Funny, clever, curious
This series provides fascinating snippets about the English language in ways that are both down-to-earth and self-deprecatingly snobby. Fry points out the silliness of being precious about language rules when they are mostly arbitrary and always shifting. And yet, his audience (well, this little bit of it certainly) is no doubt quite picky about the position of the apostrophe. He chides us in a gentle, interesting and above all, amusing way. I listened to this audiobook on a rather boring car drive and found myself smiling frequently and occasionally even LOLling.
The Magic of Reality is positioned as a book for children and teens, and compared to the complex biology of most of Dawkins' other books and the vehement arguments of The God Delusion, this is certainly his most accessible of books. But it would be a mistake to think this book is only for younger listeners. It is certainly accessible to them and includes a number of delightful anecdotes and analogies that take complicated ideas from the world of science and make them intelligible to all. But is remains entirely true to the complex laws of the natural world it is concerned with and thus is fascinating listening for all ages. I loved the way each chapter, which centres around a central question or concern, begins by looking at how humans in different eras and on different continents have tried to make sense of this issue. What is the sun? How has the sun been understood through the ages? What do we, with the benefit of modern science, understand the sun to be now? The scientific process is also masterfully explained. The narration is clear and enticing. This makes for a wonderful present for children and teens and, indeed, for adults.
Atwood can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. Her genius is such that I'm not sure that she's really one person. Each of her novels belongs to entirely different genres and her voice can be male, female, old, young, and even not entirely human. I suspect that it may one day be revealed that she is in fact the owner of a bizarre novel-producing labour camp that enslaves writers to produce histories, romances, science-fictions and most every other kind of novel. The real question is how she manages to find and keep such a range of incredibly talented authors producing such wonderfully enjoyable tales.
Having said this, I found the Penelopiad to be not-her-best work. I love the idea of a feminist retelling of Homer's Greek epic. I think she was true to the style and I have no doubt that someone who knows more than my smidgen of Iliad and Odyssey would enjoy multiple references that passed me by. But this novel failed to mesmerise me in the way every other Atwood novel has done. I admired it and enjoyed it but I wasn't enthralled by it.
I think this would, if anything, make for a better movie than a book. The fantastic gods, the wild adventures - they would really lend themselves to the big screen.
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