Hello, is there anybody out there?

I recently listened to the audio book, “The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities” by Caleb Scharf. If you find yourself interested in this book I would go for the audio version as it is a heavy lift with a 10 hour reading time. The book was written in 2014 which is light years in physics but I am a science nerd and I still heard a lot of facts that were new to me.

Scharf is an astro-physicist and professor of astro-biology at Columbia University. The book is about the possibility of life on other planets. Not UFO’s or little green men. Right now the probability is low because we only know of life occurring on one planet; Earth.

He explains complex concepts in an easily digestible form without dumbing it down. It starts with a brief history of scientific discovery but quickly gets to explaining the title of the book. He is well versed in both the macro and micro universe and uses both to illustrate his points. He describes his ideas in a way that you can easily picture what he is talking about.

In this book he carries you through some mind blowing thought experiments both scientific and philosophical. It is always interesting and I felt focused on the topics all the way through unlike the first audio book I listened to which almost turned me off completely.

One concept he kept returning to was we don’t have to look for the “Goldilocks zone” on other planets to find the perfect circumstances for life to develop. This comes from the various forms of life that have developed in extreme conditions right here on Earth. From complex ecosystems based on sulphur compounds released by hydrothermal vents in the deepest parts of our oceans to organisms living beneath thousands of feet of glacial ice.

I’m also fascinated by the way we can deduce the workings of the distant universe with the scant evidence available to us.

If you have enjoyed books by Hawkings and Tyson then I am sure you will like this one. He does tend to keep you entertained by his ideas rather than his sense of humor though.

Scharf has books that are more recent which I want to read but I am limited to books I can find on the Hoopla, Digital app that works for free with my library card. If you can afford it I would recommend buying other books by him in the same vein.

Year of the Monkey

This book is a dream steeped in real life. “Year of the Monkey” by Patti Smith. Yes, that Patti Smith. I was surprised to see her name on my library reader app. I didn’t know she was such a prolific author. I was also surprised she is still alive and still touring at 70 years old. This is her latest book and I plan on reading more. She writes in an easy to read, effortless style. I recognized her name but I didn’t know much about this musical icon. I did some YouTube’ing and discovered I like her writing more than her music. I prefer a different type of punk rock.

The book starts with her staying in what she calls the “Dream Motel.” It is actually named the “Dream Inn” and you would think she had dreamed it up if she didn’t have a Polaroid picture of the sign to prove it. The whole book is punctuated by Polaroid pictures to prove her points. I liked it because I remember those cameras from my childhood, where you just snapped and waited for the film to “instantly” develop before your eyes. She describes a collection that outdid my mom’s and that is no mean feat.

It takes place in the Chinese year of the monkey, starting in Santa Cruz, CA and jumps across the country and other parts of the world. She spends a lot of time in NYC where she still goes to seedy cafes and drinks coffee, talks about books and writes in her journal. From what I gather her life hasn’t changed much in the 50 years since she became famous. And why not? Her life is pretty good. Sometimes it is hard to tell when she is dreaming but when she is with her friends whom she is outliving you know it is real.

She seems to live in the past but she doesn’t have much future left. She surrounds herself with old friends, books, paintings and memories. I thought she would have partied more but she didn’t really. That is probably how she found time to read and write all those books. She ties in passages from the classics and references to old plays. I am always jealous when people can do that. I am awful with names and dates and History class was the only subject I struggled with in school.

It is a memoir that mixes her real friends with her dream friends and sometimes I didn’t know which was which. The story is easy and fun to follow. She has a poetry in her prose which I liked. It would be a good beach read at 166 pages and I am interested in reading at least a couple more of the many books she had written. She has an interesting and storied life and has many famous friends to tell about. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read. Not just fans of her music.

Book Review?

Open books

This was going to be a book review but I think it is going to turn into an author review. I downloaded my library’s reader app, called Libby, by Overdrive. (Named after my daughter) A title quickly caught my eye but it was an audio book. I had never listened to one before. The book is “The Subtle Art of Not giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson. I was a little late to the party on this one since it was already a New York Times bestseller and he is quite famous. The book was not available right away so I listened to the 5 minute sample. It was a summary of Charles Bukowski’s life and the takeaway was “Don’t give a fuck” or in two words, “Don’t try”. Bukowski was one of my favorite writers so I decided to put the book on hold.
It became available the next day and I gave it a listen. It was only 5 hours and I split it in 2.

The book wasn’t at all what I expected by reading the title. It turned into half autobiography and half self help. I’m not a big fan of self help books. I liked the biography part because I had a lot in common with Mark. We both started drugs and drinking at a young age, we both wanted to become famous by playing guitar in a band and we both spent a lot of our lives traveling, partying and chasing women. Another connection we had was our first true loves cheated on us and he describes it as a physical pain as well as a psychological one.

The book is not actually about not giving a fuck about anything. It is about giving a fuck about the right things. I could agree on a lot but I got irritated because he was the one who decided what the right things were and which were “shitty values.” He came across as arrogant and seemed to be saying, “I’ve figured out the right way to live life and if you haven’t by now, you are wrong.”

A recurring theme in the book was him bragging about how he’s traveled to so many countries and partied with so many people and slept with whatever women he wanted that it became boring and then he would say he had “shitty values” while he lived that life. Along with that he would say, my great life wasn’t really so great but by the way, did I mention how great my life was? I mean he lived most of his life doing exactly what he wanted. When I lived that way, I felt great.

Another theme was a great value to attain was to get married and have a family and live happily ever after. That is where he lost me. I was in love, I got married, my child was planned, and I thought I was going to live that way for the rest of my life and it only lasted a few short years before divorce. Every time he brought it up I would think, how does he know this is the one love in his life that would last? Didn’t he already have that feeling with his first love? Didn’t she break his heart by cheating on him?

Another point that stuck to me was he went into detail bragging about all the women he’s slept with but he just casually mentions how he cheated on his fiance (current wife) with a mentally ill woman who had been stalking him. I didn’t like how he made fun of her mental illness and the unspoken part was he took advantage of her and slept with her just because he could.

One chapter was about taking responsibility for your own life which I advocate, but he just wrote off cheating on his fiance as “just what I do.” Wasn’t this the woman he already planned on marrying and raising kids with? Wasn’t this the woman he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with? That was the main theme of his book. One of the non-shitty values was getting married and having kids. He seemed awfully cavalier about cheating on her while also saying having his first love cheat on him was the worst experience of his life.

Overall the book is well written and makes intelligent points. Although the for the last hour I was just hoping for the book to end after he got into the wrap up and turned inspirational. It was a good read for me because I like books where I can agree with the author on some points and also get peeved. I would recommend the book if you like to listen. That is the only way I could make it through. If it were a paper book I would have put it down about halfway through because he made all his points and kept repeating them. But it did make me think and that is what I like most.

I don’t know how I feel about audio books. I kept getting distracted and missing bits but I was too lazy to rewind and listen again. Whereas with a paper book I would just skip back to the previous paragraph. I would recommend giving it a listen. At least up to the last hour. He did live an interesting life and is a good storyteller.

[Post Script] Two concepts I agreed with were the idea that nobody is “special”. There are many people going through the same or worse or better than you, you are not unique. I am also a strong advocate for taking responsibility for your own life. At least the things you can control. You can’t just sit around and blame others or circumstance if you could actually make a change yourself.

I can’t agree that the ultimate value is to get married and be committed to another person. I know enough to know I am toxic. I am a relationship killer. I’ve been in committed relationships before and I am the one who always ruins it with my behavior and mental illness complications. It is better for me to be in casual, short term relationships. That way less people get hurt. I can’t have anyone feeling responsible for me or trying to cure me.