Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On the Nightstand

Forty Signs of Rain, Kim Stanley Robinson

The author of maybe my favorite sci-fi series ever (the hugely recommended Mars trilogy) has written a three-par (I think) series about environmental disaster, replete with the usual real, hard-core science to back up everything that's happening. The touch Robinson displayed with character in the Mars trilogy seems to be missing here, with most of the largish cast of characters pretty generic and stock. That being said, a romantic subplot that should be cliched and hoary as hell (it involves a main character getting caught in an elevator with an attractive woman and sparks flying) actually works very well. This first book is really stage-setting, with not much of import happening until the last fifty or so pages, when a monster storm takes out Washington D.C. The slow build-up notwithstanding, the book served its purpose and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second book.

Aging with Grace, David SnowdonThe fascinating story of the long-term Nun Study, in which author David Snowdon has enlisted a few hundred nuns in a long-range study designed to tease out some answers around the causes of Alzheimer's, what keeps the mind sharp in old age, and other medical issues facing the elderly. To really make the study worthwhile (especially around the Alzheimer's question, which is pretty central to the study and the book), Snowdon actually convinced each nun to donate her brain to the study upon her death. The scenes in which Snowdon recalls making the request, and the life-affirming responses he received are some of the book's most emotionally powerful. Snowdon's writing is a bit plodding (he's no master prose stylist), and yet he still manages to convey the warmth and giving nature of these women wonderfully. The most intriguing conclusion wrung from the study so far is a remarkable correlation between idea density in the nuns' writing (each nun had penned a few-page autobiography before entering the convent) and the risk of developing Alzheimer's. The denser with ideas the nuns' sentences, the less likely they were to develop the disease.

Until Whenever

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