Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Myself a book and you a reader

Since tomorrow is the official start date for the Summer Reading Challenge, it ought to come as no surprise that I found the most incredible book on the new book cart tonight and will have to ignore the officially sanctioned ones until I've completed all its 523 pages.

How to resist a book that begins like this:

May I speak candidly, fleshling, one rational creature to another, myself a book and you a reader? Even if the literature of confession leaves you cold, even if you are among those who wish that Rousseau had never bared his soul and Augustine never mislaid his shame, you would do well to lend me a fraction of your life. I am Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, after all--in my native tongue, Philosopiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the Principia for short--not some tenth-grade algebra text or guide to improving your golf swing. Attend my adventures and you may, Dame Fortune willing, begin to look upon the world anew.

The Principia quickly gives us its history, admits that what's between its covers "isn't Mother Goose," informs us that its father, Isaac Newton, "taught parabolas to pirouette and hyperbolas to gavotte," and a mere paragraph later is explaining that books write other books whether their human scribes are aware of the metaphysics or not: "The twentieth century offers abundant examples, from The Pilgrim's Progress cranking out Atlas Shrugged, to Les Miserables composing The Jungle, to The Memoirs of Casanova penning Portnoy's Complaint."

The line that made me laugh outloud: "After Waiting for Godot acquired a taste for writing Windows software documentation, there was no stopping it."

The Principia tries its hand at a cookbook and an income-tax prep guide before writing the book currently in the readers' hands, and we drop into the main character's life (via a charm) during her eleventh year by the bottom of the fourth page, long before the charm of such an unusual narrator could turn tedious.

Although I do hope the Principia will return.

What's the book? James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder.

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