Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

Posts Tagged ‘Lew Weinstein’s reviews’

* Lew’s Review … All Our Yesterdays by Robert Parker

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2012

******

This is really an extraordinary book. I expected a typical non-memorable crime/thriller story, of which I read many. Instead, here is a brilliantly constructed multi-generational exploration of the very interesting lives of some very flawed people. And does Parker ever make me care about these people!

There was something unusual and very powerful about the structure of the story. It reached what seemed to me could have been the conclusion of a shorter novel about half-way through, at a point when many novels are struggling with that fearsome middle-of-the-book trough. (Since I was reading the book on kindle, I didn’t know how far along I was and thought the story was about to end. When I checked, I learned I was at 48%.) But exactly here Parker gathers up a new burst of writing energy and the story takes off again, with one revelation after another, until the final resolution many worthwhile reading hours away.

Parker’s use of time is also worthy of note, especially for me since he does so successfully what I am struggling to achieve in my own novel-in-progress. You start in the present in Boston, with two people who seem to love each other but are not clear if they can be together. Some cataclysmic event has thrown them into relationship disarray. Then you jump back 70 years, and a young man in Dublin is an IRA terrorist fighting British domination in Ireland. The story emerges in a series of flashbacks, and in the very skillful and emotional revelation of the impact of these past events on the original two lovers, getting ever closer to the present. To say more would reveal too much.

Parker has of course been enormously successful, although I have read only 1-2 of his subsequent crime stories, which I do not remember. Another Goodreads reviewer said Parker never again reached the level of excellence of this early novel that did not have much commercial success. If that is true, what a shame that he was not encouraged to reach harder for the literary excellence that was clearly within his potential.

******

Posted in *** Lew's reviews - general reading | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* Lew’s Review … Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2012

******

I am taking a one week course at Oxford (July 2012) … The Brain and the Senses. This is one of the books to read in advance.

It is a fascinating journey through what is currently known (2010) about the way the brain receives information from the outside world, and how this information is categorized, stored and retrieved. There are many examples at an individual level to illustrate some of the experimental results. The graphics are brilliant.

The book is necessarily stronger on the receipt of information than it is on storage and retrieval. I have many margin notes asking the same question about memory, especially about how a memory is retrieved or, as the book argues, re-constructed. How is it done? How? How? This is the stuff of future research and understanding.

I think much of what we think we know on this subject is still in the nature of conjecture, based on research utilizing brain scans to show what part of the brain lights up when various stimuli and tasks are presented. The research field is new and rapidly evolving. In one of my previous lives, as CEO of a biomedical research institute, I learned a little about the objectives and practice of cutting-edge scientific research: everything we think we know is only tentative … everything will eventually be disproved or at least significantly enhanced by new and better research … sometimes proving something is not true is as important as an experiment which confirms your hypothesis … better to have a working hypothesis than no hypothesis at all.

Funny, but my friend who has studied and taught history for over 50 years tells me the same is true of what we think we know of historical events and patterns. What really happened? It depends very much on what facts you are looking at and how those facts were assembled. Are they really facts? It should be humbling to understand the degree of uncertainty about our past as well as our future. Let alone the present, whatever that is.

Two fascinating thoughts (chosen from many possibilities) are particularly related to my experience as a novelist and my current novel-in-progress …

… the process of retrieving memory of things which have actually happened is essentially the same as the process of imagining the future (and thus evaluating prospects and plans) or the process of inventing people and events which never existed (i.e., creating fiction).

… the killing of Jews by the Nazis required a distinct transformation in the behavior of individuals performing such acts which allowed them to carry out horrific acts of violence without being assailed by normal feelings of fear and disgust … afterward, they fell into a state that precluded normal reflection and self-awareness and thus prevented them from acknowledging the awfulness of what they had done (and would do again tomorrow).

In her concluding paragraph, Rita Carter says, “the findings outlined in this book give only the sketchiest impression of the landscape of the mind … yet I believe (it) is already clear (that) there is no ghost in this place (the mind) …what we are discovering is a biological system of awe-inspiring complexity … the world within our heads is more marvelous than anything we can dream up.”

These are the kinds of thoughts stimulated by “Mapping the Mind.” I recommend the book even if your scientific understanding is limited. It will make you think outside your normal box. It will make you more aware of what incredible potentials lie within all of us.

******

Posted in *** Lew's reviews - general reading | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »