in parts, Where the Crawdads Sing focuses on the life of an extremely complex character and the misconceptions people, in general, have about a person based on their environment. 

Flashing primarily through a single decade (the 1950's,) a pretty typical small town, along the edge of a North Carolina marshland, exists as you'd expect it. The handsomest boy also happens to be the football star, the diner is the best place for gossip, and tales of a wild girl, living alone in the marsh, populates local lore. She's real, The Marsh Girl, but I wouldn't call her wild.

Living out on the marsh, Kya is slowly abandoned by her whole family. Ignorant in many ways due to lack of schooling and human contact, she's smarter than you think. Right until the end of the book, the extent of her intelligence surprises. 

Owens takes you through Kya's entire life. Focusing mainly on her transition to adulthood, you watch as she becomes more and more self-sufficient. You meet the people Kya deems worthy to allow into her world. There aren't many, but as with anybody, some are genuine and good, some make mistakes and repent, and others are devious. Unfortunately, almost everyone lets her down, moving on while she stays still.

Adapting to life out in nature, Kya thrives, but being separated from the town creates a stigma about her which feeds into suspicion when the town golden boy is found dead in the marsh. Did Kya kill him? They were lovers at one point. He jilted her to marry a more "civilized" girl. Her alibi in question, Kya's arrest puts her in the most miserable place she can imagine, locked away from the natural world she needs to survive. 

Waiting trial, we follow along as evidence builds, until the big day arrives. Prejudice walks alongside everyone into the courtroom. There's no reasonable doubt among the observers. The judge even has to chastise a witness to call Kya by her name instead of The Marsh Girl. She has no personal identity. The trial is intense, and all Kya wants is to go home.

The personal journey Kya takes in this book is really interesting. How she goes from simply surviving to creating a life for herself that's sustainable and allows her to improve herself was fun to read. Of course, it's helpful she seems to have a Fairy Godfather who shows up in time to propel the story forward (the contrived part,) giving her opportunities that allow her character to grow in a worthwhile way.

I can see why this is a popular book club selection. There's definitely a lot of talk about. I would suggest reading it with others, so you can have your own conversations.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Darwin's Watch: The Science of Discworld III by Terry Pratchett

Although a little more scattered in content that the previous two volumes, the third installation of The Science of Discworld doesn't disappoint. Focusing on Charles Darwin and his contribution to our understanding of evolution, the book tosses in a little extra, covering things like time travel and analyzing the Victorian Era's contribution to thinking. Among the facts, as always, there's the entertaining tangent into Discworld where external interference makes Darwin write the wrong book and everything goes haywire.

We join the faculty of Unseen University once again who, with the help of their amazing machine, Hex, untangle the web of events that lead to Darwin mistakenly writing Theology of the Species instead of Origin of the Species. This alternative book is all about divine design, and veers just far enough off the proper path of time to have far-reaching effects. This "wrong" book delays scientific advancement, which ultimately leads to the end of the human race. Through carefully calculated interventions in time, and one eye-opening oops, the wizards attempt to get Darwin back on the right track.

Between the chapters on the progress of this all-important mission, detailed commentary covers topics related to physics, time travel, evolution, and more. Can altering one tiny event make a significant impact on history for real? Will time travel ever be more than a theory? It's all very interesting, but I found the science in this volume harder to get through than in the previous two books. The topics were all fascinating, but the technical depth, at times, was just too deep. I felt a little lost, probably due to the hypothetical nature of a lot of the science covered. I struggled to visualize concepts when theories got too technical.

I did learn a lot though, alongside the silly adventure of Darwin and the meddlesome wizards at Unseen U. It was nice that at least this time, they didn't have a choice but to meddle. 

The truth and humor mixed in this series is perfectly done and allows you to learn and laugh all at once. 

Read these first:
The Science of Discworld (Volume I)
The Globe: The Science of Discworld (Volume II)