by Julie HaleOctober, 2008
Great reading group books
The Indian Clerk
Leavitt's 12th book is an ambitious historical novel that explores the remarkable bond between two mathematicians in the early 1900s. When Srinivasa Ramanujan, an accounts clerk in Madras, sends a letter containing number theorems to G.H. Hardy, a mathematician at Cambridge, Hardy sees genius in the calculations and invites Ramanujan to England to collaborate. Enlisting a don named Eric Neville and his wife, Alice, to go to India and assist Ramanujan in his travels, Hardy, an introverted scholar and secret homosexual, awaits the young man's arrival. As World War I erupts, Alice and Eric embark on their journey, which is marked by Alice's change of heart toward her husband, and Ramanujan's poor health, all of which make traveling a trial. Fleshing out the narrative is a series of Harvard lectures given by Hardy in 1936, some of them fictional, some of them actual. Once in England, Ramanujan makes a name for himself in the field of mathematics, a topic Leavitt writes about with complete authority and assurance. He paints a vivid portrait of life at Cambridge among the intellectual elite during a time of great ferment, recreating D.H. Lawrence's stop there in 1915. Exploring the clandestine world of homosexuality in an era of rigid morality, Leavitt delivers a compassionate account of Hardy's life. This is a spirited and intelligent recreation of a fascinating chapter in British history.
The Quiet Girl
The fifth novel from Danish writer Hoeg is a quietly powerful, disturbingly surreal narrative set in Copenhagen. The protagonist, Kaspar Krone, is a clown, psychic and musician of international renown who has the uncanny power to read personalities. This he does by translating sounds - the tones and acoustic frequencies that individuals radiate. Krone's unusual talent leads him to a group of children who have a similar ability and may be able to change and distort concrete reality. When one of the children, a young girl, vanishes, Krone attempts to find her. The man responsible for her disappearance is an unhinged fanatic with an extraordinary scheme: he plans to channel the children's power in order to bring down Copenhagen's financial titans. Krone's quest to retrieve the girl and protect the youngsters turns into an unforgettable mystical journey. Add a strange sect of nuns, elements of magical realism and other boundary - pushing narrative methods, as well as discursive sections on philosophy, theology and popular culture, and you have another complex, highly original novel from one of the masters of modern fiction.
The neurologist and acclaimed author returns with an enthralling look at the relationship between music and the human brain. In his latest collection of essays, Sacks explores music's strange sway over man, a dynamic that manifests itself in profound and unexpected ways. Focusing on patients, composers and everyday people who have had extraordinary experiences with music, Sacks writes with wonderful insight about how rhythm and harmony affect both the intellect and the spirit. Now used to treat patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as those who are deaf or suffering from brain damage, music, Sacks demonstrates, has surprising restorative powers that science is only just beginning to understand. Anecdotes about people who display, unexpectedly, uncanny musical abilities, who experience musical episodes akin to epileptic seizures, give rise to larger questions about man's relationship to melody. Sacks looks at a group of children who are "hypermusical," as well as individuals suffering from what's known as amusia - the inability to hear and understand music. Examining the hows and whys of these music - related conditions, Sacks has produced a compelling group of essays. The best - selling author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and many other books, he is a winning storyteller, bringing clarity and a rare sense of poetry to science writing. A reading group guide is available online at readinggroupcenter.com.