How I Found Joy in Reading Science

“We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Hello Neighbours

The only science reading I’ve known all my reading years is studying from textbooks up to high school. The only time I’d venture beyond the prescribed learning material was when it came to Biology, for the fun of it. This might have given my mother the idea to try to push me towards the medical field. All other natural sciences were a struggle.

Now as my reading keeps on expanding and as I gain interest in so many genres, so many topics, and ideas, I find myself curious about science. Okay, there may be a little influence from the spouse but a lot of times I feel like the more I read, the more I discover how little I know. About myself, about humans, other species, history, the world, existence…all of it. My curiosity just keeps growing and my hunger to learn more just keeps intensifying.

There were other influences. Each time Sheldon Cooper said something smart, I would Google it. Then after watching The Theory of Everything, I wanted to know more about Hawking and his work.

Image: Wikipedia

So I bought a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and put it down after a few pages. I did not understand much. I tried again after a few months and still nothing. Advice from the spouse, who is a physicist, was to read it at a relaxed pace and not fret much about the big stuff in it, then go back the second time and things would start making sense.

Well, I found it to be good advice but the intimidation was far greater than my willingness to take his advice. It just felt like the book was meant to be understood by people in the field, and we the general readers were not invited to the party. I put it away but remained curious.

“It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious.”

– Stephen Hawking
Image: Britannica

I then stumbled upon Einstein: His Life and the Universe by Walter Isaacson. I figured since the spouse is crazy about Einstein, I’d buy it for him.

[Shoutout to people who indirectly buy books for themselves and claim they are gifts for people they live with.]

I started reading it before he could even hold it and only got up to Mileva getting pregnant. Now here the challenge was not the science, it was my struggle with (auto) biographies and memoirs. I am getting better, though. Back to the shelf, we’ll try again, Albert.

Someone else I discovered on The Big Bang Theory came to mind because of how easy I’d heard him explain difficult stuff. Yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I bought his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry last week, and let me tell you, I am very happy to have invested in it.

I am now on Page 104 and I’m happy to report, neighbours, that I’m getting most of it. Not everything, though. It really is for people in a hurry and it is fun to read. I’m not getting that stress when I read a book that makes me feel like I will fail to explain if someone asks me what it is about.

So, neighbour, I am not even done with the book but if you’re struggling with reading science books, I recommend this one to break your virginity. It will be orgasmic!

I’ll tell you what it’s all about when I finish.

Happy reading, neighbours.

Image: Wikipedia

The Power of Namina Forna’s ‘The Gilded Ones’

If you’re into African fantasy, say “Aye!”

It’s the Ritual of Purity and sixteen-year-old Deka is nervous, anxious, and excited about this monumental ceremony where girls her age are to have their purity tested. Being proven to be pure means being eligible to be married and have a family.

Something else takes place on this day, the arrival of the deathshrieks and the discovery of who Deka is. This is followed by torture beyond her imagination, as well as watching the people she loves turn against her because of who and what she is. Discovering her state as an “alaki”, an impure creature, unwanted by all “normal” people has implications that she herself does not understand. After being recruited to kill the deathshrieks, the road leads to finding herself, discovering her strength and her power.

When I started reading it I got Children of Blood and Bone vibes, and the deathshrieks reminded me of the dementors in Harry Potter. Reading on, I found that The Gilded Ones is its own story, there are no wizards here but some powerful girls and women who are going to rewrite history.

I love the feminist theme in this book. Girls and women are taught that their significance is to serve men. The story brings patriarchal ideas to the fore, breaks them down, and challenges them. We see, for example, the way patriarchal values are knit into religious practices as a way to control and subdue girls and women.

I absolutely loved the way the girls realise their power and the taking back of the power that was taken away from them by the men who wrote history for their own agendas. Another important element in this book is the power of friendships, sisterhood to be precise. Other important themes in the story are misogyny, xenophobia, child soldiers, and trauma.

The only thing I would criticize is the pace. The story drags for over two hundred pages, and you have to have the patience to get there. Ahead though, lies adventure and excitement, as well as a satisfying end.  

Reading: Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’

“I was not sorry when my brother died.”

One of my favourite opening lines.

Before we get into the book can we give a round of applause to Tsitsi Dangarembga for her win? She recently became the first black woman to receive the German Peace Prize. Congratulations!

Now, as I was saying, one of my favourite opening lines to a novel. Enough to invite you in and find out more, to want to know the why and how. This is young Tambudza taking us through her childhood and starts off by telling us about her life in the village and the challenges she goes through as a girl.

Her brother is taken by their uncle to attend the missionary school, while she is told that the education she needs is how she will look after her future husband. Tambudza wants to go to school, but grooming her to be a “good wife” and womanhood are separated from education. She is taught that sacrifices are to be made by women (girls).

It’s when her brother dies that education is finally available to her and she also gets the opportunity to go live with her educated uncle, who’s the headmaster of the mission school. Living there presents its own troubles; her cousin’s rejection of her father’s claims of authority, and her uncle’s wife who’s an educated woman but who is merely her husband’s helpmate.

Dangarembga tackles significant themes such as the injustice towards girls and women, poverty and the burdens or duties of the educated members of poor families to help out, and the issue of Englishness.

I enjoyed this book because of the way it challenges the idea that the only use for girls and women is to look after men. The idea that a woman who is educated is not a good wife, this separation of the two comes out and we see how the characters struggle with it.

It’s an outstanding novel. The way Dangarembga pulls us deep into the lives of these girls and women, and how we are able to taste their realities. A book that makes you feel the heaviness of what the author is putting across is a winner, this book is a winner.