Books and Miracles

The New York Times just had a review of Natalie Angier’s The Canon. I expected the book to be good (despite the review) but I read a couple of chapters in Borders to see if it was worth buying and couldn’t get past what Pinker called “the distracting wordplay”. I think Angier has a quota of four puns and three metaphors per sentence.

Anyway, one of the better sections was on probability and she described the intriguing idea that, if you define a miracle as something that has less than a one in a million chance of happening, most people should experience a miracle once a month.

Speaking of books…just yesterday I was trying to think of books that I really enjoyed as a 12 year old that my soon-to-be-12-year-old might also enjoy and two really stood out in my memory. Both books  are both about teenagers which is probably why they made such an impression on me.

The first, The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, was the first book I ever read that was set in the USA and it made America seem so much more real – and different! – to me than the fantasy place in the movies. I just checked out the reviews on Amazon and they all say things like

I agree with the reviewers who believe that this book is one of the best books ever written for young adults.

I had no idea it was a famous book. There was a movie made of it (it was crap) but I have never heard of anyone else who had even read it. One detail that sticks in my mind is that the protagonist has a poster in his locker that asks

Do I dare disturb the universe?

which, as a 12 year old, moved me tremendously and is the theme for the whole book and often pops into my head when I have a difficult choice to make.

The other book, The Satanic Mill, is even more obscure. Imagine Harry Potter, set in a 17th century Bavarian forest, told by the Brothers Grimm. But take away all the non-dark bits. The reviewers at Amazon are unanimous in their opinion that it deserves 5 stars and it seems that everyone read it in foreign – in French, in Russian and the original German – except me.

I expected them both to be out of print so, imagine my delight when I came home from work today to find that my lovely wife had got The Chocolate War from the library for Dylan. What are the chances of that? I rushed to Amazon to look up The Satanic Mill and, sure enough, it was out of print but…the library has it! Copy’s on the way!

What are the chances that either book is as good as my 30 year old memory of it?

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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