“Moonglow” by Michael Chabon

Chabon plays heavily with the boundary between novel and memoir (for starters, the narrator is a novelist named “Michael Chabon”), jumping back and forth to various points in his grandfather’s life (as a Jewish boy in Philadelphia, a soldier in WW2 chasing Werner von Braun, a husband post-war, and as an old man and widower in the near-past). The “is it real or not?” aspect reminded me of a wonderful experience in high school reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (taught by the co-proprietor of this lovely blog); I have resisted the temptation to try to find out what parts are real-real. Overall I thought a wonderful story. I will admit to finding one thread (relating to the history of the narrator’s grandmother) a bit puzzling — I didn’t feel like it exactly fit in — but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

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“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri

This novel takes the Maoist insurrection in northeastern India as its motivating force; a student revolutionary is killed by police, and his death dominates the lives of his parents, brother, and widow.  Most of the story takes place in the US, though characters return to Calcutta at several key moments in the story.  I found the story deeply sad, moving, and wonderful to read.

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Gauss and Minnesota

Until a colleague told me about it, I had not known that there is a Gauss family connection to Minnesota: Carl Friedrich’s second son (first by his second wife) Eugene had a falling out with his father, came to America, joined the army, and was stationed at Fort Snelling.  A more detailed version of the story is available here.

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I occasionally joke about how small the population of Wyoming is.  Nevertheless, it is shocking to see numbers like this: Liz Cheney won the competitive statewide Republican primary for an open seat in the House of Representatives with fewer than 2500 votes.

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“1066 and all that” by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman

Since I was near the site of the Battle of Hastings, I decided to read up on British history.  1066 and all that is parody, playing on a particular Anglo-centric view of the universe, but you actually have to know a bit of English history to appreciate many parts of it.  On the whole, entertaining.  Two short selections to give a sense of the thing:

During this reign the Hundred Years War was brought to an end by Joan of Ark, a French descendant of Noah who after hearing Angel voices singing Do Re Mi became inspired, thus unfairly defeating the English in several battles.  Indeed, she might even have made France top nation if the Church had not decided that she would make an exceptionally memorable martyr.  Thus Joan of Ark was a Good Thing in the end and is now the only memorable French saint.


Other benefactors [of the Industrial Revelation] were Sir Isaak Watts who invented steam-kettles, and Sir Robert Boyle who had them legalized.1

1: Boyle’s Law: (“Watts pots never boyle”).


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Runaways — update

This very strange story has finally been resolved, more or less: the mother has been convicted, with sentencing and the trials of the co-conspirators still to come.  The extra-special highlight is that Michelle MacDonald, her crazy lawyer, is running again for a seat on the state Supreme Court.  Presumably the Strib endorsing the qualified and non-crazy incumbent will get enough people to the polls to keep her far away from elected office.  Go if you live in a relevant district, go vote on Tuesday!


Update: in the primary, the incumbent Hudson won a solid 65% of the vote, but MacDonald goes through to the general election as well.  Also, congrats to my soon-to-be new state representative Ilhan Omar (Strib 1, 2).

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As I mentioned, after Vancouver I went to a conference at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, England.  It was mathematically excellent, and I feel that BBC detective shows properly prepared me for my first visit to the UK.  Trees in England are more familiar to me than those on the west coast
Herstmonceux_beechalthough I do not see many 300+-year-old chestnuts in the US.


The conference location was an old castle (really, a manor house done up to look like a castle), something we also don’t have many of here.
Herstmonceux_castle Herstmonceux_castleorchardHerstmonceux_castlewindowsThe grounds were at one point in the 20th century owned by the Met Office, so there are lots of telescopes and a geodesy facility nearby.


Herstmonceux is not far from Hastings, and we took an outing to the location of the Battle of Hastings:


The castle had some sculptures, possibly by Hilary Manuhwa (but there were works displayed by several Zimbabwean artists, so I’m not certain it was his):


Herstmonceux is a very rural area; this was the only nearby commercial establishment. Herstmonceux_inn

Also, I learned lots of stuff about reflection groups of various types, and met some German mathematicians whose work I have been thinking about a lot recently.

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