What is Sue Grafton gonna do when she runs out of letters? Use Greek ones, then Thai ones, or whatever … I hope. Skillful as always, she easily weaves two plots together here, in W IS FOR WASTED, her newest chronicle of female private-eye, Kinsey Millhone.
A nod to Ms Grafton for recognizing, via her writing, sectors of society not always brought to the fore. As always, there is Kinsey’s landlord Henry, a thriving elder in his 80’s. Special to this book: a warm & sympathetic look at some homeless people.
In math, if a=b and b=c, then a=c. But if I (call me A) like writer B, and writer B likes writer C, then do I (call me A) like writer C? Maybe, quite often, yes. Grafton works into her text, shoutouts to Dick Francis & Robert B. Parker, both fave crime writers of mine. (Being alert for author’s names in the course of a novel, can be a great way of expanding one’s reading repertoire.) I also happen to know (Wikipedia be thanked) that Grafton is — like yours truly — an Anthony Trollope fan. I rest my case!
On a long drive back from New Hampshire to NYC, thanks to my family for letting me read, out loud, a favorite short story of mine: “The Aunt and the Sluggard”, from My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. And even more thanks to my wife, who acted like she enjoyed it.
So Alice Munro just wins the Nobel Prize. And I’ve never read even one word of her work. But no time like the present. Here’s the first para of the first story in her first collection, DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES:
WALKER BROTHERS COWBOY
After supper my father says, “Want to go down and see if the Lake’s still there?” We leave my mother sewing under the dining-room light, making clothes for me against the opening of school. She has ripped up for this purpose an old suit and an old plaid wool dress of hers, and she has to cut and match very cleverly and also make me stand and turn for endless fittings, sweaty, itching from the hot wool, ungrateful. We leave my brother in bed in the little screened porch at the end of the front verandah, and sometimes he kneels on his bed and presses his face against the screen and calls mournfully, “Bring me an ice cream cone!” but I call back, “You will be asleep,” and do not even turn my head.
This is one of the best popularizations of a scientific subject, that I’ve run across in a long time. I probably won’t finish the book; the material does seem to thin out after a while. But the book is written in a modular, sectional fashion so it’s easy to break off where one wants.
Sam Kean obviously knows his subject cold. And he makes it vivid through colorful mini-biographies of the scientific pioneers whose work he discusses. He also knows how to bring a potentially “technical” subject down to earth:
Knots and tangles form in DNA for a few reasons: its length, its constant activity, and its confinement. Scientists have effectively run simulations of DNA inside a busy nucleus by putting a long, thin rope in a box and jostling it. The rope ends proved quite adept at snaking their way through the rope’s coils, and surprisingly complicated knots, with up to eleven crossings, formed in just seconds. (You probably could have guessed this if you’ve ever dropped earphones into a bag and tried to pull them out later.)
Incidentally, the “violinist’s thumb” of the title refers to the great violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini. Modern geneticists think he owed his incredible finger flexibility to an inherited condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. (We should not be too jealous of him, however … since this condition also carries with it many bodily ailments that can develop.)