3 Books Weekly #12: feat. Debbie Chachra
09.00, Friday 20 May 2016 Link to this post
The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.
For edition 12 of 3 Books Weekly I’m delighted we have Debbie Chachra. I don’t know if you’ve been following the recent newsletter trend, but if there’s such a thing as a 21st century essayist crossed with having privileged access to a special perspective on the world… that’s what you get with newsletters, straight to your inbox. And Deb’s Metafoundry is a must-read. Go subscribe as soon as you finish this. And find her on Twitter as @debcha.
If you’re in London, come visit my teeny bookshop in a vending machine – it’s near Blackfriars tube. Map and stock list here. There’s a brand new selection every Friday, and if you’re inspired by Deb’s recommendations, you can find a couple of them ready to buy there and then. Latest news, as always, at @MachineSupply.
#1. The Real World of Technology (Massey Lectures), by Dr Ursula M Franklin PH.D.
Very, very rarely, you re-read something from your youth, and you realise how much it’s shaped you. I first read The Real World of Technology, based on Ursula Franklin’s 1989 Massey Lectures (broadcast on CBC Radio in Canada) as an engineering student in the department where she was Professor Emerita. The essays describe how technology shapes culture and society, and how we need to see this as an active, volitional process. It’s not a book with answers; it’s a book of frameworks and questions, that gently but insistently exhorts us to thoughtfully consider our technologies and the social systems they engender. When I re-read it a few years ago, I was stunned at how much my personal philosophies of engineering and of education were rooted in her ideas, and decades having elapsed, her prescience was clearly apparent. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone, but it’s absolutely mandatory for technologists.
#2. A Wrinkle in Time (A Puffin Book), by Madeleine L’Engle
Like Meg Murry, I was a bespectacled, braces-wearing, messy pre-teen girl, who loved math and science and mostly lived inside my own head, and I must have identified with her in a way I didn’t with, say, Anne Shirley (she of Green Gables, another favourite). And I now have a better understanding of the rarity of a children’s novel from the 60s with a girl as protagonist and agent and where the boys were sidekicks (the book racked up twenty-six rejections before it was published). But for me, A Wrinkle in Time was a gateway drug to science fiction; to the idea that the universe is immense and complex, simultaneously knowable and unknowable; and an early demonstration that, despite much cultural messaging to the contrary, science and warm humanity are not incompatible. I was a precocious kid, and when I lay on the ground and stared at the sky as a child, it was in full knowledge of the scale of what I was looking at. I still gaze out at the stars, and I still return to this book.
#3. Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
Dept. of Speculation is a Japanese rock garden of a novel. It’s small, entirely contained, and composed of discrete components-the book is less than two hundred pages long, and largely consists of short, self-contained passages, some cryptic, some witty, some deeply moving, some all of the above. At first glance, it seems like an entirely formal exercise-what possible mapping could there be between these carefully-placed rocks on raked gravel and the reality of a tangled forest? But, like the rock garden, the individual elements of Dept. of Speculation add up to a cohesive, absorbing whole of a novel that captures the essence of its subject matter unexpectedly and beautifully.