Sunday, January 4, 2009

Jennifer Ouellette

Jennifer Ouellette is the author of Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales From the Annals of Physics (2006) and The Physics of the Buffyverse (2007).

Late in '08 I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm an avid reader, always have been since a child, and when not writing a book myself, I tend to read 2-3 books a week. What kinds of books I read depends on the setting. For instance, on long plane rides, I prefer to lose myself in really good fiction, especially historical mysteries. My cross-country flight just last week found me engrossed in Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy -- a fascinating take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which Tiny Tim is all grown up, not so tiny, and dealing not just with his daddy issues and trying to wean himself from the financial support of his Uncle Scrooge, but also with a string of murdered young girls. A bit melodramatically gothic in places, but it has a terrific gritty ambience and genuinely moving in the narrator's ruminations of his relationship with his father, Bob Cratchit. On the flight home, we were delayed at the airport, so I made it through Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book -- an evocative weaving together of interlinked short "ghost" stories that add up to a compelling whole in the end -- and Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark, a murder mystery set in 1939-40 St. Paul Minnesota that becomes a subtle rumination on the nature of truth and memory (the prime suspect has no short-term memory).

For bedtime reading, I prefer non-fiction with shorter chapters -- if I get TOO engrossed in a novel, I'll stay up all night to finish it, which really isn't the point of bedtime reading. Most recently, I've read Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, a highly literate memoir that makes me proud and a bit awed that such an eloquent, thoughtful person is going to be our next president. Mary Roach's Bonk was a sheer delight, particularly the hilarious footnotes -- you definitely don't want to miss those. Tom Parker-Bowles' The Year of Eating Dangerously was interesting and amusing, but the vivid accounts of all that gastronomic excess (he claims he gained 20 or so pounds while writing the book) made me feel a bit ill by proxy -- so perhaps not the best bedtime reading. Right now I'm working my way through Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant, about the dark side of waiting tables in a trendy Manhattan bistro -- based on a popular blog of the same name.

Then there are the books my fellow writers send me as advance copies. Currently jostling for my attention is Charles Seife's Sun in a Bottle -- about the quest for nuclear fusion as a clean energy source -- and Adam Frank's The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. I met Adam at a science writer's conference in October, and we bonded over not just the science and religion thing, but our favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows. (We're both fans of Firefly, for example.)

And finally, there's the reading I do as research for my own books. Currently I'm writing a book about my experiences learning calculus as an adult after years of avoiding it in horror/terror. So I'm reading John Allen Paulos' Innumeracy and David Berlinski's A Tour of the Calculus. The Berlinski is considered a classic, and it's quite good although I find the purpled prose more distracting than entertaining.

And that's it! The cliche is so true: So many books, so little time. So many wonderful worlds to explore, so many tomes into which writers have poured their lifeblood, for what generally amounts to very little reward. We write because we love it, because we are compelled to write. I think we read for the same reason.
Learn more about Jennifer Ouellette at her website and at the popular general science blog, Cocktail Party Physics.

--Marshal Zeringue