Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

sum forty tales from the afterlives by david eaglemanRating: 7 out of 10
Summary 1: SUM is an exploration of funny and unexpected afterlives that have never been considered–each presented as a vignette that offers us a stunning lens through which to see ourselves here and now.

In one afterlife you may find that God is the size of a microbe and is unaware of your existence. In another, your creators are a species of dim-witted creatures who built us to figure out what they could not. In a different version of the afterlife you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple struggling with discontent, or that the afterlife contains only those people whom you remember, or that the hereafter includes the thousands of previous gods who no longer attract followers. In some afterlives you are split into your different ages; in some you are forced to live with annoying versions of yourself that represent what you could have been; in others you are re-created from your credit card records and Internet history. David Eagleman proposes many versions of our purpose here; we are mobile robots for cosmic mapmakers, we are reunions for a scattered confederacy of atoms, we are experimental subjects for gods trying to understand what makes couples stick together.

Summary 2: A clever little book by a neuroscientist translates lofty concepts of infinity and death into accessible human terms. What happens after we die? Eagleman wonders in each of these brief, evocative segments. Are we consigned to replay a lifetime’s worth of accumulated acts, as he suggests in “Sum,” spending six days clipping your nails or six weeks waiting for a green light? Is heaven a bureaucracy, as in “Reins,” where God has lost control of the workload? Will we download our consciousnesses into a computer to live in a virtual world, as suggested in “Great Expectations,” where “God exists after all and has gone through great trouble and expense to construct an afterlife for us”? Or is God actually the size of a bacterium, battling good and evil on the “battlefield of surface proteins,” and thus unaware of humans, who are merely the “nutritional substrate”? Mostly, the author underscores in “Will-‘o-the-Wisp,” humans desperately want to matter, and in afterlife search out the “ripples left in our wake.” Eagleman’s turned out a well-executed and thought-provoking book. (Feb.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

My Thoughts: I was very impressed by Eagleman’s creativity and reach here. I really like his style of writing and all the ideas he came up with about afterlives that I had never even considered before. Really cool short story collection.

There were some really great thought-provoking ones, and of course there were a few doozies too. I still admire his originality. 

Sum really gets you thinking.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

bbRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump,” and of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter. (from bn.com)

Commentary: This was a fun add-on to the series of Harry Potter. I really liked the commentary from Dumbledore, and the drawings by J.K. Rowling were fun. It was a little on the short side, but I liked how it expanded on the Harry Potter universe.

It just makes me sad that there will be no more Harry Potter books!

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father who carefully tends her garden–where she later unearths evidence of a love affair he is keeping to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a couple’s romantic getaway weekend takes a dark turn at a party that lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a woman eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories–a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love and fate–we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one fateful winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.

My Thoughts: I was never a big fan of short stories, and before Jhumpa Lahiri’s work, I mostly only read anthologies of short science fiction or fantasy when I did have to read short stories.

Interpreter of Maladies, winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was such an intense and wonderful introduction to Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. Wow. I remember how melancholy, beautiful, and heartbreaking every story made me feel. Lahiri immediately became one of my favorite authors.

When I heard she had a new collection of short stories coming out, I pre-ordered it. I finished the Unaccustomed Earth about a month ago, and it did not disappoint. I still like Interpreter a bit more just because that first introduction to a brilliant author’s writing can’t really ever be topped, but Unaccustomed was a great follow-up.

I’ve heard some people say that her stories are much too depressing, that she’s got the same mood and tone in every story, but I highly disagree. “Depressing” is too shallow and commonplace a word to describe her stories. They are more multi-faceted. Extreme joys and total disappointment can be present in the same sentence. Many of the situations her characters end up in seem really realistic.

I think it was the third story, A Choice of Accomodations, that made me feel like I had the briefest glimpse into the life of a real couple, not just some pretend characters. I lived there life for 15 minutes, and felt and experienced everything they did. Lahiri uses very plain language, nothing flowery or maudlin or over-the-top. The simplicity of her style underscores very well all her intentions.

Highly recommended.