Sunday, September 2, 2007

Jordan Ellenberg

Jordan Ellenberg is a math professor at the University of Wisconsin and the author of The Grasshopper King, a novel.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
As the father of a two-year-old, I am partway through a lot of books. Only time will tell whether I am actually still reading them. But here are some of them: Super Flat Times, a great collection by Matthew Derby, set in a vaguely defined future, possibly in Korea, where people are only allowed to eat meat and spend a lot of time digging the memories out of corpses buried in concrete. A Summons to Memphis, a typically potent and quiet novel by Peter Taylor. One Jump Ahead, by Jonathan Schaeffer, a sort of biography of Schaeffer's computer program Chinook, the checkers champion of the world. A great read if you've ever tried to write a complicated computer program (but maybe not so much, if you haven't.) On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, which I certainly will finish because it's the book all the students here are supposed to read over the summer, and it looks bad when the professors don't finish their homework. It's splendid so far, though I wonder how much of it will make sense to 18-year-olds.

Some books I've read the beginnings of and haven't decided whether to read: Drop City, by T. Coraghessan Boyle. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Murmur, a short book about R.E.M.'s first album, by J. Niimi.

Long non-fiction books about murders in early America which I stopped reading more than a year ago but still believe I'm going to go back and finish: the true-crime-and-19th-century Mormonism expose Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, whose writing I learned to love when I read his great Everest memoir Into Thin Air as part of the research for an article I was writing for The Believer about the Riemann hypothesis; and Big Trouble, by J. Anthony Lukas, a giant book which starts out with an ex-governor of Idaho being blown to pieces by a bomb at his own front door, and which spirals out into a history of the vicious battles between labor and capital at the turn of the 20th century, and maybe more -- I don't know, not having finished it.

A book I don't even own yet but I am soon to own and read: The Forms of Youth: Twentieth-Century Poetry and Adolescence, by my friend Stephen Burt -- he' s the poetry critic to read if you don't read poetry criticism, because his writing is so lively, so interested in things outside poetry, and so open to the public.
Read more about Ellenberg's novel The Grasshopper King at the publisher's website.

Ellenberg also writes an occasional column called "Do the Math" for the on-line magazine Slate, and has written for The Believer, the Washington Post, and SEED.

His recent columns in Slate explained how "The New York Times slip[ped] up on sexual math" and why "Roger Clemens might be worth every penny" the Yankees are paying him.

If you found this account of what Ellenberg is reading interesting, visit his personal website which tracks what he was reading.

--Marshal Zeringue