Writers’ Postbox: Episode 9

Book Review: The Canon

I wrote a quick review of my latest read, but I wanted to expand a little more about the actual writing of the book for this week’s Postbox.

Here is the original review, from Goodreads:

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I don’t have a lot to say beyond wow.

Natalie Algier is an extraordinary writer and uses her gifts to convey her incredible collected knowledge of life as we know it, all the discoveries and advancements of science.

It is dense. It is over-the-top witty. It is snarky. And while it seems many were irritated by her insistence on packing each and every sentence with pop and power, I ate it up. I thought that her illustrations were spot-on; her sideways cultural references scarily effective,  (even when I was (blush) lost on the reference itself); her stubborn insistence on bending the language to her needs, making up words left and right, positively endearing; and her humor and hundred-mile-an-hour writing powerful instruments in her wild rendition of the sciences. The subtitle is ‘A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science,’ and this book is just that. She covers a good deal of everything and does so in 264 packed pages. She brings excitement and passion (and possibly an undiagnosed ADHD personality run amok) to her charge and gives the sciences the press they deserve, full of fascination, awe, and wonder.

Well done.

*  *  *

To continue:

The Canon is a stunning portrait of science. But it is also a phenomenal piece of writing. I looked through the recent reviews on Goodreads and I was surprised at how many people could not stand this book. They hated her writing style. These were very opinionated people. They were insulted, affronted, wearied, jealous, and just plain pissed. I was taken aback, not expecting that kind of backlash; I loved it.

I will say that it was so dense, both with information and pure sass, that it took a while to read. Some patience was required. Honestly it was exhausting. I imagine Ms. Algier as a squirrel of a human, her eyes darting hither and thither, speaking every word of her racing mind on fast forward, possibly popping acorns in an effort to fuel her jittery existence. That is how she writes. Full-on. No holds barred. Grab the Oh-sh** handle; you’re in for a ride.

But, in my humble opinion, the wild ride was well-worth it. More than that, the wild ride was part of the book’s effectiveness. She might take things a little farther, linguistically, than even I ever dream to, but I do long to amp my talents up in that general direction. I only wish I had the kind of Master and Commander relationship she has over the English language. I say over because the woman does not confine herself to the language as we know it. I would guess that she gave birth to at least a hundred words between the covers of the book. Effortlessly. It just happens. They’re not pretty; they just are. She doesn’t apologize. She doesn’t explain. And she certainly doesn’t look back.

So, apparently her tack is not for everyone, but most certainly is for me. I love how she has the confidence to write nearly stream-of-consciousness, and know that her point will make it through the storm unscathed. And it does. She leaves me in the dust of ignorance on occasion, but still I understand her greater goal. Still I walk away with more knowledge, deeper understanding, and heightened awe than I had five minutes prior.

I love it when my words take on a hyperactive life of their own. I sometimes wonder if I am alienating. I sometimes wonder if my internal dialogue, hopping along like a hopped-up kangaroo, is too much to just throw out there. Yet when I encounter explanation, in my own writing, or in others’, it feels cheap. Weak. Tired. I am certain that I do, in point-of-fact, let my little roo run a bit too wild, pasting the screen with failed and hasty metaphor, reminiscent of my inability to tell a successful joke. But The Canon has, for better or for worse, given me courage to try harder. An example of how it can be done.

It might not make every reader happy, as Goodreads has painfully pointed out, but nothing will satisfy the masses and I would rather write real and true and find the readers that appreciate my real, than write less-than-my-best, even if the pool of appreciative readers is wider and deeper. Give me my readers. Those are the ones I want.

‘Til next time,
KJ

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