Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GEB and Zakka

Sharon Wildwind

If you’ve heard of the book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, raise your hand. If you’ve actually read it, keep your hand up. Okay, you can put your hands down.

This started last fall when a geek site published the 9 books all geeks should have read. Since I consider myself geek-oid rather than geek-y I thought it would be fun to see how many I’d read. I didn’t do too badly: I’d read 6.5 out of the 9, yes, including the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced D & D. Don’t ask. It’s a long story. Thanks, Brian.

The 0.5 was for The Fellowship of the Rings. I tried it. Three times. One time I made it to page 70 of the first book in the trilogy. And I did see all of the movies. Three times each. That has to count for something. Thanks, Viggo Mortensen.

I’d never heard of Gödel, Escher, Bach by Dr. Douglas R. Hofstadter, though my husband assured me that he had been quite familiar with the book since his twenties and that those in the know referred to the book by initials only.

[My husband’s score on the list was 8/9, but I’m not jealous. Well, maybe a little bit.]

Incidentally, Dr. D.R.H. is one of two Doctors Hofstadter for whom the character Dr. Leonard L. Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory is named. The other one is Dr. Robert Hofstadter, Douglas’ father.

Last October, I put GEB on hold at the local library and a couple of weeks ago, I was notified that the book was available. Wow, a six-month wait. This book was going to be really something.

It may be, but I had a darn hard time with it, and gave up on page 68, which was two pages less than I’d managed for Lord of the Rings. I have an impression that GEB might be about patterns and recurrences, symmetry, and how the brain thinks. If you managed to finish GEB, and understand it, and are ever in Calgary or happen to live in Calgary, I will buy you dinner so you can explain the book to me. I hate loose ends and not understanding this book feels like a loose end.

So what’s the one book on the list my husband hasn’t read? Edward R. Tufte’s Visual display of quantitative information. I haven’t read it either, but my name is now #12 on the list at the library. We’re going to read it together. Then we’ll be done, until the next time some geek site comes out with another list.

Next question: does zakka mean anything to you?

I came across that term about the same time I requested GEB at the library. Exploring zakka turned out to be fun, easy, restful, and without a loose end in sight.

The translation from Japanese means household goods. It’s an aesthetic that involves creating from linen, cotton, wool, and silk, small decorative items that enhance the beauty and serenity of every-day activities. Think linen pencil cases, felted wool tea cozies in the shape of a squirrel, embroidered tea towels, linen bags of every description, and soft, handmade toys.

How does any of this relate to writing? As writers I think we need occasionally to stretch ourselves, explore something about which we have no clue. Sometimes that new thing will stop us cold and sometimes we’ll get a great pattern for a little linen bag. It all evens out in the end.


Sheila Connolly said...

I adored Lord of the Rings, which I first read when I was sixteen and once a year for the next decade (yes, all three volumes)--but I'm sure I'd fail on the other nine choices. And I'm still puzzling over the squirrel-shaped tea cozy.

But I hear you about learning something new. Each craft or discipline has its own terminology, its own rules, which in principle you can apply to anything fictional that you choose to create. Coming at that new thing with a fresh eye makes those details stand out.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, two pieces of felt, each cut in a kind of outline of a squirrel and sewn together. It's a little bit abstract, but cute.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I once had a pair of gray felt slippers (as a very little girl) that were probably made the way you described the tea cozy. Yes, I'm all in favor of learning something new, and for me that's always been languages. I love learning new languages (and then forgetting them), and right now my focus (in addition to writing) is on photography. Do we see things the same way or differently depending on the art form? I'm having fun finding out.

Julia Buckley said...

Now you have me very curious about the list of books, especially GEB. Maybe for summer reading . . .