Summer Reading, Nonfiction Style

by Caitlin Servilio

Summer is traditionally a time to put aside all serious pursuits and embrace a short, blissful period of doing absolutely nothing. That attitude seems to have carried over into the category of summer reading, judging by the thousands of people lounging by pools devouring the latest installments in the Janet Evanovich, Tom Clancy, or Harry Potter franchising empires. Or those disturbingly enjoyable, humiliatingly humorous books in the genre succinctly called “chick lit.” Of course these books are the ultimate in guilty pleasure, and can happily wile away the hours when the most pressing concern is really to get an even tan.

But another option awaits those tired of formulaic fiction. All kinds of interesting nonfiction is out there, on the shelves of libraries and bookstores, and can be just as much fun to read as a typical Dean Koontz — not to mention the feeling of accomplishment you’ll experience after you finish the book: smarter, not dumber, and able to pull out all kinds of interesting trivia at your next social gathering. Here are some truly interesting nonfiction reads you can tote along to the beach this summer:

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson: A collection of the essays that Tyson wrote for Natural History magazine, this is an interesting, often funny compilation of everything about the universe you always wanted to know but never found out in eighth-grade science. Do you know what plasma’s made of? Did you know how scientists figured out that the earth rotates? Did you know that your brain automatically color-balances your environment, or that if our eyes saw radio waves instead of visible light, we’d be able to see the center of the galaxy? These and other marvelous facts await you in Death by Black Hole.

Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger: This could best be classified as a book about classifications. It’s a history of how humans order things, and if that sounds boring, you don’t know what you’re missing. Weinberger discusses everything from what makes a planet a planet to the history of alphabetical order, which, if you can believe it, is a page-turner. The book’s premise is to discuss how the internet has fundamentally changed how we search for and classify things, which in a funny way sort of changes everything else about us as well. Goodbye, Dewey Decimal System!

Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed DC by Scott W. Berg: If you’re like me, you’ve probably never spent too much time wondering how Washington, DC was created. But it’s a really interesting story — all about Pierre L’Enfant, the stereotypical emotional, picky French guy who got George Washington’s permission to design it, and how he completely changed it from the frumpy federal village Thomas Jefferson wanted to make it into a cool place with attractions like, say, the National Mall (his idea).

Apocalypse 2012 by Lawrence E. Joseph: Civilization will be destroyed in 2012! Go on, laugh, I did. Then I read this witty journalistic investigation into the claims made by many major religious texts (The Torah, the I-Ching) an ancient civilization renowned for its astrological calendars (the Maya) and countless scientists that 2012 is the expiration date on life as we know it. Joseph comes up with many unsettling facts about the state of the earth heading into 2012 — supervolcanoes that could go off at any minute, the stormiest sun in centuries, the earth’s magnetic shield developing a crack, oh, and the fact that there’s a mass extinction every 65 million years, and guess what time it is again? I must admit that I still don’t really think the world will end in 2012. But I am much more frightened. In a good way.

(Summer book reading beach scene photographed in Corsica by createsima of Paris and obtained through stock.xchng.)

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Anonymous said...


Thanks - I enjoyed your blog. However - Nothing in the Yijing (I Ching) refers to the end of the world! It is simply just not in the text - though put a few twists in and stretch it a bit here and there and you might be able to get something or even anything out of it - as our Mayan friend did.

Having said that - I and many like me are working directly with 'energies' (spirits gods call them what you will) to assist the human consciousness transformation which is now well underway and accelerating at a tremendous rate.

I am just coming to the end of a tour in Canada where I have had meetings with Christians, Pagans, Shamans, Psychics and ‘Pic ‘n Mixies’ – As a died in the wool Yijing scholar I was somewhat surprised that all of the people I talked to had independently got the same set of insights and had been shown the same set of tools to assist in what I am coming to see as the formation of a human consciousness matrix – (some groups are calling it the ‘Grid’.). Now there is some summer reading!



Caitlin Servilio said...

Yeah, actually, that wasn't clear in my blog. The I Ching doesn't say anything about the end of the world. It was as you say a Mayan scholar who believed he had found a way to interpret the hexagrams (it is hexagrams, right?) as a sort of calendar in which the number and formation of the hexagrams pointed to 2012 as an end date. Same with the Torah--a matter of interpretation in which scholars who think they have found a code embedded in the Torah say 2012 is the year the code refers to.

This was all in the book, just not in the blog.

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