The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa (24 September β€” 26 September)

This was one of those books that I don’t really get, but it redeemed itself by being all about math. πŸ™‚ Yay, math!

The unnamed housekeeper of the title tells the story of how she came to work for the unnamed professor, who is an older man who has only 80 minutes of memory for anything that happened after an accident several years previous. The professor, a mathematician, can still play with his numbers, so every time he “meets” the housekeeper he asks for her shoe size and birthday and various other numerical things and finds interesting connections between those numbers and others. The housekeeper and her son (whom the professor nicknames Root for his flat head [like the square root symbol]) become friends with the professor, even if the professor doesn’t realize it.

That’s really the whole story; there’s not much in the way of plot but it is a very interesting character study of a man with little short-term memory and how people around him react to him. The housekeeper at first finds him a little off-putting, but soon learns to like him and even math because a) he’s a great teacher and b) he can’t get exasperated with you for taking a long time to learn something. And the professors cares very much for Root, as a ten-year-old boy, even though he can’t remember him in particular.

And there’s math, and you can’t go wrong with that! πŸ™‚

Rating: 7/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Japan, Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
an adventure in reading
Thoughts of Joy

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (10 July β€” 11 July)

So back in the day, I was a big nerd. “Just back in the day?”, I hear you saying, and you are right. But! Nonetheless. Big nerd. As part of my nerdiness, I did things like memorize state capitals and dichotomous keys (the latter has not stayed with me, sadly) found in my Childcraft encyclopedia/instructive books set. Did you have such a set? Because these books were awesome. And one of them, the one focused on math, included an excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth, wherein Milo meets the Dodecahedron. I knew right away (at what, eight years old?) that I needed to find this book immediately. It’s been my favorite children’s book ever since.

For those of you who didn’t have Childcraft and/or were not interested in nerdy books as a child, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a kid called Milo who is just bored with life. I’ll let the author explain:

“When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered. Nothing really interested himβ€”least of all the things that should have.”

One day Milo arrived home, bored, to discover a curious package in his living room. Again, let’s let Juster set the scene:

“Who could possibly have left such an enormous package and such a strange one? For, while it was not quite square, it was definitely not round, and for its size it was larger than almost any other big package of smaller dimension that he’d ever seen.”

And it goes on from there. The package is the titular tollbooth, and Milo drives his toy car past it and into a land where all of our idiomatic expressions are taken literally (e.g. Milo jumps to conclusions about his trip and finds himself jumping to an island called Conclusions from which he must swim back) and there is a bit of a feud between math and language. Milo, with his companions Tock the watchdog (a dog with a clock for a torso) and the Humbug (who has a predilection for the number seventeen that I’ve long since assimilated), finds himself volunteering to end this feud by way of a perilous journey to the Castle in the Air, where the princesses Rhyme and Reason have been imprisoned for far too long.

Basically, it’s an adventure book with a great message for kids (knowledge, all of it, is important) and sly references for the adults reading it to them. The illustrations are cute, too.

Rating: 9/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (27 April)

Obviously, after the slow but interesting Murder, as I think I will call it from now on, I needed to go back to the YA brain candy. So I did. And it was good.

An Abundance of Katherines, as the title suggests, is about a kid called Colin with a lot of Katherines in his life… as of his high-school graduation, he’s been dumped by 19 of them. Nineteen! Of course, some of these are third-grade (third-grade!) relationships, but they still count because every single one of them has been named K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e. Not Kate or Katie or Catherine. Katherine. Yes.

This last Katherine having been his girlfriend for 11 months and eight days, Colin is understandably upset about this breakup. So, in the grand tradition of all high-schoolers everywhere, Colin and his best friend Hassan go on a road trip. From Chicago to middle Tennessee. Where they go on a tour of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s grave and then make friends with the also high-school-aged tour guide, whose mother gives the boys jobs and invites them to stay in her house. Right.

So then adventures occur and all the kids discover new things about themselves and, you know, come of age, as you do. Also Colin tries to develop a Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability which will tell him how long a relationship will last. And there is math and footnotes and it’s all kind of ridiculous but you go along with it because why the hell not, we’re adventuring!

Seriously, it’s good stuff. I continue my *heart*ing of John Green in happiness.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Drunkard’s Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow (14 February β€” 15 February)

A non-fiction book? What?? It’s so true.

This one is a book about probability and how it affects our everyday lives and not just the lives of imaginary textbook people. It does a pretty good job, too. The Monty Hall problem shows up, as does a question about offspring: If you know a woman has two children and one of them is a girl, what is the likelihood that both of her children are girls? The answer is not intuitive but it is understandable. However, when the question changes to say that you know that one of the woman’s children is a girl named Florida, suddenly the probability of a two-girl family changes. Buh? It’s explained, but I still don’t get it. At all. My brain hurts even thinking about it.

There’s also some historical info about how the field of statistics came about and real-life applications of probability (including the O.J. Simpson trial and a crazy DNA-sample-approved mistaken imprisonment).

Mlodinow has a good writing style (which earned a 93 percent in his son’s English class, hmmm) and the topic was interesting to me, but if you don’t want to think too hard about math, I’d steer clear.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)